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 (18 page)

BOOK: The Moving Prison
7.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Two men were unloading a truck nearby. Seeing no recourse, he approached them and begged for some sort of covering. “An old shirt, a scrap of cloth, a towel—anything, please!” he appealed. One of the fellows grudgingly went into a house, only to reappear scant moments later, shaking his head. “Nothing in there. Just get lost, why don’t you?”

Again he begged, only to be met by jeers and insults. “Get lost, old man,” they laughed. Immolated in his shame, he fancied one of the voices scalding him with curses was that of Firouz Marandi. As he walked away, covered in disgrace, one name fell from his lips, again and again. “Yeshua!” he was crying. “Yeshua, have mercy on me!”

The face of Reuben Ibrahim rose up before him.
” he had breathed, “
Yeshua will protect them.

Shaken awake by the sudden, vivid memory, Ezra felt his eyes snap open. That name! In the terror of his sleep, he had called upon the name of the Accursed One! In the moment of his utmost humiliation and extremity, this name had been on his tongue! What could that mean?

He was now wide awake, but it was several minutes before the flaring panic in his brain would allow his vision to focus, to realize that it was, after all, only a dream.
Only a dream
, he reflected, struggling to bring his breathing under control,
and yet spawned by a dire and unrelenting reality which will not evaporate with the coming of the daylight. A dream it may be, but the ordeal which made it so vivid is all too genuine.

Carefully he rolled onto one shoulder, to see if Esther was awake. No, apparently his nightmare had disturbed no one else. He knew it would be some time before his agitated imagination would allow him to again fall asleep. Quietly he got out of bed and padded barefoot toward the stairs, while putting on his robe.

Sitting downstairs in the moon-washed parlor, he looked about him, as if for the first time, at the room, the furnishings. The moonlight lent these familiar surroundings a freshness that struck him with an odd force. It had been his intention, all along, to make an orderly disposition of his property: the business, this house and its contents, some odds and ends of real estate he owned in another part of the city. He intended to liquidate everything, convert it to cash and thence to American currency.

But his arrest and imprisonment had jarringly interrupted his orderly plan. He had managed to sell the business, true enough, albeit for a price that he would scarcely have considered in normal times. And, he had managed finally to convert the entire sales proceeds to American dollars; well over a million dollars in United States currency lay concealed in the basement cache. He was uncertain how he would get all this money past customs. Sternly, he shoved that problem beneath the surface of his mind—best not to consider too many difficulties at once.

But the house! How could he now take the time and care needed to dispose of it? To find a buyer who could afford it, to arrange the terms of the sale, to manage all the attendant details while simultaneously trying to arrange their departure from the country—the prospect daunted him, tangled him helplessly in complications.

He got up, pacing slowly across the floor toward his study. Leaning against the door frame, he peered down at the inexpensive rug they had gotten to replace the fine Kirmani stolen by the mullahs who had “searched” the house during his arrest. Perhaps things would not go as badly as he feared; with all that had already happened, might he not expect that many of the difficulties were behind them? Perhaps he still suffered from the anxiety of his dream; perhaps the night-phantoms seeded his mind with doubts and fears that were really less formidable than they seemed in the hours of darkness and solitude.

Reluctantly, he felt the pull on his mind, an insistent tug turning him back toward the frightful recollection that had finally forced him awake. “Reuben, Reuben,” he whispered, sinking weakly into the nearest chair. “Why did you have to be so good, so kind, and so deluded?”

“Protected by the same grace which shielded Reuben,”
his widow had said. Ezra remembered Jahan Ibrahim’s quiet faith, the velvet-covered steel of her conviction, unshakable even in the face of the greatest tragedy that could befall a family. For a scant moment he allowed his mind to tease the corner of the possibility:
Is there anything to this Jesus business? If faith in Yeshua could sustain Jahan Ibrahim, might it not …

Abruptly, he stood and walked back into the parlor, passing a hand through his hair, as if to wipe away the troubling thoughts that peered at him around a corner in his mind.
Why torture myself with such foolishness? I have problems aplenty to face, without trying to thread dream-ghosts on a skein of uncertainty. What about the house? What will I do? What if the mullahs come back?

The mullahs. He paused, cautiously scenting a possibility. Perhaps the mullahs were the solution to two problems; the house and the difficulty of customs. Not the mullahs, really, but one particular mullah.

Twining thoughts and strategies in his mind, he made his way back up the stairs. In the morning, he would begin making plans.


With the caution now habitual on the streets of Tehran, Ezra looked behind him before turning aside into the small narrow way that was Javid Street. Finding the weather-beaten number he sought, he rapped at the portal. He heard the slap of sandaled feet on the flagstone courtyard. Then the gate opened, and he saw the face of Mullah Nader Hafizi.

The cleric squinted in confusion, then smiled uncertainly. “
Solaiman! How good to see you! What brings you again to my poor house?”

“Good day,
,” Ezra replied, glancing about him. “Perhaps we should go inside. It could be bad for you to be seen talking to a Jew.”

Hafizi scoffed.
“I need not fear the prattle of busybodies,
Solaiman. My standing with the Ayatollah is firm. He is a good man, despite what his detractors say. However …” A worried look crossed the older man’s face. “I’m not too sure about some of the people around him. Sometimes I think … ah, well,” he interrupted himself, “you have had a long walk. Come in and we can surely find you a glass of tea.” Ezra stepped through the portal, and Hafizi locked the gate behind them.

“Now, then,” asked Hafizi later, as they sat at the kitchen table in his small apartment, “why have you come? Your eyes tell of trouble, I fear. How can I help you, my friend?”

Ezra sighed gratefully, taking a slow sip of tea through the sugar cube in his teeth. With Hafizi’s generous words, he felt a tenuous step closer to the resolution of his difficulties. Still, he considered carefully the words in which to couch his request, for much depended on the perception he created in the mullah’s mind.

“Friend Hafizi,” he began finally, “as you have seen, fear is a constant shadow of my days. It is my bedfellow at night, and it follows me in the streets each day, dogging my steps like a silent spy.” Now he looked up at the cleric. “It is deliverance from this fear, this constant dread which withers me and my family, that you have the power to grant. That is why I have come here today.”

Hafizi eyes widened. “Ezra,” he said, “you make me sound like one of the great and powerful! I am but a poor mullah, as you can see by looking around you.” Hafizi spread his hands, taking in the small room where they sat and the tiny parlor adjoining.

The furnishings were few and threadbare. The floors were mostly bare concrete, covered here and there with an inexpensive rug. No television, no telephone, no artwork other than the obligatory portrait of Khomeini graced the Hafizi residence. It was painfully obvious that Nader Hafizi had not profited by the graft that had enriched so many of his less-scrupled peers. Looking about, Ezra thought of the proposal he would make to this good, honest man and was both encouraged and fearful. Would a man who had steadfastly turned his back on the easy riches reaped by his colleagues be able to accept what he was planning to suggest?

“It is true,” Ezra resumed, “that yours is not a position of power in the usual sense. Yours is a power of the spirit,
Hafizi, the indomitable power of purity of heart, of mercy, and of kindness to others. It is to this power I make my appeal today.”

Hafizi bowed his head, humbled into speechlessness by Solaiman’s lavish words.

“You have said that your standing with the Ayatollah is good,” continued Ezra. “I know that this standing was earned not by bribes and flattery, but by the steadfast devotion you have shown to the teachings of the Prophet—blessings and peace be upon him—for so many years. And, because of this standing,” Ezra concluded carefully, “you may be able to accomplish for me and my family the greatest desire of our hearts.”

“What is this desire?” asked the mullah hesitantly.

“We want to leave Iran,” said Ezra quietly.

“And go where?”

There was a long pause. “To America,” replied Ezra finally.

Hafizi looked at Ezra for almost a full minute, then looked away. “I understand your fear, of course. That a man such as yourself should have gone to Evin Prison is a dreadful wrong, but …” The cleric again looked Ezra full in the eyes. “To America? The heart and soul of Western decadence?”

Now it was Ezra’s turn to level a steady gaze at the mullah. “There are those who say that all Jews are cheats and misers. There are others who say that all mullahs are thieves and murderers. Yet you and I know these sayings to be untrue. Is it not possible that there are those, even in decadent America, who strive for lives of purity and discipline?” He held Hafizi’s eyes until the mullah gave a sardonic little smile and nodded.

“Well said,
Solaiman. I concede the point.”

“And my stay in Evin isn’t the only problem,” Ezra continued. “My daughter has been attacked at her school. My wife was terrorized by
who came to search our home during my detention, and while the rogues were there, they confiscated as ‘evidence’ some of our property.”

“Anyone can wear a white turban and robe and call himself a mullah,” commented Hafizi. “I am aware of such instances of impersonation. And unfortunately,” the cleric continued sadly, “I have also seen the greed of some of my colleagues.”

Ezra nodded. “You yourself know that the leadership changes almost daily; uncertainty is the only surety these days. Suppose another committee decided to arrest me again—or arrest my son….” Ezra thought of Moosa’s late-night forays into hatred and shuddered. “I can’t go on living this way,
,” he pleaded, reaching across the table to grip the mullah’s forearm in a clasp of urgency. “I beg of you, in the name of Allah the Merciful and Compassionate, help me.”

Moosa’s eyelids fluttered. Sunlight lanced his blurred vision with sharp brightness, wrenching a groan from him as he rolled onto his stomach and pulled the pillow over his head. Surely it couldn’t be daylight already! Blearily he rolled onto his side and sat on the edge of his bed, rubbing his sleep-webbed face.

The meeting had lasted until four this morning. Rubbing his eyes, Moosa felt as if he were changing into some sort of night creature. But the business the group was discussing was best left to the dark hours, when eyes were fewer and concealment was easier.

The latest plan was a campaign of terror against the mullahs. The group had decided to wreak such havoc on the clerics that the whole country, the whole world, would hear of it. For too long now, it was reasoned, the international community had assumed that the Shiite power structure had a monolithic grip on the hearts and minds of Iran. It was time, they decided, to prove otherwise.

Moosa ran a hand through his hair, rubbed his stubbly cheek. This new plan was bloody … and risky. Gunning mullahs down on the streets in broad daylight sounded like a recipe for disaster. He had voiced serious misgivings to the others, but he never seriously believed they would reconsider their plans. The duration of the meeting had proved his assessment correct.

He wondered why he didn’t pull out. At certain moments when he looked at himself these days, he couldn’t believe he was the same person who had blithely flown into Mehrabad Airport to help his parents leave Iran.

And the answer, of course, was that he wasn’t that person anymore. The violence and brutality of Iran had altered him in some fundamental way. For the hundredth time, he asked himself why he was reacting as he was. His father saw the evil coming and made plans to get out of its path. Moosa saw it and felt compelled to challenge it, to spit in its eye, and give it blood for blood. Why?

A knock came at his door. “Moosa?” His mother’s voice. “Moosa, are you awake?”

“Just a minute,” he grunted, reaching for the jeans he had dropped on the floor when he fell into bed earlier this morning. Pulling on a shirt, he called out, “All right, I’m dressed.

Esther entered her son’s room, bearing a glass of steaming tea before her, like a talisman to ward off evil.

“A nice cup of tea,” she beamed at him, a little too cheerily, he thought.

“Thanks, Mother,” he said, looking out his window. From the corner of his eye, he saw her looking at him.
Here it comes
, he thought.

“Moosa, I know you’re an adult, and what you do is your own business,” she began.

Moosa sighed loudly, bowing his head. He knew what was next.

“But I can’t help being worried,” she said. “These friends that you spend so much time with, until all hours of the night—”

“Mother,” he interrupted, “I’m very tired. I hardly slept at all last night, and I don’t feel like—”

“Of course, you hardly slept,” she retorted, her façade of forced cheerfulness dissolving instantly into a barrage of clipped words, a tight-faced glance of disapproval. “Anybody who comes in at 4:30 in the morning is going to be tired. Is that any reason to snap at me?”

Moosa buried his face in his hands. “Mother,” he moaned, “let’s not start this now.”

“Fine, I’m leaving. Drink your tea before it gets cold.” Pulling the door behind her, she paused, and then said in a low voice, “I pray to God you know what you’re doing,” The door closed, and she was gone.

“Even granting what you say,” mused Hafizi, “what can I do? I have no authority with the emigration officials. I cannot get you a visa, nor can I approve your request to go to America.”

“I have already … taken a number of steps,” said Ezra carefully, picking an imaginary piece of lint from his sleeve. “My difficulty is in what I must take with me.”

“You are surely not thinking of taking contraband out of the country!” interjected Hafizi, his eyes wide with alarm. “You must know I cannot be a party to anything illegal!”

“No, no, nothing like that!” assured Ezra. Choosing his next words very carefully, he said, “I … have some things which are very precious to me, second in value only to my wife and children. Things which have been in my family for many years, which are indispensable to me wherever I may live. Things,” he stated, looking Hafizi firmly in the eye, “which some in the government might confiscate from a Jew who was leaving the country. This I cannot accept. This is why I have come to you.”

Hafizi returned Ezra’s gaze, searching deep within the other’s eyes for some confirmation, some assurance.

“Perhaps you know I have sold my business,” Ezra said quietly, after some moments had passed.

“Yes,” Hafizi nodded. “I only just found out. I went in a few days ago to have my wife’s prescription refilled.” He smiled ruefully. “The new owners are not as kindhearted as the old. I paid full price.”

Ezra shrugged awkwardly. “The world has changed.”

Hafizi nodded. “Yes—in some ways not for the better.”

“At any rate,” Ezra said, “I have spent all of my life as a loyal citizen of Iran. I was born here, have worked here, raised my children here, made friends here, buried family members here. It’s not an easy thing to uproot one’s existence. I don’t intend to leave any more of my lifeblood in Iran than is already necessary.”

Hafizi took a slow sip of the now lukewarm tea. “Forgive me for asking,
, but since my relationship with the Ayatollah is apparently to be put to the test, I must know—”

“I have some antique objects,” Ezra answered, “a few fairly expensive carpets … and … some money.”

Through the open kitchen window, the rattling of the latch on the front gate was heard. Nader Hafizi glanced outside to see his wife’s
-draped figure crossing the courtyard toward the front door.

Ezra got up to leave. “I’m sorry,
Hafizi. I should be leaving—”

, sit down,” urged the mullah. “You are a good man and I trust you. I want you to meet her.”

The front door opened, and
Hafizi entered, carrying a market basket filled with bread, cheese, and fresh fruit. Seeing Ezra standing next to the table, she paused, her eyes flickering from the stranger to her husband.

“Come in, Akram,” the mullah said, beckoning to his wife. “I want you to meet a good friend of mine. Please,” he urged, motioning with his fingers, “take off your
. I want
Solaiman to be able to recognize your face when he sees you again.” The mullah smiled from Ezra to his wife as she placed her basket on the table and gratefully removed the dark concealing folds of the

BOOK: The Moving Prison
7.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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