Read The Moving Prison Online

Authors: William Mirza,Thom Lemmons

Tags: #Christian, #Islam, #Political, #Fiction, #Suspense, #Historical, #War & Military, #Judaism, #Iranian Revolution, #Cultural Heritage, #Religious Persecution

The Moving Prison (16 page)

BOOK: The Moving Prison
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Jahan smiled down at her daughter, then at Ezra. “Pistachio nut candies are her favorites,” she said. Placing her mouth close beside Maheen’s ear, she admonished, “What do you say to
Aga
Solaiman, little one?”

“Thank you,” the child said quietly, with the briefest of glances in his direction. Then she ducked her head, studiously inspecting the sack of candy

“Reuben …” Ezra began, and stopped. The name was big in the room, made huge by the absence of its owner. He could not say it without feeling a vast draft of sorrow blowing through his heart. His mouth struggled dryly for a way to continue. He realized Jahan was looking at him strangely.

“I’m sorry, Jahan
khanom
,” he managed. “I hardly know how to begin. Your suffering … it must be unbearable.”

“No,
Aga
Solaiman,” she said quietly, a look of saddened calm on her features. “It is not unbearable, not quite. I know Reuben is beyond all pain, all suffering. And that is of much comfort to me, even now.” She drew a deep, quivering breath, then continued. “And … as for Maheen and me, well … we will be protected by the same grace which shielded Reuben.”

Ezra puzzled the meaning of this enigmatic assurance. Reuben … shielded? “I’m sorry, Jahan
khanom
, but I … fail to comprehend.”

“Death is not the end of the story,
Aga
Solaiman,” she said in a quiet voice, husky with conviction. Her eyes blazed with dark fire into his. “Reuben lives, because his Lord lives, and is faithful to His promises.”

Ezra felt his face slackening with surprise. He had come here expecting to give comfort, to share the sorrow of a bereaved wife and child. And there was sorrow here, to be sure; anxiety, pain, and longing were evident in the manner and bearing of Jahan Ibrahim. But this … this ardent undertone of assurance, this foundation of confidence? So unlike the woeful, resigned fatalism Ezra remembered from the funerals of his parents and friends. Or the vengeful protestations of the Shiite martyrs’ families. This was a faith that had nothing to prove to itself, nor to anyone else. For Jahan Ibrahim, it seemed a sufficiency, even in the midst of heartbreak.

“I … heard Reuben speak—or, rather, pray … about a Yeshua,” he began.

“Yes,” said Jahan, smiling through the tears coursing down her cheeks. “We have placed our trust in Yeshua, and He will be with us, no matter what may come.”

Seeing Ezra’s confused look, she continued softly, “Surely you have heard of Him,
Aga
Solaiman. Yeshua … some call Him Jesus.”

A look of astonishment burst across Ezra’s features. “Jesus! But Reuben said he was a Jew!”

“Yes, we are Jews,” interjected Jahan. “We are Jews who believe that God came to earth in the person of
Yeshua Hamashiach
. That doesn’t make us any less Jewish. There is a difference between this belief and the Western Christian heritage which has persecuted and despised our people for so long. That heritage has much in which Yeshua has no part, things which we cannot accept. But we have placed our lives—and our eternal souls—in the hands of Yeshua, the Son of God, the Savior.”

Ezra scarcely knew what to say. He was embarrassed, nonplussed, and—he was strangely loath to admit—angry, as if Reuben had somehow deceived him. He had come here to fulfill a promise to one with whom he had supposed himself to have linkage, commonality. And now the man’s widow preached to him about some strange, half-Jewish belief in the Christ! Surely the world was turning upside down, when Jews began calling on the name of Jesus! Instinctively, his eyes flew to the face of Jahan’s father. Surely a man closer to his own generation did not tolerate such outlandish notions under his roof. But the intense, unwavering return gaze of Ismail Menachim, the quiet, assured attitude of Jahan’s mother, told him that the entire household was of a single mind on this subject.

Feeling more out of place than ever, Ezra stood. “Jahan
khanom
, I … I wish, for the sake of your husband’s kindness to me, to give you—this.” He took an envelope from his coat pocket, proffering it toward the still-seated Jahan. She took it, her brow wrinkling in puzzlement. “That is 10,000
rials
,” he said, in answer to her unasked question. “Reuben said he had hidden money for you, with instructions contained in the envelope I brought from him. But, please take this money, as a sign of my gratitude for Reuben’s encouragement and bravery.”

Her eyes widened, she stared at him in amazement. “
Aga
Solaiman … why should you—?”

Ezra suddenly had the desperate need to be away. “Please,
khanom
. Allow me to do this. As for the other things you had to say … I …” His mouth opened and closed, his fingers made grasping motions, but his thoughts eluded him, evaporating into the thin air of his confusion. “I … should go now,” he stammered finally, putting his hat on and turning toward the door.

He felt her hand on his shoulder. He turned. Jahan was standing, holding the silent Maheen on her hip. “
Aga
Solaiman,” she was saying, “I … I hope I didn’t frighten or offend you. Perhaps I spoke more freely than I should have, to one whom I have only just met. But somehow….” Her eyes misted over, her chin quivered as she looked away, then back at him. “You were the last to see my Reuben alive. Perhaps I thought that somehow, in telling you, I was also telling him.” Her lips trembled out of control. She brought a hand to her mouth. Hesitantly, her father placed his hand on her shoulder, squeezing slightly.

A moment more her eyes held Ezra. He cleared his throat awkwardly, breaking the spell. “Yes, well …” he said, looking away, “I really must go now, and leave you alone. Good-bye, Jahan
khanom
, and good-bye, Maheen.” The child managed a little wave, still without looking at him. “I am truly sorry for your loss,” he finished. “May … may God protect you and Maheen.”

“He will,
Aga
Solaiman,” she averred quietly. “He will.”

After another uncomfortable pause, Ezra smiled weakly and nodded. “Thank you,
Aga
Menachim, for your hospitality.” Jahan’s father nodded.

Then Ezra was out the door and striding across the small courtyard. Closing the gate behind him, he took several deep breaths. After glancing about, he walked quickly away.

As Ezra rounded the corner, a man who had been leaning against the wall at the opposite end of the block took a final drag at his cigarette and dropped it to the pavement, grinding it with his foot. Glancing back at the small house where he had just met with the revolutionary committee’s go-between, Firouz Marandi once again patted the envelope in his pocket.
Not a bad day’s pay for informing on an unsuspecting Baha’i scum,
he thought. After a final look about, he sauntered casually along in the same direction Ezra had taken. As he followed at a safe distance, he thought to himself,
What is that old Jew up to now?

Moosa pushed his plate away. “That was good, Mother,” he said, appreciatively. He stood up from the table and walked toward the front foyer.

“Where are you going?” he heard his mother ask, as he reached for his jacket. Carefully, deliberately, he put on and zipped the leather jacket before turning to face her.

She was standing between him and the table. The others, still seated, were frozen in a tableau of tense anticipation. She gripped her elbows to her sides with the palms of her hands; her face was a tightly pinched portrait of worry and disapproval.

“I’m going out—with some friends,” he said quietly. As he was starting out the door, he remembered the gun. He turned and went upstairs toward his room. As he reached the top landing, he heard quiet, terse voices in the dining room below … his parents’ voices.

When he came downstairs, his father stood in the foyer. Moosa saw his eyes flicker from his face to the bulge in his jacket. “What do you have in your coat?” his father demanded.

Slowly, Moosa unzipped his jacket. “I bought it in the covered bazaar,” he explained, closing his hand over the Beretta, bringing it into the open as if it were a precious jewel—or a vial of explosive gas. “I thought … perhaps … it was something … we might need.” Holding the gun on his open palm, he displayed it to his father.

Ezra stared at Moosa as if he held a live snake in his hand. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked.

Moosa’s stare challenged his father’s. “The
pasdars
may come back while you are gone. They came last time for you; they may come for Mother or Sepi. I … I thought it my duty to protect—”

“Protect?” shouted Ezra. “By taking on the
pasdars
single-handedly? This is folly, boy! What could you be thinking of?”

Moosa stared over his father’s head, his jaw grinding and his nostrils flaring in silent resentment. “Father,” he grated finally, his eyes averted, “I have seen the
pasdars’
interrogation methods. I saw them beat Nathan Moosovi, for nothing other than reporting a crime against his property. They have killed Nathan’s father. Perhaps your mullah friend—if indeed he is such—would again intervene, perhaps not. But—”

“Is this what you have learned in America?” said Ezra, incredulous. “To carry such things about like … like some kind of bandit?”

Esther and Sepi sat at the table, their faces white with fear, waiting to hear what Moosa would say.

“In America, Father,” Moosa said through clenched teeth, “I never knew the police to drag an honest citizen out of his house and throw him in prison. In Iran, things are different now, wouldn’t you agree?” For ten, twelve heartbeats, the father and son stared angrily at each other. Moosa shouldered past Ezra and strode to the entry. He yanked the door open and was gone with a slam into the night.

Ezra stood rooted to his spot at the base of the stairs, feeling as if all the air had just left his body, sucked out by Moosa’s belligerent exit. Unbidden, the memory of Jahan Ibrahim floated to the surface of his jumbled emotions.
“We have placed our trust in Yeshua; He will be with us.” Who
, Ezra wondered,
will be with Moosa tonight? What dark deity will shield him as he walks in wrath, wielding a weapon of violence?

Dejection twined his heart like a choking vine. He realized that his escape from the clutches of the mullah at Evin Prison was only a beginning. There were yet many ways for insanity to win the day.

SEVENTEEN

The sun was high in the sky; it was just past noon. Ezra was hungry and sweaty in the blazing summer heat, but he dared not leave his place in line. He had already been queuing outside the Swiss Embassy for two hours, and at least three dozen people stood impatiently behind him. Ahead, ten individuals waited for an appointment with the consul’s representative. Swiss exit visas were in high demand these days.

Tedium finally got the better of him, and Ezra decided to strike up a conversation. He tapped the middle-aged man in front of him on the shoulder. The man turned and looked at Ezra with a pleasant, questioning look. “Yes,
baradar
, what it is?”

“How much longer do you think we will have to wait?” Ezra asked.

The man shrugged. “Who knows? We may have to come back tomorrow.”

“And start all over?” asked Ezra, horrified at the thought of repeating his two-hour ordeal.

“Oh, no!” said the stranger. “Unlike our officials, the Swiss are experienced and well-organized.” Both men chuckled at the unfortunate truth of the comparison. “They will give us a number before they close for the day,” the man continued, “and we will keep our places in line for tomorrow. But,” he said, glancing at his watch, “it’s only 3:30. If they don’t close until five o’clock, we may yet get in to the consul’s representative.”

Ezra nodded. Seeing two mullahs close to the front of the line, he nudged the friendly stranger. Pointing his chin at the mullahs, Ezra said, “Obviously this isn’t an Islamic Republic office, or those two would already be inside.”

“True,” agreed the man ruefully. “Well, at least there’s one place in Iran where they must wait their turn, like everyone else.”

Ezra grunted in agreement, staring warily at the clerics.

“Any guess why they’re getting Swiss visas?” asked the man softly, after a moment’s silence.

Heartened by the man’s apparent mistrust of the mullahs, Ezra snorted scornfully. Leaning closer to the stranger, he said, “Obviously they aren’t going there to buy a new wardrobe.” The two men chuckled softly together, glancing cautiously about.

Another moment passed, and the fellow whispered close to Ezra’s ear, “The Swiss banks.”

Ezra reflected a moment, then nodded solemnly at his newfound ally. “I have seen the way they get their riches,” he replied quietly. “You think they take this blood money to Switzerland?”

The man looked askance at Ezra, as if to say, “Can there be any doubt?”

As the line moved forward, the man murmured over his shoulder to Ezra, “You are emigrating because you are Jewish.”

It didn’t sound like a question. After several silent seconds of contemplation, Ezra whispered, “Yes.”

Again the line halted and the man turned toward Ezra. Looking carefully about, he said in a low voice, “I’m leaving too.”

Ezra glanced curiously at the fellow. “Why? You don’t look or sound Jewish. Are you Baha’i or Christian?”

A slight smile skittered across the man’s face as he looked into Ezra’s eyes. “The religious minorities are not the only ones who suffer,” he remarked sadly.

A silent question was etched on Ezra’s face.

Looking over his shoulder, the fellow continued softly. “Until two years before the revolution, my brother was the officer in command of the Shah’s bodyguard. Someone denounced him to the revolutionary committee, and he was arrested, tried, and shot.”

Ezra shuddered, as the too-present recollection of Evin Prison strangled him with memories of fear and death.

“Who knows how far the net of hatred may widen?” the man asked. “Like ripples on a pool, the circle grows and grows. Today they shoot anyone who had close relations with the Shah; tomorrow, perhaps all who knew yesterday’s victims. What is to stop them? I will leave this country and never come back, as long as its only law is the mullahs’ greed and ambition.”

A silent moment of fearful reflection passed before Ezra said, “Like Scheherazade of
One Thousand and One Nights,
Alef Laillah
, we could tell a thousand and one tales—of sadness, death, and injustice.”

Ezra glanced over the application form he had just completed. Again he stared hard at the question, “How many people will be in your party?”

He had written a numeral 3 in the blank, after a soul-searching pause. Moosa presumably still had his American visa; Ezra did not want to further alert the Islamic authorities that his son was back in Iran.

Almost daily, the newspapers carried notices about hapless Americans taken hostage when their embassy was overrun by a student faction of the Islamic fundamentalists. Either the press quoted Khomeini, temporizing his inability to countermand an order given the students by Allah, or they printed stories of the American government fretting and fuming and doing nothing, to the delight of the anti-Western mullahs. And frequently they ran photographs of crowds in the streets displaying violent slogans against the erstwhile benefactors of the Shah. The tide of anti-American opinion had never been so strong or so virulent.

Ezra had decided to apply only on behalf of Esther, Sepideh, and himself. Moosa might travel with them, but he would do so with as little advance notice as possible.

Rising from the small desk, Ezra walked to the embassy aide. Glancing up, the young man inclined his head toward the consul’s chamber.

Ezra laid the completed application on the Swiss consul’s desk. The consul, a dapper, middle-aged man with a carefully trimmed goatee, smiled perfunctorily at Ezra and perused his application—the 400th he had reviewed that week.

“Hmm,” he murmured, placing his finger alongside one of the questions, “this says you have traveled to Switzerland before, on business.” Peering up at Ezra, the consul asked in French-accented Farsi, “Can you prove this,
Aga
Solaiman? As you must know, many people are applying for Swiss visas, and we must carefully screen all applicants.”

“Yes, sir,” Ezra responded, placing his passport on the desk while saying a silent prayer of thanks that he had done frequent business with Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz Corporation, two large Swiss firms.

The consul nodded slightly, studying the dated Swiss stamps on the passport. “To what city do you and your wife and … daughter intend to go?”

“To Geneva.”

“You intend to stay for how long?”

“Two days at most.”

“And your destination upon leaving Geneva?”

Ezra paused before answering. Glancing quickly about in habitual caution, he replied, “The United States of America.”

The consul glanced significantly at Ezra. After his own thoughtful pause, he said quietly, “As you know,
Aga
Solaiman, we represent the American interests during these … these difficult times.”

Ezra nodded.

The consul leafed idly through the stack of applications on the side of his desk before again meeting Ezra’s eyes. “I’m sure you have your own reasons for not applying for American entry visas at this time.”

Again Ezra nodded, silently.

“Do you have a green card?” the consul asked quietly.

“No,” replied Ezra, averting his eyes.

Carefully spreading his fingertips atop Ezra’s application, the consul asked, “Why do you think you will be granted entry into the United States?”

“I … I have a son who lives there.”

“There is no assurance this will be accepted as a valid reason,” the official warned quietly.

After another silent debate, Ezra asked, “What about money?”

The consul leaned forward on his elbows, making an arch of his fingertips. “You must have a minimum of $400,000 in American banks.”

“We have that amount,” Ezra replied carefully.

The consul’s eyes widened slightly. “In American banks?” he repeated.

Ezra looked away, then back. “It is en route there now,” he said.
If this works,
he told himself,
the money will be enroute to the U.S., so I’m not lying. Not really.
He hoped that in convincing himself he would be able to convince the consul.

The official gave a Gallic shrug, arching an eyebrow. “If it is as you say,
Aga
Solaiman, you will have no problem.” He reached into the lap drawer of his desk and brought out a large stamp, which he inked from a pad on his desk. With the stamp hovering just above Ezra’s passport, he glanced up a final time. “Good luck,” he said, and stamped the passport, affixing his signature. As Ezra watched, his heart hammering with exhilaration, the consul repeated the process on the other two passports.

Moosa waited in the green Volvo, its engine idling. Nervously, he drummed his fingers on the wheel, his eyes flickering back and forth, now in the rearview mirror, now through the windshield. The car was completely dark; not even the dashboard was illuminated. They wanted nothing to attract a random glance at a car parked in the darkness of an abandoned alleyway.

Nathan had organized this action. They were parked behind the home of a certain Mullah Hojat who headed one of the revolutionary committees. This particular committee had played a prominent role in the campaign to arrest and confiscate the estates of wealthy Jews and Christians. Nathan and the two with him had been gone perhaps fifteen minutes, stealing quietly away from the car, after checking their weapons and the clips of slugs they each carried.

Sitting in the dark alley, Moosa reflected on the change—unlooked-for and, in his more reflective moments, unwelcomed—which had stolen over him since his return from America. He had come here only to help his parents and sister leave Iran; now he found himself involved in a deadly and probably futile effort to alter the course of the Islamic revolution. When he had flown into Mehrabad Airport, his only concern had been how soon he and his family could be on the next plane West. But now, despite his better judgment, he felt himself drawn slowly but surely into a tangled, dark maze of awful purpose. He could feel the heady wine of conspiracy working deep into his bowels, changing his mind and his will. Since his return to Iran, Moosa had begun a metamorphosis, and what he was becoming, he was not certain. That from which he had originally sought to deliver his family had arisen to claim him as its true son. His father, Moosa knew, moved eagerly toward the gentle, commodious beacon of the civilized West, while he, the westernized, UCLA–educated son, became an unbridled throwback to some barbaric past, a tame horse loosed into the wilderness.

Why? He couldn’t put his finger on the precise moment when the change had begun. His father’s arrest had something to do with it, the grinding, impotent rage he had felt at hearing those ignorant, unwashed
pasdars
haughtily accusing his father of wrongdoing. That and the double injustice done to the Moosovi family had kindled within him a desire to strike out—partly in anger and partly in fear—at the source of the wrong. Nathan Moosovi had been less recruiter than midwife to the birthing of something that was already fighting to emerge from within Moosa. Once the bloody, steaming child of his rage was born, he felt helpless to deny it life. Now it fed eagerly and grew apace, suckling eagerly at the thrill of fear, which was becoming addictive, a loved and hated rush of sensation that he dreaded but couldn’t deny himself.

Hearing the sudden scamper of feet behind him, Moosa jerked around to see several figures approaching the Volvo at a dead run. A surge of adrenaline tensed his sinews to a taut readiness.

Nathan and the other two yanked open the doors of the Volvo. “Go! Go!” shouted Nathan before they were inside. Moosa’s hands flew to the transmission lever, the headlight switch. As the Volvo squealed away, rifle slugs spattered on the masonry walls beside them, followed instantaneously by the
crack!
of the pursuers’ firearms.

Moosa’s foot pinned the accelerator to the floorboard as they raced toward the end of the alley and onto Abbasabbad Street. They were within perhaps fifty feet of the thoroughfare when three
pasdars
appeared in the opening. As if in slow motion, Moosa saw their arms rising, saw the quick blue-and-white spitting of their pistols.

The windshield shattered. Moosa heard someone screaming. He fell over in the seat, trying to dodge the hail of death. The Volvo swerved in the narrow alley, slamming against the wall on the right, caroming back toward the center. Raising his head as much as he dared, he aimed the Volvo toward the alley entrance, roaring toward the still-firing
pasdars
. One of them didn’t dodge quite in time; Moosa heard him scream as the front fender of the Volvo clipped him at the knees, rolling him over the hood and roof of the car.

He careened onto Abbasabbad, amid blaring horns and swerving headlights. Air was rushing through the smashed windshield; Moosa was covered with green pellets of safety glass. Only when he had driven perhaps half a mile, madly swerving through the traffic, did he realize that Nathan was slumped against him, blood pouring from a hole in his neck onto Moosa’s shoulder.

“Aaron! Manuchehr!” he shouted, panic burning through him like an electric charge. One of the men in the rear roused, looked over the back of the seat, and gasped. “Nathan—we must get him to a doctor!”

BOOK: The Moving Prison
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