Mohsen and Mahsa, my long shadows
I have jumped on a bulldozer and in these days of your absence, I will plow through memories of your presence. I start from the day you came to a blisteringly hot Ahvaz in southern Iran 31 years ago with those big, black eyes, with long stretched fingers and a taller stature than a typical one-day old baby. You had a smiley and kind face. Our mother used to say: My Mohsen is cute, and has a spicy character and not very befitting of Karun river ¹ which is fresh water. Mother was right, but your heart was as large as Karun, as generous and fluid.
Loving and calm with a smile. The same smile that is now strangely imprinted in the photo frame on the wall, in front of my face with playful eyes that don’t blink and constantly pulls me back to my childhood memories.
The memory of soccer balls made from two layers of thin plastic balls, of playing with netless goals, of playing soccer in alleys, and of betting on an ice-cold soft drink in the hot and sultry city. And then came the moves: From the southern city of Ahvaz to Arak in central Iran, and from Arak to Tehran, and at the end of the road, lied Canada.
I can’t believe that I am using the past tense to speak about you. A past that doesn’t pass for me. No need to go too far back in the memory lane: Do you remember that you haven’t even hit puberty, perhaps you were 15 or 16 years old-it doesn’t matter which-what matter is that you left the country in those teenage days. Everyone used to say that you are my shadow and you will walk in my steps. You come wherever I go. Everyone knew you were my shadow. But you were not my shadow, you were my soul. You were not the shadow of my body, you were a shelter over my head.
Every time I stare at your framed eyes on the wall, I pinch myself and ask, am I alive? How come I haven’t suffered a grief-stricken death? How have I endured so many deaths and so many mourning and griefs? Nothing will save me. Everything passes slowly, and I, weak and numb, am left with a thousand whys and hows, a thousand unanswered question marks which chew away my soul and spirit like a thermite within a wooden structure.
My dear brother,
In the hustle and bustle of your absence, I spread out here, on this damn sofa, and muster all my strength and thought to focus on you. In your memories. In your totality. In your unreserved kindnesses. In your concern for poor African children, in your zeal for the latest technological advances, and in your impatience for small get-togethers.
Every day, I come here, in the corner of this room which fully harbours your absence, and I remember the days of your presence. I crawl into this corner and think how empty my life is without you. Three decades of your life flash before my eyes, every single frame of it! What a twisted life! How short, how sad! My son Mohsen (your nephew), who was born after your death, cries sometimes. I hug him as though I am holding a lost brother who has returned from a trip.
Believe me; I still don’t believe you are gone! How did I get here? Where in this world do I stand now that I have to bear all this loneliness without you?
Do you remember that when you moved to Canada, you used to study non-stop? You were a student at Ryerson University in Toronto, the same university where you met the love of your life. Mohsen, it’s really good that you fell in love. Nothing makes one’s heart filled with hope like love. Love gives life to a person. You know, I think love is both the life’s origin and its destination.
It’s good that you fell in love. In love with a girl who was unabashedly kind. My dear Mahsa, beautiful and charming, with hair as black as ebony. Every day I see her in a white dress, more beautiful than ever. Wedding crown on the head, with that red lipstick that made her laughter more colorful, and holding a bouquet of white flowers. Her body leaning relaxedly in your arms. Both of you are sitting in the picture frame on the wall. Both of you are laughing. Both of you are happy.
But I still cry every time I see you and Mehsa’s framed laughter. It’s as though a hundred women are sitting at the bottom of my heart, grabbing and washing clothes on their washboard and with each grip and grind, they claw and wrangle my heart. I am restless. The grief and pain of a loss is not a black dress you can just take off. The sadness of your absence has nested within my soul. I feel it in my back, the same place they say would be bent and broken when one loses a brother. To this day, when I mention your name, my heart burns with a fire so fierce from which even Abraham would not have been able to come out alive².
It’s like I haven’t seen you in a hundred years. Last night I was roaming impatiently and restlessly around the room again. They have called you a martyr; but which war did you become a martyr at, my brother? Was it a war with our own side? Which front were you a soldier at without holding a gun? At which trench were you a defenseless soldier? You were killed in an unequal war where they didn’t even give me your tag or id disc or a piece of your shirt. Damn that finger which pressed the button, not once but twice, to fire the missiles. For me, it is like the button was pressed a thousand times.
Did the hands of the operator not shake? His hand aside, didn’t his heart tremble that he was about to shoot down 176 defenseless people?
Just like a soldier who stands in a firing squad, but before the order to fire is issued, his hands and heart tremble lest he fires the first shot, lest he allows an arrow pierce through a heart. He points the barrel of the gun at an angle towards the leg. He remembers the look of his mother and whispers the love of his lover, and does not fire a shot
It is different, dear Mohsen; believe me, it is different. I say that the one who fires the first shot is a murderer, and the one who wants to fire the last shot may be a lover. The latter cannot bring himself to do it. His hand is shaking. The one who pressed the missile launch button was not in love. He was a puppet of the executioner. He was the executioner himself, intoxicated with the fetid stench of blood, he got unhinged and shamelessly covered up everything. He knew nothing of boundless love. He had not savoured the astringent taste of nostalgia.
He did not know anything about the feeling of peace, hugs and caressing of women and children. The smell of blood and gunpowder, the smell of hatred, the pungent smell of vileness dominated his nostrils. But he did not know the smell of a full-scale war. In his eyes, everyone was an enemy, even you, even the kind Mehsa, even Siavash, to whose pacifism Shahnameh attests³.
I wish I knew that soldier; that soldier with that wrong finger still sleeps peacefully at night?
Or when he sleeps, he dreams of the eyes of little Reera, which Hamed pins on the Facebook wall every day. Does he see my son Mohsen growing up without an uncle?
Does he dream of you with those unrepeatable laughs? Of beautiful Siavash and Sara in that white wedding dress. Does he dream of Ghanimat ⁴, who loved nature and became a spoils of an imaginary war. Does he dream of Rastin, Maya, Shahrzad, of Parsa, and 176 Mohsens and Mahsas each of whom meant the whole life and the whole world to someone?
Mohsen Jan, I have repeated your name enough.
Like a tape recording, I review the last conversation.
– Mohsen, where are you?
– Now we are sitting in the plane waiting to take off.
– Well, I’ll see you in the morning. Take care of yourself.
What bitter futility resonates in that phrase “take care of yourself”
I told you not to go to Iran, but you were in love with Iran. In love with that land, you left your lifeless body and soul there, in a corner of the land you called home.
A land that is plagued by demons. A devil who makes up for their humiliation with the butt of a gun.
The devil whose brain is empty and his tongue is full, whose heart is void and his gun loaded. The one who has covered all his cruelty under a clerical robe. The one clinging to Quran’s verses and chapters. He renders halal what is supposed to be haram⁵ and changes to forbidden all that is permitted. He hangs the truth by a chain from the gallows and regurgitates lies every day. A demon who fights to stay alive a few more days and thinks the key to his survival lies in waging wars…
I wish instead of his divine book, he would read one of these earthly books, a romance novel, a book about how to raise your child or how to love. I wish he would read other people’s stories to see how violence affects people.
I wish the devil would use his unfiltered Twitter account to search for the #ps752justice to read at least one love story from you, the 176 lovers sitting on that flight. I want someone to take a photo of my rattled and grief-stricken heart and show it to all the doctors in the world.
In all medical schools, they should put up the picture of my sorrowful and bereaved heart for all medical students to see.
Dear Mohsen, we have risen to seek justice for all of you.
We do not forgive, we are filled with anger. We have questions for the perpetrators of this crime. And a single answer is enough for all of our questions: With what justification did you shoot 176 loving hearts, not once but twice? What was the war which left 176 martyrs on our hands? Why did you cover up the truth? Why have you held your tongue and defended the crime that only made you more notorious than before?
My dear brother; after your departure, I have become a thorn in their eyes; I shall not forgive and keep asking questions…
Writer: Roya Maleki
¹ Karun is one of Iran’s longest rivers and its only navigable one. Its banks and valley were home to early Iranian civilizations.
² In Islamic and Jewish Midrashic tradition, Abraham was subject to a test whereby he was thrown into the fire. In Quranic version, God ordered the fire to cool down, and Abraham was unharmed.
³ Shahname is the major epic poems by 10th century Iranian poet, Ferdowsi. One of the figures in the book is a prince called Siavash or Siavosh, who established a Utopia. To honour a peace pact he had signed, he refused to fight and was killed by his enemies.
⁴ Ghanimat means a prize as well as war’s spoils in Persian
⁵ Halal, equivalent to jewish Kosher, is what is permissible in Islam. Haram is anything that is forbidden.