Authors: William Mirza,Thom Lemmons
Tags: #Christian, #Islam, #Political, #Fiction, #Suspense, #Historical, #War & Military, #Judaism, #Iranian Revolution, #Cultural Heritage, #Religious Persecution
She yanked open the front door and moved rapidly down the walk, her hands coming to her mouth. She neared the gate and saw. Then she was running, screaming his name.
“Ezra! Ezra, oh, please, God, is it really my husband? Dear God in heaven! Ezra!”
She threw open the gate and they were in each other’s arms.
Sepi and Khosrow walked down the crowded hall. Classes were over for the day, and everyone was rushing to gather books and start home.
Khosrow barely seemed to notice her these days. He had stopped holding her hand when they walked together. No more did he meet her by the stairs. When they had infrequent chances to talk, his eyes never met hers. The playful teasing, the delicious flirting she had secretly so enjoyed—these were in the past. Now his face was an illegible tablet of stone, his responses mumbled monosyllables.
The giddy, warm bloom of affection she had felt for him was being slowly replaced by a puzzled frustration. She wondered why he went to the trouble of walking with her. She wondered even more why she clung to the faint hope that he would again be the fun-loving, mischievous Khosrow to whom she had been so attracted.
As they approached the exit, Sepi noticed the boys waiting outside the door. Khosrow and Sepi descended the steps to the sidewalk and the boys drew into a noose around them, two of the boys blocking their path. Sepi’s eyes raced around the circle of boys, their faces blank masks of casual malevolence. She felt her stomach freezing as she grasped at Khosrow’s arm.
“What do you want?” Khosrow demanded. “Get out of our way.”
“I see you haven’t listened to the advice we gave you, Parvin,” sneered one of the boys. “You’re still hanging around with this trash.”
“Shut your filthy mouth,” threatened Khosrow.
“Don’t,” warned Sepi, clutching at him. “There are too many of them.”
“You’d better listen to her,” growled the other boy. “She’s interested in saving her skin, even if you aren’t. The Islamic patriots don’t tolerate disobedience.”
“Big talk,” said Khosrow, his cheeks reddening in anger and fear. “No wonder you Islamic patriots run in packs like jackals.”
The other boy’s fist flashed out at Khosrow, but he shied, and the blow landed on his chest instead of his cheek. Sepi screamed, feeling the circle of boys close in. Hands shoved her, grasped at her, slapped her. She fell to the ground and the melee swirled around and over her, closing in on Khosrow in a flurry of dust and curses and blows. Scrambling to her feet, she raced away in mad, unreasoning terror from the circle of hatred.
A teacher rushed outside, staring intently at the scene. He took in the sight of the fleeing Sepideh Solaiman and Khosrow Parvin encircled by the angry young toughs. He was about to dash forward to break up the fight, when he felt a hand on his shoulder. The principal stood there, looking intently at him, silently shaking his head. Quietly the two men stepped back inside the school and closed the door.
With trembling hands, Ezra reached for the handle of the carrying case. As the official watched, he threw back the latches on both sides, then slowly raised the lid. The customs inspector bent over and peered inside.
“Hmmm,” he murmured, “nice rug. And, from the look of it, a fairly expensive Isfahan. But still you have not shown me a permit to take it out of the country.” The official leveled his gaze at Ezra.
Ezra felt Esther’s fingers digging painfully into his upper arm. He cared not a fig for the carpet, but if they scrutinized the case, they might find the secret compartment. His mind whirled, trying to think, to improvise….
A man shouldered his way through the crowd beside them. Ezra heard a familiar voice speaking to the official. “I am Mullah Nader Hafizi, and this man is traveling with me. Why is he being detained?”
The official stared at Hafizi, before replying, “This rug has no export permit. It cannot be taken out of the country.”
“You should read this,” said Hafizi, handing the inspector a paper from his breast pocket. Suspiciously, the customs official took it from the mullah. His eyes roved the page, coming at last to the signature at the bottom. The eyes widened, then looked up with a new respect at Hafizi and Solaiman.
“Very well,” he said, closing and fastening the lid of the carrying case. “You may go. May Allah bless your journey.” The inspector chalked an X on each piece of luggage, including the wooden case.
Hastily Ezra grabbed the handle of the case. With a quick nod at the inspector and a grateful glance at Hafizi, they passed through the customs gate and made their way toward the departure area.
Ahmed dabirian the cabinetmaker glanced at the ancient clock on the wall of his shop. Time for prayer. The devout Muslim laid aside his tools and went to get his prayer rug. He unrolled the rug and laid it in the middle of the shop floor. Standing, he faced southwest, toward the Kaaba in Mecca.
Ezra stopped at the doorway. Seeing that Ahmed was about to begin his morning prayers, he stayed quiet, not wanting to interrupt. He heard the tradesman murmuring in Arabic the prayer of Islam: “In the name of the most merciful Allah. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of all beings, the Master of the Day of Judgment….” Standing, then kneeling, and then facedown on the rug, the cabinetmaker repeated his devotions. When he finished and was rolling up the prayer rug, Ezra quietly knocked on the door frame.
Ahmed looked around. “
Solaiman,” he said, smiling. “It’s good to see you. How is your family?” he asked, extending a dusty hand which Ezra shook in greeting.
Dabirian had made the dining-room chairs for Ezra and Esther’s house. He was a meticulous craftsman. The oldest child of a poor bricklayer, Dabirian had learned his craft during a seven-year apprenticeship to an older carpenter, at the end of which he had started his own shop in the same dusty, shavings-strewn room where he now worked.
Ezra wished desperately that he could state directly what he wanted from the carpenter, but he forced himself to observe the customary formalities of greeting. Giving Dabirian a tight-lipped smile, he answered, “We are well,
, God be thanked. And how are things with your household?”
In the thirty years of his trade, Ahmed had not made a lot of money, and this fact, along with the bitter memories of his poverty-stricken childhood, galled him. Being a devout Muslim, he had welcomed the coming of the Imam Khomeini as a salvation for the poor. And, indeed, his fortunes had improved with the coming of the new regime.
Solaiman,” said the quiet woodworker with a confident smile. “For the faithful, the changes in the country have been beneficial.”
Ezra shuddered inwardly, hoping his anxiety didn’t show. He decided to broach his business with the craftsman before his nerves got the better of him.
“I need a box built,
Dabirian,” said Ezra. “I want to ship some rugs to my cousin in America, and I want to be certain they make the journey undamaged.”
Dabirian nodded, cupping his chin in one hand. “That won’t be difficult,
Solaiman,” he said. “I would suggest plywood. It’s durable, and far less expensive than ordinary planking.”
“Only one thing,” interrupted Ezra. “I want the box built in a certain way. I have a rough sketch.” Ezra pulled a piece of paper from his coat pocket and smoothed it out on a nearby countertop. Dabirian leaned over the drawing, squinting and scratching his beard. After a moment, he looked up.
“What is the purpose of this empty compartment at the bottom of the box,
Ezra shrugged. “The hold of the ship may be damp. I intend to place sawdust or cotton in this place to absorb the humidity and protect the carpet.”
“Then I will need to drill holes in the partition—”
“No!” said Ezra. “Leave the bottom solid. I … don’t think holes are needed,” he finished weakly.
Ahmed stared strangely at Ezra for a few moments, then gave a slight shrug as he again studied the drawing, “I don’t think this will take long at all,
Solaiman,” he said. “I should be able to have it finished by …” He squinted upward in calculation. “… day after tomorrow,
, God willing
I can have it delivered to your house. Will that be all right?”
Ezra nodded. “That should be perfect, thank you very much.” Trying to mask the awkwardness of his discomfort about the partition, Ezra asked casually, “And how are things for you now,
Dabirian—with the … changes that have happened recently?”
Dabirian smiled. “Things have never been better for me,
Solaiman. The blessed Imam will cause the nation to obey the laws of Islam. No more will the poor be downtrodden by the rich. It was a day of great happiness for me when the Ayatollah landed at Mehrabad Airport.”
Ezra nodded, with what he hoped was a neutral expression.
Solaiman,” continued Dabirian in a somber tone, “I understand there have been … difficulties for you. I was sorry to hear of your arrest and imprisonment.”
Ezra stared at the cabinetmaker, his eyes round disks of shock. “How … did you know?” he stammered.
“I have a cousin who is a mullah,
,” explained Dabirian. “Through him, I was able to get an appointment as a special agent for the government. As a part of my duties, I … I hear things.”
Ezra struggled to regain control over his features. It would not do to arouse Dabirian’s suspicions about the partition in the box—any more than he had already done.
“The system made an error in your case,
Solaiman,” continued Dabirian earnestly. “You are a good man, not a rascal like some of the others. You should never have been put in that horrible place. I am grateful Allah the Merciful delivered you from such a situation.”
Ezra looked up at the other man. “Thank you,
Dabirian. I appreciate your concern.” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “And now I really must go. Should I pay you for the box now, or when it is delivered?”
Solaiman, I want to give you the opportunity to inspect my work before I am paid. It is a matter of professional pride, I suppose,” smiled Dabirian. “My son will collect the money when he brings the box.”
“Very well, then,” said Ezra. “Thank you again,
Khoda hafez, may God protect you.
Dabirian bowed his head slightly as Ezra left the shop. When he had gone, Ahmed looked again at the drawing. Picking up a cedar shaving, he sniffed absently at its resinous scent as he reflected on Solaiman’s odd, nervous manner. Why would he want a concealed compartment in a shipping box? Scratching his sawdust-filled beard, he began sorting through his store of lumber for a plywood sheet of the proper size.
Outside on the sidewalk, Ezra wished fervently that he had gone to a carpenter unknown to him.
Nathan Moosovi pulled into the alley and parked the Volvo. He glanced at Moosa beside him. “Here we are,” he said. “The door is just around that corner.”
They walked down the unpaved alley, skirting the puddles of muddy water. In the overcast afternoon light, the puddles looked gray, like everything else. Nathan stopped beside a rusted metal door and knocked once, hesitated, and knocked three more times in quick succession. The door opened perhaps an inch.
“It’s Nathan,” he said in a quiet voice, “and I’ve brought the guest I told you about.”
The door opened halfway. The interior was pitch-dark, as far as Moosa could discern. Nathan stepped inside but Moosa hesitated. The door reminded him uncomfortably of the gateway to some mythical underworld. Taking a deep breath, he stepped past the portal.
The room was not completely dark, after all. As his eyes adjusted to being inside, Moosa could see the sparse furnishings: a table, a miscellaneous assortment of chairs scattered about, empty cups and glasses strewn on the table, a low-wattage lamp in one corner. The air was heavy with stale cigarette smoke. Several men were inside, staring at him with looks of appraisal and curiosity.
“We don’t use last names here,” Nathan murmured to him. “We think it’s better that way, in case … anything should happen.”
Moosa swallowed and nodded, his eyes darting to and fro about the room.
One of the men approached. In the dim light, he might have been thirty or sixty. His frame was spare and firm, but his face was careworn and fatigued. Like many Iranians, Moosa realized, he had aged rapidly in these last months.
“This is Moosa,” Nathan said to the man. “His father was imprisoned in Evin.”
“Why did they take him away?” asked the man.
Moosa glanced quickly from Nathan to the speaker. “I … I don’t know. He had done nothing wrong. The
just came and got him.”
“Did they shoot him?” the man asked in the same flat voice.
“No. He got out alive.”
The man glanced significantly at Nathan and the others. “Why did they let him out?” he asked quickly. “No one comes out of Evin alive, unless he’s on their side.”
“No, that’s not how it is with him!” Moosa replied, louder than he intended. “A mullah put in a word for him—”
“A mullah!” sneered one of the others. “Who is this guy, anyway? What are you doing, Nathan? Selling us to one of Khomeini’s lapdogs?”
“My father was kind to this mullah, long before the revolution,” Moosa said, trying in vain to keep from clenching his fists. “For the sake of that, the mullah helped him—nothing more. He’s not a toady for the
, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Listen, Ari,” Nathan said in a calm voice, laying a hand on Moosa’s arm, “I’ve known Moosa all his life. I’m not stupid. Moosa is just as angry as any of us. Don’t hold it against him that his father’s still alive.”
The others fell silent at this, regarding Moosa with sullen stares.
The man who had approached peered at Moosa for some moments in appraisal. Finally, he said, “I’m Ari. Come on in and have a seat.” He turned away without offering his hand.
Nathan guided Moosa to a seat at the table. The others gathered in a loose circle about him.