Küç had prepared the Iran leg of the trip for me, yet there was still some confusion on the first evening. The three boys I arrived with were going to share a room in a hotel, which I wasn’t allowed to do on account of my being a woman and not married to any of them. Küç kindly helped me out and I found a host for the night. So I ended up at M.’s, the sweetest young man you can imagine, and hist parents. Luckily they were open-minded people who welcomed me on a very short notice even though it exposed them to gossip. I was M.’s very first guest. The following day – incidentally Christmas day as I came to realise, but in a Muslim country nothing helps you remember that – I was walking down a big avenue with M. and D. when the two young men became a little nervous, casting sideways glances towards a police car parked behind us. M. had already told me how he had been once controlled by the vice squad when he was about sixteen years old. He had been walking down the street with his female cousin when two severe looking men – I can’t remember if they were wearing a uniform or not – stopped him and asked what they were doing and what the relationship was between the two of them. The men had called both their parents to check that they were indeed related and confirm they weren’t two young lovers flirting around. Obviously, the incident had made quite an impression on M. and he was now looking worried.
“ Is there a problem?” I asked both of them.
“ The policemen, there… they could mean trouble for us. Let’s take a taxi , it will be safer!”
The avenue was deserted of any traffic. Taxi drivers jump on you as vultures upon a carcass when you get down any bus, but there is none to be seen when you actually need one. Typical. M. and D. were becoming more and more tense.
“Alright, here is what we are gonna do. You’re gonna keep walking on this side-walk, but on your own, and we’re gonna walk on the over there” said one of them pointing at the opposite side-walk, three double-lanes apart. “It’s easy, you keep walking straight ahead, and we will wave at you when it’s time to turn. You can join us then. Just look our way once in a while.”
They crossed the street and I kept walking on my own.
My first luxury-coach travel was coming to an end. It was the first time I had actually slept in a coach, almost proper sleep for a few hours. I opened my eyes. We had reached the outskirts of the city. On my left were the dark shapes of middle-sized mountains. On my right, small sand-colour houses were unrolling as a carpet for miles and miles. The sky was pink and pale. The traffic was heavy. I closed my eyes again.
Some intense of light woke me up. The rising sun was dazzling, a big yellow circle right ahead of me and I couldn’t see much. I dozed off again.
My phone buzzing startled me. It was Küç enquiring about the details of my arrival. Her message threw me out of my vegetative state once more. The sun was higher up in the sky now, shining upon everything. I realised in a thrill that the mountains on my left, the black shapes from earlier, were actually covered with snow. The blue sky, the white snow and the rest, yellow. It was beautiful. I felt excitement rise up in me. How I love travelling!
There were six of us in the little car. I was crammed in the back. After just a few days in Iran, road traffic still looked to me like a picturesque chaos, a random ballet in which everyone was acting as if they were alone on the road and yet tacitly cooperating with everyone around so that no one would get killed in the end. I couldn’t see much of the road. At a tricky crossing I suddenly became aware of a motorcycle driving straight at us from the right. In a very brief slow-motion moment, I distinctly saw the motorcycle hit the right side of the car and its driver fly over the hood in front of us. I didn’t see him land and that made it all worse for me. For what seemed like an eternity – about five seconds – the motorcyclist might as well have been dead. I was petrified. Finally, he got up on his own and we all got out of the car. Two or three guys took the damaged motorcycle to the side. The traffic around hadn’t really stopped. Our car had been left empty in the middle of the road. “Drive it to that spot” I told one of the guys. “I don’t know how!” he said, fetching someone else with better driving abilities.
Luckily, this motorcyclist had a helmet (it is not the rule in Iran). He was complaining about his leg and simultaneously trying to get a fair amount of money from the driver of the car for wrecking his motorcycle. I felt somehow very guilty – I think he shouldn’t have been crossing, and I wasn’t even driving but I felt responsible anyway for being in the car. The image of the flying man wouldn’t leave my eyes. P. told me to calm down, that he had some friends throwing a party that night, we could go there and have alcohol, relax and forget about the whole incident. I only started to feel better when it was decided that the people the car belonged to would drive the motorcyclist to the hospital and make sure he was alright. We took my bag out of the boot and got a taxi to drive us to the party.
The cleaning lady (Tehran)
I had been staying at P’s place for quite a while already. That day, the cleaning lady was there. She was timidly talking to P. in the kitchen in a very low voice. Earlier, my gaze had very briefly caught hers. She was a very tiny woman. I would have said she was fifty something but it could have been more or it could have been less. I had said hello to her with a smile. She had returned my greeting and readily walked away. P. told me “She just approached me very shyly and said “Can I tell you something? Your guest is very beautiful””.
Half-an-hour later as I was typing on my laptop in the living room she came to me and, her head bowed in a very humble manner, presented me with a plate of peeled and diced fruits. Ready to eat and just for me, to P. she gave nothing. I thanked her profusely, amazed at the gesture and thinking about how much you can convey with just a few pieces of fruit.
We gave her a lift to the metro station later that day and chatted with her a bit. In the end I could look at her in the eyes without her looking away right away. She appeared to be a very clever person, just extremely shy. Her husband had died decades ago. “She never looks me in the eyes either” P told me after she left.