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 (6 page)

BOOK: The Moving Prison
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“I tell you, he is planning something!” insisted Firouz, glaring intently at the man seated across from him. “The old Jew—and probably every other Jew in Iran—has something up his sleeve, and you of the Tudeh sit idly by and do nothing!” Firouz slapped the table in disgust, standing abruptly and striding away to a window.

“We of the Tudeh Party are, at present, content to await the unfolding of developments,” agreed the other man, choosing his words carefully. “You must realize, Marandi, that events are still far too fluid to make the sort of assumptions you seem too ready to believe.”

“What are you waiting for?” stormed Firouz. “The Shah is all but gone. Thousands desert the army every day. The mullahs crow openly about their imminent victory—”

“Don’t lecture me, Marandi!” snapped the party official. “You think because you crouch in alleyways and toss bricks through windows that you
mujahideen
take all the risks. Well, there are battlegrounds other than the streets, my friend. It is far from certain that Tudeh will be able to build a coalition with the Islamic fundamentalists. As you say, the Shah’s star wanes. But don’t think this means that the Shiites will be any more willing to share the pie with us, simply because the Shah’s piece is handed to them.”

The politician rose and strode to the window, confronting Firouz. Forcefully he punched the air in front of Firouz’s face with his index finger as he continued.

“And don’t think I don’t understand what this discussion is about. I’m not fooled so easily that I imagine you are motivated by some noble sense of patriotism to report your suspicions of Solaiman’s activities. I seriously doubt if you are as concerned with his taking money out of Iran as with getting your hands on some of the wealth. You expect me to use my influence to get Solaiman’s property confiscated and handed over to you, Marandi, the loyal pillar of the revolution. Isn’t that so? Deny it if you can.”

For several moments he glared at Firouz, daring him to contradict the assessment. When Firouz dropped his eyes, the other man snorted as he shook his head. “There are far greater issues at stake in these days, Marandi, than your pocket.” Angrily he whirled and walked out the door.

His jaw clenched tightly in anger, Firouz muttered, “And there are other ways to see that justice is done.”

Nijat sneaked a glance at Solaiman. His host’s gaze was directed toward a dark corner of the study. His eyes had an unfocused, inward look. Nijat rose from his chair and paced slowly to the nearest bookshelf, idly running his finger down the spines of several books. Without looking at Solaiman, he said, “I too have a son,
Aga
Solaiman. It is because of him that I am interested in your business.” He glanced over his shoulder at the other man.

With difficulty, Solaiman raised his eyes to briefly meet those of Nijat. “Really?” he managed, with little enthusiasm. “Your son is a pharmacist?”

Nijat nodded. “He’s been out of college five years now. He needs to get out on his own and learn what it’s like to run a business for himself. I think he’s ready, whether he does or not.”

Solaiman smiled. “How well I remember the first days, when I was getting started. I was petrified! I feared each prescription I filled would be my last!” He shook his head, smiling.

Casually, Nijat took a string of orange worry beads out of his coat pocket. He began moving two beads at a time along the string. Averting his eyes from his host, he asked, “So, then,
Aga
Solaiman, how much money are you asking for your business?”

Solaiman glanced up sharply. “I don’t think it fair to you to quote a price without allowing you a chance to see the store, the inventory, the books—”

“Come, come,
Aga
Solaiman,” smiled Nijat, “I’m not asking for an exact figure. All I want is an idea of what you are asking. How else will I know if I can afford to look further?”

Still, his host was hesitant.

“Please, Solaiman,” urged Nijat, seating himself again in the chair across from the other man. Earnestly his eyes sought Ezra’s. “Don’t be so strict with me, eh: For the sake of both our sons—”

Solaiman stiffened, looked piercingly at him, then away. Patiently, Nijat waited. He knew he had struck a nerve. Finally, from far away, Solaiman’s voice could be heart.

“Eighteen million
tomans.
And … preferably paid in cash. I am anxious to begin my retirement.”

Quickly Nijat calculated in his mind. Eighteen million was no joke. But what he had seen this evening convinced him there was a good living to be made from this business. He could afford the store, but it was not his nature to placidly accept a man’s first offer.

“Say twelve million,
baradar
,” he pleaded, grasping at Solaiman’s hand and squeezing like a bazaar haggler. “Twelve million—I will be a happy man, and you a carefree retiree.”

Solaiman turned and gave him a look that was at once stern and businesslike. “Friend Nijat, I will not engage in dickering with you this evening. I have given you the indication you asked for. You are free to come and inspect the store and the inventory, as is anyone else who wishes to make an offer. If, after you have seen the business, you believe my price is too high, and you may say so at that time. But for now, I have said all I wish to say.”

Nijat knew better than to push harder. He released Solaiman’s hand. His host stood. “May I expect you to come soon to the store?”

Nijat stood, pocketing his worry beads. “I believe you may,
Aga
Solaiman. As you can see, I am a man who likes to get on with the business at hand. Would tomorrow be convenient?”

Solaiman gave him a curt nod. “I open at eight o’clock. Now may I get your coat?”

As he closed the gate behind Nijat, Ezra heard the telephone ring. He walked in the front door just as Esther hung up the receiver. As she turned to face him, her visage was white, drained of blood.

“Esther! What is the matter?”

Dully, she spoke as she slid into a chair. “That was Moosa,” she said.

“Moosa!” said Ezra. “He barely gives us time to read his letter before—”

“Ezra,” she said, cutting him short, “Moosa was calling from the airport. He is here, in Tehran.”

SEVEN

The dilapidated cab rattled at high speed—the only speed Iranian cabbies use—along Shahanshahi Expressway. The hour was late and few cars were on the highway. In the backseat, Ezra sat glumly, as his son looked at him in hurt confusion.

“But Father, I came only because I wanted to help….”

Wearily, Ezra shook his head. “Moosa, you have done a foolish and dangerous thing. Foolish, not least of all because you have left a good job and an excellent salary to come here. Foolish also because, in the very act of sending your last letter, you may have aroused the authorities’ suspicions.” He turned to look at his son. “Have you been in the USA so long that you assume all countries have the same sacrosanct attitude toward the mails that Americans have?

Moosa looked down. Ezra continued.

“Dangerous—need I explain?” He glanced at the cabbie, then went on in a lower voice, barely audible above the groaning, roaring noise of the cab as it rolled down the highway. “Why could you not have simply remained where you were? You were safe there.”

They arrived in front of Ezra’s gate. Handing Moosa’s leather valise to Ezra, the cabbie closed the trunk lid. Ezra paid the fare, including a generous tip for the lateness of the hour. “Many thinks,
Aga
,” oozed the obsequious cabbie as he got back in his vehicle. “May Allah grant you long life.”

“Indeed,” muttered Ezra under his breath. The cab drove off with a clanking of fenders and a squalling of fan belts. They went in the gate, closing it behind them.

The morning sun streamed brightly through the windows of the pharmacy as Nijat sat at the desk, calculator in hand, carefully thumbing through stacks of invoices and shipping manifests. He looked at Ezra over the tops of his reading glasses.


Aga
Solaiman, how much did you say you paid for the last shipment from Switzerland?”

Ezra sat in front of the desk, pensively cleaning his fingernails as he stared out the front door. He started and looked at Nijat.

“Pardon me,
Aga
, could you repeat your question?”

Nijat smiled. “Again you are very preoccupied, my friend.”

“I’m sorry,” Ezra gave a weak smile and spread his hands. “I seem to have a great deal on my mind these days.”

Thoughtfully Nijat nodded. “Indeed,
Aga
Solaiman. I asked how much you paid for the shipment reflected on this latest manifest.” He indicated the stack of papers in front of him.

Ezra squinted as he tried to recall the figure. “Five million
tomans
,” he said, finally, “or thereabout. Of course, that was paid several months ago. I am expecting another shipment from Ciba-Geigy within another month or so, for which I can furnish order forms. Its wholesale purchase price was around three million
tomans
, so the value of the two shipments would be close to …” Again he squinted one eye at the ceiling, in calculation. “Eight-point-three million. Wouldn’t that be about right?” he asked Nijat.

Nijat nodded, rubbing his stubbly chin. “I would say so,
Aga
. Or close to it. Do you have a sales ledger?”

“Of course,” said Ezra. “Look in the bottom desk drawer, on the right.”

Nijat shuffled around in the drawer. “Ah, yes. Here it is.” Sliding the manifests to one side, he laid the scarred, black leather-bound ledger book in front of him. He turned a few pages and pursed his lips, nodding in approval. “By the way,
Aga
Solaiman,” he asked, glancing up at Ezra, “which set of books is this—the actual sales or the figures you use for tax reporting?”

Ezra leveled a steady gaze at the other man. “I don’t keep two sets of books,
Aga
. The figures you see in that book are the actual figures.” Ezra held his eyes until Nijat shrugged in acceptance and returned his attention to the ledger.

The bell over the door jangled, and both men looked up. Firouz stood there, momentarily startled by the sight of Nijat huddled behind the stacks of paper on the desk.

“Come in, Firouz,” beckoned Ezra. “I want to introduce you to
Aga
Ameer Nijat.” Cautiously, Firouz approached the two other men.

Ezra glanced at Nijat before speaking, “
Aga
Nijat is—a business associate of mine.
Aga
Nijat, this is Firouz Marandi. He has been with me here for three years.” Firouz, his eyes downcast, nodded briefly at the other man.

Not to be trusted
, thought Nijat. Standing, he said aloud.

Aga
Solaiman, I believe I have seen enough for now. I will call you within a day or two to continue our discussion.”

“I will eagerly expect your call,” said Ezra, rising to show Nijat to the door.

When they had reached the doorway, Nijat turned to Ezra. “Tell me, I seem to remember a little restaurant in this area which used to serve an excellent
chelow
kabob. Is it still open?”

“If you mean the small open-air café around the corner, yes,” answered Ezra. “Perhaps you would care to meet for lunch sometime?”

“Good idea,” returned Nijat. “I’ll call soon.” He left, and the bell rattled as the door closed behind him. Ezra turned around. Firouz was staring at the pile of documents on the desk. He glanced up, saw Ezra watching him, and quickly turned to go toward the storeroom.

Khosrow looked at himself in the hallway mirror, shaking his head at what he saw. A rumpled young man stared back at him—a far cry from his neatly pressed appearance of only a few weeks before.

This was the accommodation he had made to his father’s wishes, to at least try to avoid looking like a Westerner. He had convinced himself that it did no one any good for him to get killed over the cut of his trousers.

His family had made the expected adjustments. When his mother and sisters went out, they wore the drab
chador
. His father had begun allowing his beard to grow out, and had removed the portrait of the Shah that had hung in the living room for as long as Khosrow could remember. Mother had bought a portrait of Khomeini, but his parents, despite their anxiousness to avoid trouble, had not yet been able to bring themselves to hang it.

A part of Khosrow was ashamed of such compromises. To knuckle under, to abandon loyalties when they became untimely—wasn’t this the mark of cowardice? Was that what the Islamic uprising was teaching him—that he had no true convictions?

He thought of Sepi Solaiman, and he turned away from the mirror. Sepi was by far the most difficult question he had to answer for himself. He was quite smitten with her, but … could his father be right, after all? Could he afford the luxury of indulging his feelings in these difficult times?

Again he felt the angular fists of his boyhood friends as they cuffed and slapped him, heard the cruelty in their voices as they taunted him for defending an infidel. These were not the faces he had known, not the voices of boys he had played soccer with on bright afternoons. These were young, vicious strangers who attacked him—their faces masks of mob fervor, their voices darkened and curdled by the simplistic hatred of the pack. That had hurt worse than the blows—that the friendship of years and innocence should be so casually swept away by the torrents of hatred flooding his country. He had thought friends were friends. It was a hard thing to learn that this wasn’t always so.

His conclusions were very troubling to Khosrow. It was so unfair. Why should anyone else care that he had feelings for a girl of another faith? Why did the world have to intrude on his emotional territory? Why couldn’t they all just mind their own business? He felt the old resentment boiling up within him.

And yet … why couldn’t he make up his own mind about what to do? He looked at himself a final time and turned away in disgust. Grabbing up his schoolbooks, he slouched out the front door.

Moosa snorted as he tossed the newspaper onto the kitchen table. “Whom does the Shah imagine he is fooling?” he demanded loudly. “Vacation, indeed! In the streets the barefooted ones chant, ‘Death to the Shah!’ What does he do? Climbs aboard his Learjet and flies away to a carefree holiday in the Alps!” Moosa shook his head in disgust as he sipped his coffee.

“What would you have him do,” asked Esther bitterly, “publish the news that the rightful king of Iran is afraid for his life and is fleeing the country with his family while there is still time?” Angrily she punched and slapped the bread dough between her hands, her back to her son. “He cannot depend on his army or on his own secret service. Would it be better that he stay here to die at the hands of the mullahs? Or escape and perhaps return when the country comes to its senses?”

Moosa heard the resentment in his mother’s voice, but her obstinacy galled him. “Mother, this country won’t come to its senses. Why can’t you accept the fact? Better that you get out and come to America. There, at least, you don’t have to be so careful about being Jewish. Iran will soon belong to the mullahs and the Islamic fanatics. Why not leave while you can—like the Shah?”

Esther whirled about, her jaw clenched. “Moosa,” she grated, “you may have learned to think like an American, but I have not. This country has existed for over thousands of years, and for all of that time has been governed by a king. Your promised land across the ocean has been there barely 200 years.” She glared at him until his eyes dropped guiltily. “So watch your mouth,” she continued. “Others remember and cherish what you have apparently forgotten.” She stalked past him, wiping her hands on her apron.

Sepideh stood by the stairway in the main hallway, feeling hostile stares slide across her as the other students passed. She was afraid to come back to school, but her father told her she would be all right. She wasn’t so sure, but he seemed to feel it was important that she maintain a normal routine—avoid unusual appearances, he said. So here she stood, feeling very conspicuous.

The surge of Islamic fervor became more apparent each day. Some of the boys were allowing their scant whiskers to grow, and several girls wore
chadors
to school now. One of them passed her, the loose black cloth of the shapeless garment swishing about her ankles. From within the folds of the garment, the guarded eyes of the girl stared at her as she walked past. Sepi shivered. Right now she would almost welcome the
chador
; at least it offered a veil of anonymity. Better than being exposed and vulnerable, as she was now.

BOOK: The Moving Prison
5.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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