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 (5 page)

BOOK: The Moving Prison
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Ezra returned from the appointment with the
mojtahed
to find Firouz’s scribbled note on the blotter pad. Not recognizing the name “Nijat,” but surmising the call was in response to his ad, he grabbed the phone and dialed the number.

From just inside the storeroom, Firouz listened carefully as the old Jew began speaking.

“This is Solaiman. I believe you called while I was out today…. Yes, I placed the ad concerning the Nasser Pharmacy. I see. Yes,
Aga
Nijat, I would most certainly like to meet with you.” Ezra glanced toward the storeroom.

Firouz quickly turned away from the doorway, loudly shuffling the invoices on his clipboard. He heard Ezra continue in a lowered voice.

“Perhaps you could care to come to my house? We can discuss the matter at greater leisure. After all, this is a very busy place—customers coming in and out all the time.” Ezra gave a small chuckle. “Very good, then. I will look forward to your call.” He gave the caller his home telephone number and hung up. Again he glanced toward the storeroom, but Firouz had his back turned, busily matching invoices with shipping labels. Ezra was ecstatic. Two strokes of good fortune in a single day!

In the storeroom, Firouz looked again at the classified section of the paper he had purchased while Ezra was out. He had circled one ad: “For Sale: Profitable Business in a Prime Location.”

SIX

The taxi neared the entrance to Mehrabad International Airport. Two armed
pasdars
stood on either side of the gate, looking inside each vehicle as it passed through. The taxi slowed. One of the
pasdars
leaned through the rear window, in Ezra’s face. “Who are you, and what is your business?” demanded the scraggly bearded guard, scarcely more than a boy, his eyes suspiciously flickering between Ezra and the carrying case.

Just as Ezra opened his mouth to reply, Hafizi spoke from the front seat. “This man is a friend of mine. He and his wife are accompanying me to the gate where I must meet a plane. Please do not delay us—my business is urgent.”

The
pasdar
looked at his partner, across the car, and received a slight nod in reply. He stepped back and impatiently waved the taxi through. He glared after them as they drove toward the customs building.

“Didn’t I warn you something like this would happen? Didn’t I tell you it was unwise to continue seeing her?” Khosrow’s father spoke quietly, but the anger in his tone was unmistakable. Khosrow kept his face lowered, holding the ice pack to his forehead as much to avoid his father’s ire as to reduce the swelling above his left eyebrow.

“Father,” he said, “what they were doing was wrong.”

“That is not what I’m saying, Khosrow. No one knows better than I the injustices being committed in the name of Allah and the so-called Imam Khomeini. Believe me, I know what’s going on out there! I deal with it every day at work. It takes all the tact and caution I have to keep my job and stay off the mullahs’ purge lists, to survive the craziness in one piece and keep this family from starvation. I only hope you will learn from this, Khosrow. I hope it can teach you the danger of being conspicuous in times such as these. I have learned that I cannot afford rugged individualism just now. You must learn this too.”

Khosrow said nothing. His father’s advice was nothing new. Since the tide first began to turn against the Shah, most of his parents’ conversations with each other, with him, and with his brothers had been variations on a similar theme. He suppressed the flare of indignation burning in his chest. It angered him that he was being chastised for taking a stand. What about the thugs who had carved on Sepi’s desk? What were they? Heroes?

“I know you care for this Solaiman girl,” his father was saying, “but I am not sure you understand the price you may have to pay for your affection. And not only you, Khosrow. Whole families have been blacklisted because of the activities of a single member.”

The silence that followed was a no man’s land. Khosrow felt the cold weight of his father’s disapproval pressing upon him and knew he was expected to make some apology, some admission of guilt or, at least, of carelessness. He sternly shoved any such words from his mind, his jaw clenched in resentment.

“Think about what I have said,” his father finished at last. “Perhaps you will one day see that I have your interest at heart.”

As his father rose and walked away, Khosrow slumped lower in the chair, absorbed in the dull ache in his head and the frustration in his mind. When his mother fluttered into the room and fussed over him a bit, he endured it sullenly. He felt relieved when she was gone; right now, he didn’t want anyone near him.
No one else understands anyway,
he thought, grimacing as he shifted the ice pack to a tender place on his cheekbone.

Reuben Ibrahim had barely finished securing his rugs for the night. He was just replacing the padlock on his storage closet when a shadow fell across the threshold of his market stall.

“Oh, hello, Hosseini,” he said, looking over his shoulder as the lock clicked into place. “I didn’t hear you coming. I trust your day was profitable?”

“Not as much so as it might have been,” muttered the other man. “But I noticed your trade was respectable, if not brisk.”

Reuben tried not to notice the resentment in the other man’s tone. “Well, God be praised, yes, it wasn’t bad. I sold a number of rugs today, mostly of the smaller sizes. Perhaps, with all the difficulties, the faithful are spending more time on their prayer mats, eh?” He smiled and shrugged.

Hosseini wasn’t smiling. He regarded Reuben with a strange, evaluating expression. “These are days when more prayer would not be amiss,” he said finally. “In these times, the name of Allah would do well to be on every man’s tongue.”

Reuben felt his smile wilting. “Of course, my friend,” he said, nervously shifting his vision from Hosseini to the briefcase containing the day’s receipts. He closed and latched it with more care than he usually felt necessary. “I had no intention of making light of—”

“Of course not,” Hosseini remarked in a more normal tone. “You were merely being your usual humorous self. Now, when are you going to sell me this excellent space?”

Reuben gave a mock grimace and held his head in his hands. “Again, Hosseini! Twice you have put me on the spot!” He picked up the briefcase, walked to the entrance and squeezed Hosseini’s shoulder good-naturedly. “And if I sell it to you, my friend, what excuse would you then have to come and talk? I’m afraid I’d grow lonely during the days without your visits.”

Hosseini gave him a grudging smile as the two men walked together toward the bus stop.

Ameer Nijat pressed the electric button in the brick wall by the gate. As he waited, he looked about him in the gathering twilight.
Nice area,
he thought.
The fellow who lives in such a place has obviously done well for himself.
Nijat blew into his cold hands as he studied the immaculate grounds of the man with whom he was about to negotiate. He wondered if Solaiman would be difficult to deal with. His son had now learned all he could from the druggist he was apprenticed to, and he would certainly not get wealthy working for the penurious old scoundrel. The boy needed to try his wings, and the sooner the better. Nijat only hoped that all the money he had poured into the boy’s education could someday bear as much fruit as Solaiman’s efforts apparently had.

The front door opened and a slender, middle-aged man walked down the brick walk toward him. With the practiced eye of an experienced trader, Nijat began sizing him up.

He was clean-shaven in the Western style, wearing only a neatly trimmed moustache. He had the dapper air of one accustomed to the finer things. As he walked, he studied the ground in front of him, as if to avoid any potholes that had arrived since the last time he trod this way. Careful—that was the main impression Nijat had of the well-manicured man who opened the gate and invited him inside with a genteel bow and spoke in a low, cultured voice, “
Aga
Nijat, I am Ezra Solaiman.”

Nijat returned the bow. “And I am your servant, Ameer Nijat.” The two men straightened and briefly observed each other, while shaking hands.

Worry. Nijat saw worry unmistakably etched in the creases at the corners of Solaiman’s eyes. Then his host turned away, beckoning Nijat toward the house. “Please,
Aga
Nijat. My wife has fresh tea brewing, and some dried figs and almonds. Come in and make yourself comfortable.”

Nijat sat at ease in Solaiman’s study. As he waited for his host to return, he gazed about appreciatively at the dark paneling, the shelves of richly bound books. Indeed, Solaiman had done well. As Nijat took a deep drag on his Turkish cigarette, Solaiman’s wife entered, carrying a tea service for two on a silver tray. Nijat smiled at her. “Thank you,
khanom
—lady,” he said.

She nodded in return and left the room without further gesture or word. Nijat shrugged. Somehow he had expected a warmer greeting from the wife of a prospective seller. The woman—and handsome she was too—had seemed put off, somehow. Oh, well. She no doubt knew why he was here; and if not, no matter. His business was with the husband.

At that moment, Solaiman came into the room, aiming a worried look back toward the stairs he had just descended. Pulling his eyes away at last, he made a show of briskness as he entered the study. “Good,
Aga
Nijat! I was about to ask you if you cared to smoke, but I see you have already availed yourself, as you should. And Esther has brought the tea. Is there anything you lack?”


Aga
Solaiman, forgive me, but you seem preoccupied. Is there a problem upstairs you should attend to?”

Solaiman’s eyes widened just before he looked away. “No,
Aga
, not really. My daughter … some trouble at school today. It is nothing,” he said finally, with a hesitancy that belied his words. “Now,” he continued, “what would you like to ask me about my business?”

With practiced deliberation, Nijat reached for a glass of the dark steaming tea. He placed a sugar lump between his teeth and with elaborate care sipped a swallow of tea through the lump, inhaling the mellow, dusky aroma of the brew. Slowly he set the glass on the table beside the armchair in which he sat. He studied the bookshelves over Solaiman’s left shoulder and asked his first question.

“Why do you wish to sell your business?”

A shade too quickly, to Nijat’s ear, Solaiman answered.


Aga
Nijat, as you can see by our surroundings, the business has done well for me through the years. I have built up a loyal clientele through conscientious service and fair prices. I have worked hard for quite some time, and Esther and I are at the time of our lives when we begin to think of spending more time enjoying what our toil has earned. I want to retire. That is the long and short of it. I am relatively young and in good health, and I want to spend more time with my family.” Now Solaiman reached for a tea glass and a sugar lump.

“How long have you been in the pharmacy business?”

“Since college days, some thirty-odd years now.” His host took a slow sip of tea. “I opened my first shop in a small storefront on Jabir, just of Shahbaz Avenue. Since then my business has grown steadily.”

“Indeed. And have you always lived in Tehran?”

“Oh, yes. My family has always been here.”

“How many regular customers would you estimate patronize your store?”

Solaiman’s gaze never wavered from Nijat’s own as he set down his tea glass. “Some 300 regulars, and 20 or 30 more who use my services at least once a year.” Clearly, the man was primed with all the pertinent facts and figures.

Nijat decided to alter the rhythm of the discussion. After taking a long drag on his cigarette and blowing a leisurely stream of smoke at the ceiling, he leaned comfortably back in his chair and asked, “Do you have children,
Aga
?”

“Oh, yes! We have a daughter, as I mentioned, and a son….” Solaiman’s voice seemed to waver for an instant.

“Does your son live here?” asked Nijat quickly.

“No,” said Solaiman, after a longish pause. “He lives in America.”

Nijat nodded sagely. “It is hard to have one’s flesh and blood so far away,
Aga
,” he sympathized.
Now we come to it,
he thought.

BOOK: The Moving Prison
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