I did not blame my mother for leaving me back then, on the eve of my birthday. Our home had been at the centre of constant chaos during events that would eventually culminate in the overthrow of the Pahlavi dynasty and the establishment of an Islamic republic. Below our windows, we heard the shouts of young students who would regularly get gunned down by the Shah’s guards. Living through that mayhem was bound to make anyone insane. What eluded me, was why my mother only took my brother with her? Why not me? Several of my mother’s relatives suggested that since she left me behind for my father’s sake, while others insisted that, as a girl, I was not as important to her.
Her last words, “Be good,” took root in my soul, planting a conviction that my evilness must have been the reason she left me that day. What other rationales could I come up with? This was the very beginning of my troubles as I struggled to find the true meaning of being good, especially in a country that hosted so many political parties fighting for power, each certain of their own definitions of good versus evil.
We went to live with my grandmother, Madar, in Niroo Havayi, in a house my father had grown up in. My father’s younger sisters still lived there as well, and almost all of their cousins had grown up in the same neighborhood. The house had a vast rooftop connected to other buildings around us, a wonderful spot to watch the starry sky at night. The neighbourhood kids and I would gather on the roof to play tag or cards, from sunrise to sunset, taking refuge from the conflict through our games.
Every corner of my grandmother’s house is still a vivid memory. The tranquil pond in her yard, a contrast to the quacking ducks residing within it. I would feed the glistening goldfish and sing to them as they swam in circles. The architecture was exquisite: a magnificent domain of serenity that protected me from the external chaos. As children, we could not understand what all of the demonstrations were about, but my father and his friends would try to explain the revolution to us in a prudent way:
“You see, people are constantly trying to make others see things from their point of view. Sometimes they talk about it, and sometimes they go and demonstrate. What is important is that everyone’s voices are heard,” Amoo Khosroo, my father’s cousin who would visit us on holidays, explained.
My father, extremely sharp, yet stupidly courageous, chimed in, “People in our country are fed up by the selfish actions of the king, and they want to change things.”
Sensitive, tough, educated, my careless father did not worry much if the Shah’s guards overheard him. “Since the beginning of civilization, there has been a struggle between good and evil, and now the people in our country are no longer willing to put up with evil. It is plain and simple.”
“You mean like in Star Wars?” I asked.
“Exactly just like that.” He kissed my cheek.
This was a great comfort for me. Even though I did not know who the “Jedi” were in this revolution, I did clearly envision a happy end. One hot August afternoon, my father announced the homecoming of Amoo Khosroo, who had just graduated medical school in Moscow. He decided to return to Iran to participate in the revolution as well as celebrate his engagement to his childhood sweetheart. Amoo Khosroo was a socialist and a great literate; he truly cared about people. He held Marxist beliefs and was convinced the monarchy’s time in history had to come to an end. His parents had sent him off to Russia to study for that very reason; there was no room for intellectual Marxist discourse in an Iran ruled under the Pahlavis.
We all awaited his arrival with extreme enthusiasm. When the melodious doorbell rang, I rushed to open it. Amoo stepped in, dressed in a stylish Western-cut coat, with his hair gelled and the traces of a fashionable goatee growing on his chin. My cheerful heartbeat was so loud that I could barely hear the quacking ducks in the pond. Amoo’s hands were full of delicious toffees and caramels in colorful wrappers. His lips curved upwards and he scooped me into his arms, throwing me in the air with ease.
As I landed on the floor, there was a flash followed by a horrendous noise that left a sharp ring in my ears. The tear in the side of his beautiful suit revealed what I now know to be the barrel of a .38 revolver. A moment later he fell into the fish pond, red colors muddying the waters and obscuring the goldfish. I lay there, in a state of paralysis. I remember, vaguely, my father’s strong hands pulling me from the ground and tossing me into the house. In front of my eyes, the pristine white marble around the pond was stained in a horrific shade of red.
I could hear shouts outside, “Wannabe Communists, watch and learn.” Others, “They killed Khosroo,” “Death to Shah and his regime,” “Death to America.” The shouts were the least frightening part of what was happening, seeing people’s angry faces, that was an image I will never forget.
A week later, I asked my father, tearfully, “Is it America’s fault that Amoo Khosroo had been shot? Or is it the Communists’ fault? Is it the people who hate the Communists? Or is it the Shah’s soldiers?”
He leaned forward, so our foreheads could touch: “Azizam, the delineation between good and evil is not as simple as what we saw in Star Wars, nor any other films for that matter. In real life, the heroes can be as flawed as the monsters.”
I wanted to ask more questions, but he shook his head, and we embraced as he cried.