Authors: William Mirza,Thom Lemmons
Tags: #Christian, #Islam, #Political, #Fiction, #Suspense, #Historical, #War & Military, #Judaism, #Iranian Revolution, #Cultural Heritage, #Religious Persecution
Esther watched the vehicles drive away. She felt as if she were in a trance.
Can this really be happening?
she wondered. All their lives they had been the model citizens—minding their own business, uninvolved in politics, scrupulously sensitive to the mores and customs of the Islamic majority—and for what? All Ezra’s caution, all their attempts to make their world safe had come to this. Wretchedly she turned and went into the house.
She wandered into the drawing room, her elbows gripped to her sides. She stared at the blank space on the wall—oblong and brighter than the surrounding light-faded paint—where the portrait of the Shah had hung. She remembered how she had felt when Ezra took it down, as if they had personally betrayed the ruler and father of Iran. She had adamantly refused to allow him to hang in its place a cheap print of Khomeini. Now, too late, she knew that she would gladly hang a portrait of the hated Ayatollah in every room of the house, if doing so would ensure her husband’s return from the clutches of the
Behind her, the front door opened. She turned, to see Sepi coming in from school. She heard the sound of Moosa’s footsteps as he came down the stairs.
Sepi was looking at her strangely. “Mother,” she asked, “what’s wrong? You look like you’ve been crying.” Her eyes went from her mother’s face to the somber countenance of her brother, standing dourly by the stair. She glanced about, then asked, “And where is Father?”
Esther could contain the riptides of her grief no longer. She collapsed onto the divan, sobbing wildly into her hands. Sepi stared with frightened eyes from her mother to Moosa, who took her by the arm, guiding her into the kitchen. “Come in here, Sepideh,” he said in a halting voice. “I don’t know how to say this….”
The van stopped in front of a massive iron gate in a dingy, gray wall. From the direction and duration of the drive, Ezra surmised this must be the notorious Evin Prison, made infamous in the days of the Shah by the occupants—robbers, insurgents, political prisoners—who had disappeared into its maw, never to be seen again. Ezra turned to the commander of the detail. “I demand to know under what charges I am brought to this place.”
sneered. “You demand, do you?” He leaned forward, until his breath, reeking of curry and onions, smote Ezra’s nostrils like a fist. “Let me tell you something, scum,” he growled. “You are done with demanding anything. You don’t matter a spit to me, and the sooner you get that through your stupid Jew head, the better.”
Still Ezra did not drop his gaze. “Is this the reason for my arrest, then—because I am a Jew?”
backhanded Ezra across the face with a blow that sent him sprawling against the door of the van. “Get this infidel out of here,” he barked at one of this lackeys, “before I kill him.”
Quickly the door was yanked open, and Ezra fell limply onto the pavement. He was tugged to his feet with curses and kicks, and shoved against the wall beside the gate. A
banged the butt of his carbine noisily against the grille beside the gate. A small panel in the grille slid back, and two eyes glittered at them from inside.
“Open up,” the
said. “We have a prisoner to bring inside.” A few seconds more the eyes flicked over them, and then the gate began moving with a grinding, grudging noise of electric motors and winch cables.
When it had slid aside far enough to admit a man, Ezra was pushed through, followed by two of the
. They marched him through a concrete courtyard to another wall and a gatehouse. A guard came out, his breath puffing steam in the cool air of the early spring day. Methodically he patted Ezra down.
Ezra shuddered as the man’s hands passed over the concealed pocket. He felt the muted crackle of the receipt against his skin, but the guard felt and heard nothing. He stepped back, turning his head toward the gatehouse. “He’s clean,” he called.
Another guard came from the shelter, carrying a clipboard. He began to ask questions in a bored voice.
“Ezra Solaiman,” answered one of the arresting
“I have done nothing—” began Ezra.
“Quiet, Jew!” threatened one of the
. “You were brought here for a reason, be sure of that. We don’t arrest people for nothing. You’ll get your chance to prove your innocence before the tribunal.”
“But,” protested Ezra. “I thought a man was innocent until proven guilty.”
“You are a traitor to the Holy Revolution,” cut in the other
. “And if, by some remote chance, you happen to be innocent, you’ll go to Paradise as a martyr when you’re shot. So stop sniveling.”
The guard with the clipboard glanced up at them. “Cellblock 5,” he said, and motioned toward the gatehouse. Another gate creaked open, and once again Ezra was marched forward, into the bowels of Evin Prison.
They walked down a dark hallway stinking of urine and vomit. Despite the claustrophobic press of bodies in the cells, the air inside was dank and cold; Ezra silently thanked Esther for remembering the overcoat. They stopped in front of a cell door. Above the door, red paint peeled from a numeral 5 stenciled on the wall eternities ago. As one of the guards fumbled with a key, Ezra looked between the bars.
The place hardly deserved to be dignified as a cell. It was a sty, a pen for human cattle. The enclosure was about ten meters wide by five meters deep. It had been originally planned as a holding place for perhaps ten men, but at least fifty filthy, pathetic prisoners sat crumpled against the walls or sprawled on the bare concrete floor. A bare light bulb dangled from a naked cord, spreading a squalid glare. In one corner was a dilapidated toilet, stained by frequent overflows. Ezra felt the gorge rising in the back of his throat as the guard unlocked the door and thrust him in among the forgotten souls in this wretched purgatory. The bars clanged shut behind him.
Moosa walked among the stalls at the covered bazaar, uncomfortably aware of the press of the
notes in the breast pocket of his coat. He felt eyes boring into his back, as if each shopkeeper, each patron of the bazaar turned and whispered to his neighbor as Moosa passed. He scarcely had the heart to attempt this mission today, after the wrenching events of the morning. But his father had charged him to do the task, and the effort must be made. He had left Sepi and his mother both weeping, and the lump in his own throat was mitigated only by the urgency of completing what his father had asked of him. In fact, it was more critical now than ever that the preparations for leaving Iran be accomplished. Perhaps there would be only three of them…. Moosa shoved the thought down in his subconscious as soon as it appeared.
Finally, he located the booth of the moneychanger. At the front of the stall was a vitrine display case, with a few samples of each of Swiss francs, Deutsche marks, Italian lira, and a disappointingly small number of American dollars. The merchant squatted behind the case on an Isfahan carpet that looked deceptively old and worn.
“You want to buy dollars,” the merchant said. To Moosa, it didn’t sound like a question.
“Maybe,” he replied in a carefully neutral tone, “but I don’t see how you can help me. You have less than $1,000 here.”
“Young friend, I am not so stupid as to display my entire stock,” the merchant chucked, as his eyes slid quickly over Moosa’s Western attire and recently shaved face. “Come inside. A man who wants to make a substantial purchase should at least be offered a glass of tea.” He rose, smiling as Moosa allowed himself to be led toward the gauze curtain at the rear of the booth.
“Ali, mind the front,” said the merchant over his shoulder as he turned to follow Moosa behind the drape. A teenage boy shuffled from the corner he had occupied to the carpet behind the display case, sitting with a loose-jointed motion.
The moneychanger seated himself on a cushion, motioning for Moosa to take the place across from him. He swiveled about, filling two small, clear glasses from a samovar. Placing a bowl of sugar cubes between them, he began the negotiation.
“Now, my young friend, how many dollars do you want to buy?”
Moosa wasn’t sure he was ready for a tug-of-war with the moneychanger, but there was no alternative. He took a deep breath as he reached for a sugar cube. He placed it between his teeth, sipping a swallow of tea. Slowly placing his tea in front of him, he looked over the merchant’s left shoulder. “I’m not sure. I suppose it depends on your price. How much are you asking for dollars?”
The man shrugged. “The going rate—nine.”
hissed Moosa. “Only a week ago the official rate was seven
You are a thief, my friend!”
The moneychanger affected a pained look. “Young man, I am an honest businessman. Feel free to go anywhere in the bazaar. You won’t find a better rate on dollars, I promise you.” Grumbling under his breath, the fellow took another sip of tea and drew a string of worry beads out of a pocket.
Moosa thought a moment. The old scoundrel was probably telling the truth. Since the Khomeini regime had halted the banks from selling hard currencies, the only sources for foreign exchange were the independent operators in the bazaars. The government did nothing to interfere with the informal, yet quite brisk trade of men such as this. Given the tight supply, and the increasing demand by those who wanted to get out of the country, nine
to the dollar was quite possible, as badly as he hated to admit it. He decided to try a different tact.
Moosa took another sip of his tea. His eyes studiously fixed on his tea glass, he asked. “How much would I have to buy before you would give me a better price?”
The merchant shrugged, his eyes downcast. “You will have to give me a moment to think,” he mumbled. “I am not accustomed to having my ethics impugned by young striplings.”
Moosa grimaced inwardly, but said nothing.
In a couple of minutes, the old man looked up, his eyes sliding past Moosa’s face to gaze at the dark corner of the room, just under the roof. “Perhaps I can give you some discount for volume. How much currency do you want?”
Moosa avoided answering directly, “I only have about 300,000 to exchange today. But, if I get a favorable rate …” He allowed the end of the sentence to dangle tantalizingly between them.
The moneychanger snorted, “Ah! A big shot! Do you think I can afford to discount my wares for every fledging financier who swaggers into my booth? Just because you’ve been across the ocean, boy, don’t think I’m a stupid peasant!”
Now it was Moosa who shrugged. “Do as you like, old man,” he intoned in a bored voice. “I’ll buy my dollars somewhere—if not from you, then from someone else. Thank you for the tea.” He rose to his feet as if to leave.
The merchant’s eyes widened. He had not expected such a calm rebuff to his offensive. “Wait,” he stammered as Moosa turned to leave, “300,000
Moosa glanced back at him, nodding slightly.
“Well, if things are as you say …” The moneychanger tugged at his beard, frowning, “How about—eight
?” He cut his eyes upward hopefully.
“Eight and five,” Moosa shot back, without moving.
The merchant grimaced and looked away. Presently he stood, and gripped Moosa’s hand. “I like you, boy—you remind me of my eldest son. Won’t you take eight and seven? It’s below the market rate, and I can give you my oath before Allah for that….”
“Eight and six,” countered Moosa, “and I won’t pay any more.” He tried to pull his hand away from the haggling merchant.
The older man sighed, his shoulders drooping. “Ah, well, you are a stubborn and heartless young man, but … all right. Eight and six.”
Moosa watched as he went to a padlocked chest in the rear of the room. Glancing back at Moosa a final time, the moneychanger shook his head in regret, took a key from the chain about his neck, and bent toward the lock.