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 (20 page)

BOOK: The Moving Prison
5.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The stranger’s gaze flickered nervously about the table. He took another drag at his cigarette, then dropped it on the bare concrete floor, grinding it with his foot. The smoke issued from his nostrils in slow streams as he looked briefly at Ari, then down at his scarred knuckles.

“I know where weapons are stashed,” he said in a low, mumbling voice. “Unless the
have found it all, I know where there is petrol, and some money. We didn’t have much—there wasn’t time—but …” He fell silent, his eyes shifting among them, then back to the tabletop.

“I don’t like this clown,” growled one of the men. “He walks out of the dark and asks to join up, like this was some kind of social club. I say we get rid of him.” In this desperate circle, no one had any doubt what such a phrase implied for a rejected applicant. The stranger’s hand shook visibly as he lit another cigarette.

“Look,” he said, staring directly at his detractor, “I lost friends to the
too! I’ve had mullahs lie to me, cheat me of what was rightfully mine. We of the
thought we had earned some consideration from the mullahs for our assistance in the overthrow of the Shah, but once they got in the saddle, they’ve done nothing but spit in our faces—and worse.” His dark furtive glance darted about at them. “I have no more love for them than anyone here.”

“Guns … petrol …” mused Aaron, seated across the table from Moosa. Next to him, another member nodded.

“You need to know,” cut in Ari, “that we in this circle are a … how to say it …” His fingers circled in the air as he searched for a phrase. “… a mixed bag. Some of us are here because we belong to minority groups persecuted by the new regime: Christian, Sunni Muslim, Jewish.”

The stranger’s eyes glittered upward, but he said nothing.

“Others,” continued Ari, “are simply royalists, who wish and work for nothing other than the return of the Pahlavi monarchy. We each have our own reasons for being here, and no man has the right to question those of another. Understood?”

The fellow glanced at Ari, then back down, nodding.

“All right then,” said Ari, looking about at the others. “Let’s put him to a vote. All in favor?”

Members of the group studied the shadowed face of the newcomer, seeking any clue, any basis for a guess. At some point, their lives might depend on the actions of this man. If they guessed wrong, the mistake would almost certainly be their last. Slowly, hesitantly, seven of the ten raised their hands, voting the stranger in.

“Opposed?” Just as slowly, three hands went up.

“Majority rules,” commented Ari, staring meaningfully at the one who had spoken against the newcomer. “He’s in.” The naysayer grumbled, but nodded his assent.

“By the way,” said Ari, looking back at the stranger, “nobody here but me knows your name.”

“Just call me Aziz,” mumbled the relieved but taciturn new member. Drawing smoke deeply into his lungs, the one who called himself Aziz stared into the darkness. Contemplating the group he had just joined, Firouz Marandi considered himself lucky to be alive.
The mullahs will pay through the nose for this job
, he told himself grimly.
When the time comes, they will pay off big.


“Please, no more,” begged Nader Hafizi, pushing his plate away and holding both palms outward in a gesture of surrender. “That is the most wonderful meal I have had in some time.” He looked at his wife. “Akram, you must get
Solaiman’s recipe.” His wife nodded appreciatively.

Esther inclined her head graciously toward the mullah. “You honor me,
Hafizi.” She arose from the table. “Sepi, please help me clear the dishes.”

“Would you care to take a cup of coffee in the study?” Ezra asked the mullah.

“The only improvement possible in such a meal would be a cup of coffee,” agreed Hafizi. He rose from the table, clutching his stomach in mock agony. “Such a feast! I cannot imagine,
Solaiman, how you have stayed so slender all these years with meals like this!”

Ezra chuckled as he led the way to the study. As the two men settled themselves, Sepi entered, bearing a silver tray with two china cups on matching saucers. Quietly she set the service on her father’s desk and returned to the kitchen.

“A memorable evening,
Solaiman,” commented the mullah, patting his full stomach. “I have not enjoyed such a fine time in very many years!” As Ezra seated himself behind the teakwood desk, Hafizi relaxed comfortably into one of the dark leather chairs across the polished surface from his host.

Ezra smiled, taking a careful sip of the steaming black coffee. Placing the cup gently back on its saucer, he looked meaningfully at Hafizi. “I am happy you and your wife accepted my spur-of-the-moment invitation. I have a reason for bringing you here to ask for your help.”

“As I have said, I will do anything honorable in my power to aid you. You must only ask.” A silence deepened between the two men as Hafizi waited to hear the shape of Ezra’s request.

“The only way I can think of to clear customs smoothly is with a direct written order from the Ayatollah himself,” Ezra said in a rush, before he could halt himself. “With such a document, no customs officer would dare impede our departure. Can you obtain such a thing for me?”

Hafizi swallowed the coffee in his mouth and replaced the cup, without taking his eyes off Ezra. He bridged his fingertips together, a contemplative expression on his face. “The Imam Khomeini is a very busy man, whose every word must be weighed thrice carefully,” the cleric said, with long, thoughtful pauses between his words. “He will want a very good reason for issuing such a extraordinary instruction on behalf of an ordinary citizen.”

Ezra took several deep breaths before replying. “What about my contribution for the cemetery? I bought copies of the receipt.”

Hafizi scratched his beard as he gazed up at the ceiling. His eyes narrowed to thoughtful slits.

In the kitchen, Akram Hafizi stood beside Esther at the sink, carefully wiping the chinaware with a towel. On her right, Sepi placed the plates and glasses in the cabinet. The women had been working together for some minutes, the only sounds the splash of water in the sink and the low mumble of the men’s conversation in the study, when Akram broke the stillness with an abrupt question.

“You are afraid and angry. Why?” Her eyes bore in on Esther’s shocked glance with a startling intensity. Her quietness at the dinner table had not prepared Esther for such a direct, perceptive thrust.

So unnerved was Esther that she blurted a reply before thinking, “We are Jews in a land governed by Muslim fanatics. Why should we not be afraid?”

“Mother!” objected Sepi, glancing nervously at the mullah’s wife.

“It’s all right, child,” said Akram Hafizi, laying a hand on Sepi’s arm. “My question was a bit ill-mannered, perhaps even simpleminded. It’s just that … I have lived with lack all my days. I can’t imagine anyone living in such splendor … and being afraid.

“In my lifetime, I have known much fear,” she went on. “I have felt the fear which comes with hunger pangs in my children’s bellies; the fear of illness striking when there was no money for doctors or medicine; the fear of being left alone when Nader was late in returning home from the mosque. Did SAVAK have him? Had he said the wrong thing in the presence of the wrong person? These fears I have known. Perhaps,” she said, smiling gently at Esther, “that was why I so readily recognized your symptoms, Esther
. I have wrestled often enough with the same opponent to know his hold.”

Esther soaped a plate with an avid, jaw-clenched concentration.
Why am I the only one whose feelings are acceptable fodder for conversation? I live in a house full of concealed fears, hidden resentments. Why should mine alone be dragged mercilessly out into the open? Do I not have the same right as others to hide behind a shroud of depression or stubborn silence?

An acrid resentment lodged in her throat as Esther stared fixedly at the plate she was scrubbing for a needlessly long time. Why did she feel the unbearable urge to let the veil slip, to unburden herself to this improbable Islamic confessor? Even now, Akram Hafizi studied her profile as if expecting something. As the last bolts ripped from the door frame of her heart, a flood of pent-up anguish gushed from her eyes in an irresistible flood.

“Perhaps,” murmured the mullah after a very long pause. He began nodding slowly. “Yes, I think the Imam would be favorably disposed toward such an action. With my urging, and with the affixed signature and stamp of Ayatollah Kermani, the thing might be done. And perhaps, if his secretaries could be persuaded to draft the letter—”

“I was thinking,” interrupted Ezra, “that I might impose upon you to draft the letter yourself. I thought perhaps if the document were in your handwriting….”

Hafizi chuckled, shaking his head in admiration. “
Solaiman, your brain is never still, I warrant. As you say, it would be better to have the letter ready for the Ayatollah’s signature.”

“I realize,” said Ezra, toying with the handle of his coffee cup, “That this project is no small inconvenience for you,
I want you to know what I am willing to do in exchange for this lifesaving favor.”

The cleric put down his cup, his eyes resting on Ezra’s face with an attentive, but questioning look.

Ezra felt his chest tightening with nervous apprehension. The next words he would utter, and the mullah’s response to them, would determine the success or failure of his plan. If Hafizi agreed to the terms, they might depart Iran within the week. If he didn’t, a bleak future stretched ahead; an endless round of fear, repression, and furtive efforts to survive in a hostile world. Everything hinged on the next moments.

“If you can do this for me and my family,” Ezra said, pausing for a deep breath, “I will make a gift to you and
Hafizi.” He stopped again, sucking in the air that was suddenly very rare in the study. “This house, and all its furnishings and grounds, shall be deeded to you. It will be yours to keep.”

Hafizi’s look of curiosity metamorphosed slowly into one of disbelief. His jaw slackened, his eyes widened. He had been sitting toward the front of the leather-covered chair across the desk from Ezra; now he slumped down into the cushions as if the wind had suddenly gone out of him. Almost involuntarily, he stared about the room, wildly calculating the possible worth of the offer he had just heard. “
Solaiman! I could never—”

“You don’t understand!” urged Ezra, leaning forward on the desk and feverishly gripping the astonished mullah’s eyes with his own. “I am not bribing you!” He searched frantically for the words to explain his actions. “What good will this house be to me if I am again dragged to Evin Prison and shot? What comfort will it bring my wife and children when the
return—and return they will—to evict them into the street like stray dogs? This house is a wonderful thing, I admit,” said Ezra, his eyes pleading with Hafizi for understanding, “but compared to the safety of my family, compared to freedom from fear, it is nothing. Can’t you see the truth of what I’m saying?”

Hafizi stared at him for ten heartbeats, then nodded slowly.

Ezra let the breath leave his chest in a slow exhalation of relief. “Then you must see,
that I consider this house to be a bargain in exchange for what I am asking you to do. And I cannot think of anyone I would rather see gain by its vacancy than you, who have already rescued me once. This is not bribery,
Hafizi. It is a show of gratitude.”

The mullah drew within himself for several moments. His brow furrowed as he pondered the complicated ethics of Ezra’s proposal. To receive a reward for showing kindness to another human being—this somehow tainted the act. Compassion was not properly done for sake of a payoff; it was its own justification.

And yet … what Ezra said was all too true. Many atrocities had taken place under the guise of the restoration of Islamic values to Iran. Doubtless this fine home would not long remain empty. Then there was the fact that Ezra had offered it of himself; Hafizi had had no inkling that such an invitation would take place. And Akram had gone without so many things during their difficult life together.

Ah, well
, he decided at last,
Allah’s ways are mysterious. If He wishes me to have this house, I shall have it. If not, I shall not.
He looked up at Ezra, a tentative grin teasing the corners of his lips. “Very well,
Solaiman. Perhaps I should call my wife in and explain things?”

Sobs tore from Esther’s throat in great, wracking spasms, shaking her down to the very center of her being. She was vaguely conscious of Akram Hafizi’s arm across her shoulders, supporting and comforting her; she was less aware of Sepi standing in the background, as if uncertain or embarrassed. The grief and anger poured from her in a dark catharsis, punctuated by painful words and semi-articulate moans.

“Our lives … have been destroyed,” she managed to choke. “My family … my place … my future … all ripped from me … without warning.” She covered her mouth with her hand and squinted her eyes in pain.

“Gently, now, gently,” soothed the mullah’s wife. “Your future and your daughter’s—and mine, and that of everyone in Iran—is in the hands of Allah, as they have always been. No one has ever known what He had in store until time unfolded. These troubles won’t last forever.”

“Akram?” came the mullah’s voice from behind them. Nader Hafizi stood framed in the doorway, a concerned, confused expression wrinkling his brow. “Should I call your husband,
Solaiman?” he asked.

Esther vigorously shook her head in refusal.

“It’s all right, husband,” assured Akram. “Esther
is overwrought, but she’ll be better with some rest. Isn’t that right, dear?”

Esther nodded with more conviction than she felt.

“Very well,” said the mullah doubtfully, wincing as Esther’s shoulders heaved silently. His eyes returned to his wife. “Akram, when it’s convenient, please step into the study.
Solaiman and I have something to discuss with you.” He turned slowly, looking again at Esther before going back toward the study.

BOOK: The Moving Prison
5.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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