One day a week we can go and visit Babazee in prison. Babazee (my mum’s father) is a small man with a big nose who is a doctor of economics but made his fortunes from Agriculture.
Babazee used to be very rich and owned a whole village near Karaj, just outside Tehran. I don’t remember much about our family’s wealthy days because by the time I was three and a half, everything they owned had been confiscated by the revolutionary government and given to Bonyad-eh Mostazafan (the Organization for the Oppressed).
All I remember from my Grandparents’ huge house in the village, is the big Bullmastiff called Filo, who lived on the roof and looked down at us as we walked into the house on Fridays.
Interestingly enough some believe that it was this same dog that caused Babazee’s downfall at the end. Allegedly some of the villagers who did not like my granddad much, after the revolution had ceased their chance and had gone to the revolutionary guards telling them that Babazee was a vicious landlord who kept a lion on his roof that he threw villagers in front of.
One day when Azizam (my grandmother) came back home from visiting her sister, she found that there was a big padlock on the door of her home and all the other doors and windows had been bordered up.
All that Azizam had been left with were the clothes she had on, her Rolex watch, a little gold broach in shape of a woman’s head, a necklace, two rings on her fingers and her handbag which in it had a little money, her house keys (which were no longer in use), a little pill box and some other bits and pieces.
Babazee had been taken to prison but he kept saying, ‘Don’t worry. This is just a misunderstanding. I’ll be out in no time.’
I hate going to prison so I don’t go every week. I go often though because I’m the only one out of all my cousins on my mum’s side that has not started school yet and so for most of the year, I’m the only one on be-a-good-girl-and-go-cheer-granddad-up-with-a-big-kiss duty.
Although sometimes it backfires and my presence seems to annoy him rather than cheer him up. Like when he sits on one side of the fence and we on the other and I’m allowed to go through the side door and sit with him.
First he looks as though he is very happy to see me and hugs me kisses me but then as soon as he thinks the guards aren’t looking, he starts going through my pockets. ‘Where are they?’ he whispers to my mum. ‘Where is who?’ my mum asks whispering while bringing her face nearer to the fence and narrowing her eyes.
I start to get excited thinking, ‘Wow, are we about to break Babazee out?’ and imagine us all running out of the prison in slow-motion with shots being fired after us and my mum and I jumping off the high prison wall, using her chador as a parachute; James Bond style, ‘ding dililing leeng…ling ling ling, ding dililing leeng…ling ling ling…’ ‘The pills’ Babzee interrupts my James Bond theme tune, ‘The sleeping pills that I have been asking you for, for god knows how long.’
‘Baba,’ my mum says impatiently, ‘I’m not going to give her pills to bring to you.’
‘Why not?’ he whispers, ‘They don’t search her.’ And then he turns to me and asks, ‘Did they search you?’
I panic and start nodding without thinking but then I remember that the guard just took my hand and brought me straight in and in fact the first time I was ever searched, was when Babazee put me on his lap and started going through my pockets. So I suddenly stop nodding and fling my head backward, raising my eyebrows. This is not a polite thing to do but at the moment my mum seems to have more important things on her mind than worrying about my bad prison etiquette.
‘See?’ Says Babazee, ‘What did I tell you; they don’t search the kids.’ And then, ‘you don’t know what it’s like in here. I need those pills.’
The prison is very far and I always get carsick on our way there. I’m bored stiff because all grownups want to talk about are things that I’m not interested in like, their numerous trips to Bonyad-eh Mostazafan, Komiteh, Rations, Petrol queues and he or she who was (they only move their lips to this without letting any sound out so I won’t get upset) executed (as if I’m blind and don’t see pictures of the newly-executed with ropes around their necks or holes in their heads, plastered all over the front pages of newspapers everyday).
There’s mud everywhere in the car because it’s been raining and all the dust on the road has turned into orangy-brown sticky mud and Maman, Azizam and I have brought a lot of it in with us when we stopped a little while ago for me to be sick by the side of the road.
‘Maman’ I say pulling her sleeve and looking up at her. She is sitting next to me on the backseat of the car, ‘I need a tissue.’ She picks up her handbag asking, ‘What for?’
‘My nose is running.’ I say stretching my upper lip over my upper teeth to try and buy myself some more time before the fast-moving snot reaches my mouth. ‘Oh’ she says and starts looking inside her bag, ‘I had one in here but I think I gave it to you to wipe your mouth earlier.’ And when she doesn’t find one she shrugs and says, ‘No I don’t have any. Does anyone else have any tissues?’
Uncle Bahy takes one hand off the steering wheel and with it searches his coat pockets and then lifts himself off the seat a little to pat down his trousers’ pockets, saying, ‘Even if they have decided that Baba is guilty of some sort of crime and deserves to have all his belongings confiscated, it doesn’t make any sense to take all our belongings away too. I’m sure we’ll be able to take our own homes back very soon and then we can start on getting Maman and Baba’s home and lands back.’ And then he looks in the rear view mirror and says, ‘Sorry darling, I don’t have any tissues.’
Aunty Leili who is sitting on the front passenger seat, has a look through her handbag too and then turns around and says, ‘I don’t have any either sweetie.’ I tilt my head back and try to redirect the snot back inside my nose.
‘Blow your nose in here.’ Says Azizam. I don’t move my head. I just give her my hand to put the tissue in. ‘No I don’t have a tissue darling but you can blow your nose in here.’ She says holding one of the two end bits of her headscarf in her hand while she is still wearing it.
‘I can’t do that.’ I say, not liking the idea at all. But she says, ‘It’s ok. I’ll just wash it when I get home.’ and at the same time shoves my head towards the piece of headscarf that she is holding between her thumb and forefinger. ‘Blow’ she says encouragingly. I do but I do it reluctantly because the headscarf is made out of a very slippery fabric that does a lot more smearing than wiping.
‘Better?’ asks Azizam, smiling down at me while tying a knot around the snotty part of her headscarf. ‘Yes thanks’ I say, giving my nose a couple more wipes with the back of my hand.
This time Babazee is sitting on one side of a glass wall and we’re on the other and the only way to talk to him is through the telephone. As soon as he sees us, he points to uncle Bahy which means he wants to talk to him first. So uncle Bahy sits down on the one chair on our side and we all stand behind him.
‘Salam Baba,’ uncle Bahy says smiling, ‘looking well.’ And then, ‘I went and talked to that Hajji I was telling you about last time.’ On the other side Babazee is getting very excited and talking fast but we can’t hear what he’s saying. I get bored and hang from the little metal shelf with the telephone on it and try to swing myself back and forth but after only a couple of swings uncle Bahy puts his hand on my head which means don’t do that and continues his conversation with Babazee.
‘I’m going to see him again tomorrow. You see this beard?’ he says stroking his beard and smiling, ‘this is my Bonyad beard.’ Uncle Bahy has had a beard for as long as I remember but these days when he wants to go to Bonyad-eh Mostazafan, he lets the sides grow, thinking that it makes him look more Islamic.
I slowly lower myself down, still holding onto the shelf and then let go of it, to sit on the stone floor of the visiting room. From the floor I look up at my mum, Azizam and aunty Leili; three of them standing solemnly in a row behind uncle Bahy, holding their chadors very tightly under their chin. ‘Hee hee, black crows.’ I think to myself, which is what I’ve heard some people call women in black chadors.
They didn’t always wear this outfit when they came to prison. At first they used to come in wearing their own clothes. But then this one time, they were not allowed in because a bad-tempered, black-chadored woman outside the prison told them that they could not come in unless they were wearing a headscarf. And no matter how much Azizam and my mum had cried and begged the bad-tempered woman to let them in just this once, she had flung her head backward, clicking her tongue and had said, ‘Next. What have you got in that bag? Empty it on the table.’
So the times after that, they had taken headscarves in with them and had worn long, baggy shirts and had got in. But then some time after that, they had been stopped by the door and told that they could not go in, unless they were wearing a chador. And that was what they had worn from then on.
‘Listen, we’re getting you out very soon’ says uncle Bahy, ‘and then we’re going to get everything back and there is no doubt about that; all the lands, the house and the villa. It’s all under control. Don’t you worry about a thing.’ Azizam throws her head back as she produces a very short burst of laughter, ‘Huh’ and loses her grip on her chador which means the little sack of snot gets a chance to poke its head out and dangle freely for a few seconds in prison air before she composes herself and tightens her grip again.
Realising time is about to run out and she is not going to get a chance to talk, Azizam taps uncle Bahy on his shoulder and says, ‘Tell him I’ve brought him a new shirt, a dressing gown, some fruits and some biscuits.’