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 (7 page)

BOOK: The Moving Prison
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“Good morning, Sepi.”

She whirled about. Khosrow smiled back at her.

“Why must you always sneak up behind me like that?” she demanded.

He chuckled. “I like seeing your eyes when you’re surprised.”

She squinted at his face. “Are you letting your beard grow?” she asked suspiciously.

Khosrow shrugged, looking away. “Everyone’s doing it. Why not?”

“Next I suppose you’ll be asking me to wear a
chador
.”

He glanced back at her, then away, saying nothing. A long, awkward silence limped past.

“Well … we’d better get to class,” he managed, at last.

Sepi held out her hand. Glancing up and down the hall, Khosrow hesitantly took her hand as they walked toward their classrooms. Sepi looked at him questioningly, but he stolidly kept his eyes ahead.

EIGHT

The first day of February sparkled with the crystalline clarity of midwinter. Sunlight glinted from the wings of the Air France jetliner as it banked to make its final approach to the runway at Mehrabad Airport.

Thousands of people, crammed into the terminal building or peering from cars parked willy-nilly along the expressways around the airport, anxiously followed the plane’s graceful, slow-motion descent as its wheels reached from the underbelly of the aircraft, then touched the tarmac. All across Iran, millions of eyes were riveted to television screens, millions of ears anxiously turned toward short-wave radio broadcasts from the BBC, as every nuance of this moment was recorded for posterity. The airliner, now taxing toward its berth, carried the triumphant rebel. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The victor returned to Tehran to claim his prize.

Devout Muslims rushed toward the aircraft, even before it had fully stopped, hoping to catch their first glimpse of this man whose voice they had heard for so long, yet whose face they scarcely knew. A cheering, jostling crowd greeted the stooped, white-bearded old man who made his way carefully down the steps from the plane, lifting him gleefully onto its shoulders, parading in triumph toward the van waiting to carry him to the first of many speaking engagements. Along the route of Khomeini’s entourage, hordes of the Shiite faithful packed the roadsides. For the poor, the devout, and the revolutionaries, this was a day of delirious joy.

Others, watching from greater distances, witnessed Khomeini’s triumphal entry with fear and trepidation.

“I have dreaded to see this day,” intoned Abraham Moosovi, from the armchair where he sat. A group of friends gathered before the television in Ezra Solaiman’s study, witnessing the arrival of the
Imam
, as Khomeini was now being styled. “And yet,” continued the rug exporter after a thoughtful pause, “I find that I am also strangely relieved. At least the waiting is over. Now we know for certain who will run the country.”

Ezra looked gravely at the other man, then at the somber faces of the rest of the group. “What you say is true, Abraham,” he said. “And yet I cannot help thinking that things may get worse before they get better. We may look back on the days before this and remember them fondly.”

Some of the women wept softly. All felt the stomach-churning malaise of apprehension. No one knew what Khomeini’s first acts would be. It was within his power as
Imam
to declare a
jihad
, if he chose. Against whom would the new
de facto
ruler of Iran direct his first assault? The Christians? The Baha’i? The Jews? For all his faults, the Shah had been able to protect the religious and ethnic minorities in Iran. But he was gone. They watched as their new leader, clad in a black camel-hair robe and turban, delivered an emotional speech to a huge crowd gathered at one of the city’s largest cemeteries.

“In the name of Allah the Merciful and Compassionate,” Khomeini began, standing beside the grave of one of the hundreds of Shiites slain during the uprising. Pointing to the gravestone, he shouted at the admiring throng, “Is this the meaning of ‘human rights’?”

The crowd’s roar filtered through the speaker of Ezra’s television set, filling the room. Khomeini was making an obvious reference to the issue that had helped alienate the Shah from his American protectors.

“Never again,” the Ayatollah continued, “will an innocent Muslim die at the hands of the traitors of Islam.” Another huge cheer ripped through the increasingly zealous crowd. “Never again will this land be ruled by infidel ideologies. Never again will Iran be ruled by a monarch.”

“I would not want to be sitting where Bakhtiar is today,” remarked another of Ezra’s guests. Appointed prime minister by the Shah before his departure, Shahpur Bakhtiar was charged with the hopeless task of seeking a coalition with the antiroyalist factions. The most optimistic gave him weeks; the more realistic allowed scant days before the tides of anarchy swept aside the last vestige of the Pahlavi regime. Already the crowds in the streets chanted death slogans with Bakhtiar’s name attached. “He will be brought down for no reason other than his association with the Shah,” agreed another. “And for this crime he will have no defense.”

“I have heard people say that the army is defecting
en masse
,” said Moosa, seated by his father. “Barracks are being looted. Rifles are for sale in the covered bazaar at ridiculously low prices, and there is no control whatsoever.”

“The war has only begun,” mused another. “With the Shah gone, the
mujaiedeen
and Tudeh will be trying to carve their own pieces from the corpse of this country. We have not seen the end of the bloodshed, by any means.”

Another cheer erupted from the crowd on the television screen, as a glum silence fell over the group gathered in the house of Ezra Solaiman.

Ameer Nijat totaled the column of numbers he had written on the notepad, then rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he slowly drew several lines beneath the final sum. Solaiman indeed had a gold mine. As the druggist had correctly calculated, the increase in the market value of his inventory alone was enough to return a decent dividend to a purchaser such as himself.

Nijat leaned back in the chair behind his desk, looking up at the ceiling, which needed paint. He lived in a modest five-room house in an average neighborhood. Years ago he had decided that displaying one’s wealth was an invitation to those less willing to work for riches than steal them. But he was a man of more than modest means.

He had started as an apprentice to a printer in Tahbriz. Through the years of hard work and shrewd dealings, he had built up a very profitable printing business of his own, selling it for a large profit at the beginning of the oil boom of the early 1970s. Not that he had allowed his money to remain idle. He had speculated in oil futures and precious metals—both with tremendous success. He knew when to seize an opportunity, and he sensed the Nasser Pharmacy was a plum ripe for the picking.

He reviewed in his mind the salient facts of the business. Solaiman, a Jew, wished to sell his business. The price he asked was reasonable. The inventory, the sales records, the overhead—all were as described.

Nijat glanced down at the day-old newspaper on his desk. Prominently featured on the front page was a large photograph of Ayatollah Khomeini, awash in an adoring throng of supporters. This was the future of the country. Even the children knew it.

So then,
whispered Nijat’s intuition in his ear,
why does this successful Jewish businessman choose this particular moment in history to liquidate his enterprise and reunite himself with his son in America? Could it be because he is anxious not to live in an Islamic state? Could it be that he senses, as does anyone with an ear to the ground, that Iran will not be a pleasant place while the mullahs, repressed for so long under the rule of the Shah, avenge themselves on their real and imagined enemies?

Eventually the fury of the mullahs would blow itself out for lack of a target, and by then Nijat’s son would be firmly established as a proprietor of a well-known pharmacy. With his son’s education and his own business sense, Nijat failed to see how this could be a losing proposition. Unfortunate that Solaiman did not have what Nijat possessed—the ability to lie low, to remain inconspicuous. Unfortunate, indeed, for
Aga
Solaiman. Nijat shrugged. Business was business. He picked up the phone and dialed Solaiman’s number.

Moosa placed the
rial
notes on the table beside his empty plate and left the café. He walked slowly up Pahlavi Avenue, his eyes scanning the newspaper as he strolled along the sidewalk. In these days, it grew more and more difficult to learn what really went on. The Islamic majority, egged on by the constant propaganda of Khomeini’s swelling retinue, gradually tightened its grip. About the best one could do was read the paper and adjust the facts for the blatantly Shiite slant given to every event.

As he walked, he read the story about a woman who had acid thrown in her face by one of the recently appointed
pasdars
. In the article, the armed guard was quoted as saying, “The infidel woman refused to wear the
chador
, according to the Imam’s latest order. She had to be punished for disobedience to the laws of decency.” The story pointed out that the Imam had decreed that all women, even non-Islamic residents, were obliged to obey the order. If they were seen in public without their heads covered, they were subject to arrest and trial for adultery, since they were presumed to be harlots.

A commotion erupted from one of the shops ahead. Moosa stared at the angry knot of men that boiled out onto the sidewalk. Three
pasdars
shoved and kicked a man Moosa recognized as the son of Abraham Moosovi. One of the guards gave the fellow a final shove, which sent him slamming into the door frame of his shop. The three armed peasants turned and swaggered away, laughing among themselves. Moosa rushed up to the beaten man.

“Nathan! What have they done to you?” He bent down and grabbed the slumping man around the waist, pulling one of Nathan’s arms across his own shoulders. “Let me help you back inside.” Slack-jawed, Nathan nodded as Moosa half carried him into his shop.

When he had slumped into a chair, Nathan looked up at Moosa. “You … you are Moosa Solaiman?”

Moosa nodded, then turned to rummage among the cabinets behind the counter for a rag or cloth.

“I thought you were in America,” puzzled Nathan, as he wiped the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand.

“I was, until last week. I came back to help my father leave this crazy country. Why were those
pasdars
beating you?” Moosa asked, handing a damp cloth to Nathan.

The other man winced as he dabbed gently at his cut face. “Last night looters broke into the shop….” Tiredly Nathan gestured toward the center of the store. Moosa turned to look.

Broken glass littered the floor. Nathan Moosovi sold jewelry and curios—vases, chinaware, and the like—but all the shelves were thrown about, the wares shattered on the floor or missing altogether. In the back of the store, a jagged hole gaped in the heavy steel door of Nathan’s strongbox, cut by an acetylene torch. Moosa did not need to look inside to know that all the jewelry in the box had been pilfered.

He looked back at Nathan. “Who could have …”

Nathan scoffed at him. “Do you seriously wonder? Who else could have brought an acetylene torch unchallenged into a locked shop? The
pasdars
are behind this—you can bet your life on it. Give a stinking barefoot a rifle and a title from Khomeini, and what do you expect? The ignorant fools have become a law unto themselves, Moosa. I’ve noticed those three thugs hanging around the area for the past several days now—‘on patrol against enemies of Islam,’ they said. I suppose they decided they liked some of my merchandise. And since I am a Jew, they saw little harm in taking what they wanted.”

Moosa stared back at Nathan, his eyes wide with the enormity of what he was hearing.

“I went to the police—or what is left of them—this morning to report the theft. I told them my suspicions. Do you know what they said?”

Moosa shook his head.

“They said, ‘Find the looters and bring them to us, and we will arrest them.’” Nathan snorted in disgust as he stared at the bloody rag in his hand.

“I’ll tell you this, though,” continued Nathan, glaring darkly in the direction the
pasdars
had gone, “the next time those Muslim goons come in here, they’ll find me prepared.”

Moosa’s eyes asked for an explanation.

“Guns are not difficult to obtain, even for a Jew,” said Nathan. “You should think about it yourself, Solaiman,” advised Nathan. “You are as Jewish as I.”

Moosa looked from his friend’s battered face to the ruined shop, then outside to the sidewalk.

BOOK: The Moving Prison
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