Authors: William Mirza,Thom Lemmons
Tags: #Christian, #Islam, #Political, #Fiction, #Suspense, #Historical, #War & Military, #Judaism, #Iranian Revolution, #Cultural Heritage, #Religious Persecution
The huge low-ceilinged customs building was a bedlam of voices, a shifting mass of bodies. Thousands of men, women, and children stood in long lines before the low counters, attended by the customs officers. Ezra and Esther, their few pieces of luggage slung on straps across their shoulders, moved slowly along the queue. Sepi stood behind them, beside the carrying case. “If only Moosa were here,” she began.
“Quiet, Sepi!” admonished Ezra sternly.
Guards behind the counters methodically searched every piece of luggage placed on the counters. Female agents searched the handbags and bodies of the women passengers. As far as Ezra could see, not a single article was omitted from the scrupulous inspection. Again he felt the sweat trickling down his temple.
Esther craned her neck above the crowd, anxiously searching the throng by the entrance. “Where is Hafizi?” she asked, “He came in with us, didn’t he? I can’t find him!” Panic began to unravel the edges of her voice.
After an eternity, they reached the inspection counter. “Place everything you have on the counter,” ordered the official in a bored voice. He glanced over the handbags and the suitcases, then more carefully studied the plywood carrying case. “What is in this case?” he asked.
“An antique rug I am taking to my cousin,” replied Ezra.
“I do not see an export permit for this rug,” said the officer. “Open the case, I want to look inside.”
Ezra hung up the phone, a grimace contorting his face.
“What’s the matter?” Esther asked, as she tipped the bowl she held and doled a serving of steamed rice onto each of the four plates.
“That was Nijat. He has made an offer for the store.”
“Why the foul expression, then?”
Ezra looked tiredly at his wife. “He has offered fourteen million
, paid over a year, or ten million in cash, paid immediately.”
She paused, the serving spoon poised in midair. “But we must have the money now if we are to—”
“Yes,” Ezra interrupted, “of course. And the business is worth almost twice the cash figure he has offered. But he says he cannot possibly raise so much cash on short notice.” Ezra rubbed his face, then his temples. He sighed, looking up at his wife. “I thought Ameer Nijat was by far the best prospect for the quick sale of the store. Now I’m not sure.”
“You could make a counteroffer, couldn’t you?”
Ezra snorted, and shook his head. “We are hardly in any position to bargain, my dear. If we wait too long, we will be trapped in this country, and may well have our property confiscated by the Islamic government. Which is better—to take less for the business, or to stay and perhaps have it stolen from us by force?”
Esther opened her mouth to reply, then looked away, biting her lip and remaining silent.
“Nijat is shrewd,” mused Ezra. “He knows how anxious we are to leave Iran, whether he truly understands the cause or not. I’m afraid the cards are all in his favor.”
“Ezra,” began Esther carefully, “are you absolutely sure such haste is necessary? Are you certain the troubles cannot be deflected simply by minding our own business and avoiding attention?”
Ezra stared at her in disbelief. “Still you do not see!” he said, standing angrily and turning away from her. “For all our lives we have avoided attention, but camouflage is no longer possible!” He fumed silently for a few seconds.
He whirled to face her again. “Do you think that simply wearing the
is enough?” he said in a quieter, razor-sharp voice. “Do you really believe that we can draw a veil over ourselves and be left alone?” Esther’s eyes flared at him, her shoulders rigid with indignation. He bored ahead, too full of the frustration of his predicament to care how she reacted.
“Isn’t it funny, Esther?” he said bitterly. “All of my life, I have worn an invisible
—a cloak of meekness, of caution and accommodation. I have ignored the barely hidden smears against my Jewishness, winked at the simmering hatred of the Shiites. I eagerly embraced the principle of the
, even as you decried and hated it. And now, while the women of this country have the obscuring cloak forced upon them, I have my protecting veil of conformity and anonymity yanked from me. Ezra Solaiman, an Iranian Jew, stands uncovered at last, open to the contempt of all. Despite all my planning, all my wariness, all my attempts to blend into the background, I am exposed by the accident of history to the hostile whims of a regime headed by the sworn enemies of my heritage.”
He leaned against the kitchen counter, his anger spent by the rushing torrent of words. Slowly he raised his eyes to his wife’s. “We’re not talking about inconvenience, Esther,” he went on in a beseeching tone. “We’re talking about survival. Why do you refuse to admit this? Why do I see it and you can’t?”
She went into the dining room, her lips pursed tightly in anger. He sat down at the kitchen table, his face in his hands. Thoughts and emotions tangled inside his mind. Once more the invisible wall had risen between them, but what else could he do? Every day he waited to sell the store, the price of hard currency would increase. And with each passing hour, the chances were greater that he would be denounced before one of the ad hoc revolutionary committees being organized by the mullahs. Firouz was acting strangely; how much longer before he discerned what was going on—perhaps tried to derail Ezra’s plans?
With a soft groan of pained resignation, he reached for the phone and dialed a number. He heard the buzzing, then a click as the phone was picked up. Ezra cleared his throat and managed to say, “
Nijat? This is Ezra Solaiman. I have thought about your offer.” He swallowed several times. “I … I will meet you at the escrow office at eight o’clock in the morning, if that is acceptable.”
“Aga Ibrahim, your prices are the highest in the covered bazaar!” the old woman was saying. “How can you expect a poor old woman such as myself to pay 100
for a rug this size?”
Reuben assumed a pained, sympathizing expression. “Ah, Farnaz
he sighed, “how I wish I could help you! To say, I would gladly give this pitiful little piece for, oh, say …” His hands circled in the air as he calculated. “… a mere 92
. But, alas! The villains in Isfahan who shipped this pathetic rag to me charged me murderously! If I don’t get the 100
for it, I’ll barely make my money back, much less afford the extortion which passes as rent for this unworthy hovel they call a shop.” He shrugged helplessly and pulled a string of worry beads out of his pocket.
A few moments later, as Reuben knew she would, the woman gave an exasperated little grunt. “Well,” she huffed, “if my husband were alive, I’d certainly never stand for this. And that lazy oldest son of mine doesn’t give me the help he should.”
“Children are a blessing from God,” Reuben agreed, “but they can also be a trial from the Devil.”
“I should say!” she stated with a firm nod. “That, and with all the trouble in the streets these days—”
“Difficult times for all the faithful, to be sure,” Reuben murmured.
“Well, at any rate. I just can’t pay 100
for this rug. The most I could pay would be …”
Reuben waited patiently, eyes downcast, unmoving.
“Ninety,” he countered, quietly.
“Done.” He rolled up the carpet and handed it to the woman, while she fished about in her tattered handbag for the currency.
“There. Eighty-seven. But I still think it’s too much.”
, your keen perception is matched only by your deep generosity to a poor merchant,” he said in a voice that oozed gratitude. “May this small rug bring you much comfort and happiness.”
“Yes, well … good day to you,
“And to you.” He bowed deeply as she left.
He counted the notes again as she walked away down the covered bazaar. Eight-seven. Not wonderful, but not bad. And Farnaz
was, after all, a regular customer. At least ten times, over the last few years, they had reenacted the little pantomime just concluded. Reuben allowed her to work him down a few
each time, listening patiently to all her complaints about her sons, their wives, and difficulties faced by a widow during these days, and whatever else happened to be on her mind at the moment. Reuben had noticed that all political or economic circumstances seemed to weigh especially heavily on widows, at least according to Farnaz
. He noted with some amusement that Khomeini was already the object of many of the same complaints she used to lay at the door of the Shah.
He had just placed the money in his strongbox when he heard footsteps entering his stall. “Greetings, friends! And how may I help you—”
Turning around, he was shocked to see three armed
standing in his doorway. He forced a smile back onto his face and finished his sentence. “How may I help you today?”
“You are Reuben Ibrahim, Jewish rug dealer?” one of them grunted.
He cocked his head quizzically, “Is that one question, or two, friend?” he chuckled. “Do you wish to know whether I am Jewish, or whether I am a rug dealer? As to the first; yes, I am Jewish by birth. As to the second, well …” He gestured about the market stall.
“We didn’t come here to pass the time of day, Jew,” another
grated. “Come with us quietly, or you’ll have worse trouble than you already have.”
Reuben felt his face going stiff. “Trouble?” he quavered, striving to keep the confused smile on his lips. “Surely there is some mistake? My selling permit is in order, and I can show receipts for every rug in the—”
“Shut up!” shouted the first
. “You are accused of being an enemy of the Imam Khomeini and the holy revolution! You’re coming with us immediately!” He laid a hand menacingly on the holstered pistol he wore on his hip.
“Very well, very well,” Reuben quavered. “Only let me lock up—”
“No time for that,” snarled the third
, shoving Reuben. “Someone will lock up for you.”
snickered behind him as Reuben, blind with fear, stumbled down the bazaar.
Ezra grunted as he levered the handle of the shovel back and forth in the hard earth beneath his basement floor.
Two or three more spadefuls should do it,
he thought. Then the hole would be deep enough. Wiping his forehead with the back of his hand, he glanced over at the canvas bag on the brick floor of the basement. For the hundredth time, he felt chagrin at how small the bulge the
notes made inside the bag.
it was all I could do.
Again he jammed the shovel into the packed dirt.
He placed the waterproof canvas bag in the hole, and then covered it with dirt. He tamped the earth down until it was firm, then repositioned the bricks he had removed. He could take the dirt he had displaced from the hole and scatter it in the garden, then pile firewood atop the bricks. He hoped these precautions would be sufficient. Wiping his hands, he climbed the stairs to the main floor of the house.