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 (17 page)

BOOK: The Moving Prison
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“It’s too late,” said the other, who had risen from the rubble on the floor and pressed a hand into Nathan’s neck. Shaking his head, he pronounced, “Nathan is dead. Our only course now is to take his body to his family and then get rid of this car, before we are caught.”

Forcing down the gorge in his throat, Moosa drove on into the night, seeking a place where they could stop long enough to assess the damage. A place where they might have the luxury to grieve. And to plot revenge.

EIGHTEEN

Esther clasped the folds of the
chador
about her face as she threaded her way along the crowded sidewalk. Like the other pedestrians, she had to step around and past the rabble of street vendors clogging the teeming walkway. Since the revolution, the Islamic government did not have time to tend to such niceties as business permits or regulation of vendors. In this vacuum of official attention, the hawkers had proliferated to the point where they now ganged constantly along Tehran’s busiest thoroughfares, noisily offering their wares to passersby—when they were not fighting each other over the prime locations.

As Esther sidled through the mob, she felt the sweat running in rivulets down her back. The perspiration from her cheeks had drenched the folds of the garment, and her nostrils were filled with the smell of damp wool. For the thousandth time, she cursed the hateful black
chador
and the narrow-minded regime that forced her to wear it.

To her eye, Tehran was now a dirty, vulgar place. Where men once strode proudly in their well-pressed business suits, their silk neckties, and freshly shaved faces, all one now saw were bedraggled fellows in wrinkled, open-collared shirts, shuffling along with downcast faces, as if they sensed the embarrassment of the country. Shoeshine stands, once so prevalent along the sidewalks of Tehran, were a thing of the past. Where once majestic statues of the Shah had stood, gazing serenely down at the people as they went on their way, now one saw ugly, jagged stumps, piled about with the rubble of Shiite vandalism. Instead of the patrician visage of the Shah painted on the sides of buildings, one now encountered the bearded, turbaned likeness of the usurper, Khomeini. It seemed to Esther that Tehran’s pride of appearance had been replaced by statutory uncleanness, as if to be clean and proud was now a sin, another casualty of the Islamic revolution.

Reaching the lee of the building, she paused to make advantage of an eddy in the masses of people. The weight of her market basket was beginning to cut painfully into her palm. As she shifted it to her other hand, she felt a touch on her shoulder. Turning, she found herself gazing into the face of a handsome young man.

“Solaiman
khanom
?” he inquired. Not knowing what else to do, Esther nodded hesitantly.

“I am Khosrow Parvin,
khanom
,” he said. “Your daughter, Sepideh, and I are … or were … friends.” A downcast look came over his face as he said it. “We went to school together,” the lad finished, again looking into her eyes. “I am sorry to speak to you this way, on the street, but—” Again the boy’s eyes dropped as he searched within himself for words that seemed to elude him. “I wanted to ask … Sepi … is she … is she well?” he stammered at last.

Wordlessly, Esther looked at the abashed young man. Was this one of the “friends” who had cursed her daughter, called her names? Was this one of the boys who had laughed and played with Sepi in childhood, only to drive pins of spite and hate beneath her fingernails at the urging of the mullah? “Why should I tell you?” demanded Esther finally, in a tone as cold and distant as ice in the dark side of the moon. “How do I know that you are Sepi’s friend? What proof can you give?”

Khosrow’s cheeks reddened as he continued to stare at his toes. Finally, he looked up at her. “It was I who called to warn
Aga
Solaiman of the mullah who came to arrest him—and to tell of what happened to Abraham Moosovi.”

Esther stared at him, mouth agape.

“Our house is not distant from yours,” Khosrow explained in a low, cautious voice. “I heard the
pasdars
making inquiries at our front gate.” Looking about him, he continued, “My father is very afraid of the mullahs. Being university-educated, he is afraid they will think him loyal to the Shah.”

As Esther watched, a look of consternation, mingled with traces of disgust, trudged slowly across young Khosrow’s face. More to himself than to her, he murmured, “‘Stay away from the Solaiman girl!’ that’s what he always says to me. As if Sepideh were herself to blame, and not the viciousness of the fanatics! I tried to do what he said, tried to keep away, telling myself it was for her benefit as well as mine.” Once again the dark smoldering eyes of the boy burned into her own. “But if we all give in to our fear, who wins except the greedy mullahs, and the stinking
pasdar
henchmen who do their dirty work?”

Esther allowed herself to be mesmerized by the defiant simplicity of this boy she had only just met—this angry innocent who, unknown to her, had been intimately involved in the affairs of her family. Then, realizing that passersby were looking at them oddly, she stirred, breaking the grip of the moment. Under Islamic law, it could cost her life to be seen conversing openly with a man not her husband. Pulling the folds of her
chador
close about her face she said, with eyes downcast, “Sepi … Sepi is well enough, under the circumstances.” She dared a final glance at him. “But perhaps your father is correct in one thing: it is better for both of you that you stay apart.” Then she turned away from him and was soon lost in the crowd.

The bell rattled above the door of the Nasser Pharmacy as Nader Hafizi stepped through the entrance. Glancing up, he was momentarily startled to see the studious-looking young man behind the counter.
Where is
Aga
Solaiman?
he wondered, even as he stepped tentatively toward the attendant.

“Yes,
baradar
,” said the young man is a respectful tone, “how may I assist you?”

“Excuse me,” began Hafizi hesitantly, “but where is
Aga
Solaiman, the gentleman who formerly ran this pharmacy?”

The young man smiled. “My father and I have purchased the pharmacy from
Aga
Solaiman …” he squinted upward in calculation, “… some six months ago.” He inclined his head toward the cleric. “I am your humble servant, Yusef Nijat.”

A moment more Hafizi stared at him, then hesitantly proffered a crumpled piece of paper. Yusef took it, smoothing the creases. Presently he brightened. “Ah! A prescription! This is what you wanted?” he asked. Slowly, the mullah nodded. “Very well,” said the druggist heartily, turning to seek the powders the doctor had noted on the paper.

Watching the young man work, Hafizi asked in what he hoped was a neutral tone, “So … do you hear from
Aga
Solaiman since … since he sold this store to you?”

Yusef glanced up quickly. “No,
baradar
, we have not heard from him. I, in fact, have never met the gentleman. My father handled the details concerning the purchase of the business and was the one who actually dealt with
Aga
Solaiman.” The youth’s fingers moved nimbly, raking the proper number of capsules into a small medicine bottle. When he had worked silently for a few moments, he continued, “However, I have had many patrons of the pharmacy tell me what a good and kind man was
Aga
Solaiman. He had quite a loyal following, it seems.” He drifted into a thoughtful silence.

“Yes,” agreed Hafizi, after a period of reflection. “I would venture to say he had quite a number of loyal patrons. In fact, I was very surprised to come in here and find him gone. I had no idea he was selling his business. I … I certainly hope no ill has befallen him,” the cleric finished quietly.

“Why should anything bad have happened to him?”

Hafizi looked up quickly. These last words were spoken by an older man who had been seated at a desk in the storage room toward the rear of the premises. He came out now, fingering a string of orange worry beads.


Aga
, please allow me to introduce my father, Ameer Nijat,” the young man interjected.

“Why should anything have happened to Solaiman?” repeated the older Nijat, now standing directly in front of Mullah Hafizi.

Hafizi shrugged. “These are difficult days,
Aga
. So many changes, so much anger….” He pulled back his coat, to show the holster he carried. “When an old man such as myself must carry a weapon on the street, the days are surely evil.” Now he looked directly into the eyes of Ameer Nijat. “And there are some who would take advantage of such circumstances. Ezra Solaiman was a good man who took note of the needy. I hope the evil of these days does not overwhelm such a one. It would be a pity.”

Ameer Nijat’s eyes focused on a point just above Hafizi’s left shoulder; his fingers furiously jiggled the worry beads. “Surely you concern yourself needlessly,
Aga
. I know that
Aga
Solaiman had a wonderful business here—why else would I wish to buy it for my son?” He inclined his head toward the reflective Yusef. “No doubt
Aga
Solaiman is busily and happily occupied in enjoying the fruit of his labor.” Shifting uneasily under the cleric’s gaze, Nijat added, “I paid him a fair price for the store and its inventory. He should be well situated for the rest of his days.”

Yusef Nijat gave a little cough. “Will that be all,
Aga
?” As the mullah’s gaze shifted back to the son, he noticed the prescriptions, filled, labeled, and ready to be taken away. Looking from the pills to the young man, Hafizi nodded wordlessly.

“That will be …” Yusef scribbled a moment on a notepad. “135
rials
,” the druggist announced with a businesslike smile.

Pulling the notes out of his wallet, Hafizi remembered another time when a poverty-plagued mullah had offered payment for this same prescription and had been refused. Apparently, Ameer Nijat and his son did not trouble themselves as much as Ezra Solaiman about the circumstances of their patrons. Sighing, Hafizi laid the money on the counter and picked up his package.

“Thank you,
baradar
,” said Yusef. “Please come again, whenever we may be of service.”

Peering intently from the son to his father, the mullah nodded. Then he turned and walked to the door. The bell jangled at his departure.

A bar of brilliant moonlight fell across Ezra’s face as he slept fitfully. His chest heaved, his fists clenched and unclenched as he struggled in mute terror against the demons inside his skull.

In his dream, he was driving through the streets in the north of the city, approaching the house of a friend. He was in the last car he had owned, a 1968 light-blue Chevrolet Impala. He had been especially proud of the pristine condition in which he had maintained the American car—rarely seen in Iran. Likewise he was especially loath to sell it and commit himself wholly to public transportation.

In the odd manner of dreams, however, he knew this was not the past, but the terrible present. The streets were dark, and frequent staccato bursts of gunfire were frighteningly close at hand.

He had managed to get within one block of his friend’s house, but could go no farther because of huge piles of rubble that littered the streets on all sides—as if a huge explosion had crushed the entire area. In some confusion, he parked his car and proceeded on foot.

Seeing a man standing near one of the houses, he walked over to ask if there was any way to get to the next street. “You can’t drive to it,” the fellow replied, “but you can walk. Leave your car parked where it is—no one is likely to disturb it.”

Pocketing his keys, he climbed the heaps of rubble and came to the street where his friend lived. To his horror, he saw that every house on the entire block had collapsed. Not one wall was left standing. How could anyone have survived such a tremendous calamity? Inexplicably, the yards of the destroyed houses were now pools filled with muddy water, like so many moats surrounding abandoned castles.

In the clairvoyance of dreams, he knew at once that his own house had been likewise destroyed.
Esther! Sepi and Moosa! I must get back immediately! I must find them!

Sobbing with despair, he clambered back to the place he had just left, and discovered with shock that his car had vanished, along with the fellow who had sanguinely assured him of its probable safety. Compounding his consternation, he suddenly found himself bereft of clothing. He was at once bereaved, isolated, and exposed—his greatest terrors come to haunting realization.

BOOK: The Moving Prison
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