Creative Nonfiction

 Manijeh Khorshidi


I See Colors

A small black and white photo beckons me in. I enter the time of the past and the by-gone world. Then, I see colors. The brick wall happy being overtaken by the running crimson roses. The turquoise sky spreads enchantment in that space. I hear the birds busy with their performance. The yard primarily belongs to them. They have a claim on it and oversee it from their place on high. The tall trees have shaded the yard. The dancing patches of light through the leaves tell the tale of the sun in the late afternoon spring. I feel the breeze and hear it talking to the leaves, a lament of joy and ordeal. The wind tells what it has witnessed on passing the lands and the seas.

Then I see two children with white bows on hair, shiny shoes, and new dresses. They seem to be happy. The young parents in evening attire stand behind them. They are about to take the children to a party. They leave the garden a few moments later, and with that, the warblers reclaim their property. Little did those in the photo know on that day, years later, they never go back to that house and its garden.

I see joy and love in that frozen moment in the life of those people. I see safety and protection, the yard, the birds, the trees, and then humans, all portraying a happy life. A life without violation. A life where hopes and colors flourish, where joys and songs thrive. I recognize my child self, that carefree, energetic, and unconditionally loved child. The one who can climb the trees and sleep through the night. The one who sees the world through the lens of hope. Everything about the future dazzles in her mind. She hears music in nature. The jumping up and down expresses her alignment with the rhythm of life. That familiar and universal dance every child performs.

I want to be that child again. The era of playing, the imaginary friends, the fairy tale stories, and the beautiful world of beliefs. The time when singing and dancing blended into the life of those children in the photo. When despair and darkness did not knock at their door, and diaspora and separation did not put the oceans between them.

Maybe, the birds tried to tell the fate of those posing for the happy snapshot. Perhaps, the leaves and the wind exchanged words about the future hardship for the unassuming small family. Maybe, they all tried to help the family leave that house sooner, to take their not violated memories with them. If that was the message they were trying to pass, the dwellers in that household did not perceive it. The family was busy planning their future and occupied with hopes they wanted to pursuit; vision to fulfill. They did not have time to foresee the darkness.

Time passed, and the dark days arrived. The days when the garden and its inhabitants, the birds, trees, and those red roses became witnesses. The days of the uprooting of the family posing in that photo. The pillaging of their home and shattering of their lives. The gloomy clouds of fanaticism and dogma overshadowed the welcoming sky of ancient Persian culture. It became clear that those following the principles such as this family were all in danger. Belief in the unity of humanity and the oneness of it. That any divine religion must be the cause of unification and not oppression. These uplifting principles and, at the same time, the ego-shattering truth, which the family tried to live by, became the cause of their plight.

I close my eyes and remember my life in those dark days, which happened years after that happy day in the garden. It is September 1979, and I find myself on a plane flying to a place unknown to me. My heart is heavy, my soul withered, and my mind is confused. I just had said farewell to my parents at Tehran Airport. Their last words were, "Be safe."

The plane is still soaring when a torrent of uncontrollable tears comes to my eyes. My future is blurry, like the face of the stewardess through my tears as she was announcing the itineraries. The whole country has been in upheaval. Innocent people disappear into the dark of the night. Friends and relatives of my parents vanish, and their bodies are never found. The new norm has no place for hoping to find the loved ones alive, but rather the oppressed ones show gratefulness over finding the corps of family members. Genocide is called justice. And the slayers commit it in the name of their religion. The preys, in this case, are the Baha'is in Iran.

Looking down from the plan's window, I see rivers, mountains, and valleys coalesce together. The ground below seems to be silent and at peace. The terra cotta color of the earth dominates the blue of seawater and the green of forests. The plane moves through the patches of cloud and leaves everything I know behind. An amalgamated and unfamiliar feeling pervades my being, a sense of joy and relief deep-rooted in grief and sorrows, the joy of being free, the sadness of separation.

The monotonous sound of the plane calms me down. It conveys a sense of stability. And not a rapid cruel change like the one going on the ground. I reflect on the hectic situation and constant uncertainty during the last few weeks. What a rush the last few weeks had been in our family. Every day the shadow of restrictions and persecution of people spread more. Banks shut their doors to customers, credits vanished, the currency jolted, and shops closed off, terrorizing the people had just begun.

I remove the silken scarf that my mother, at an opportune moment in the airport away from the eyes of Islamic guards, pushed into my purse. Plunging my face into it, I inhale the aroma of a helpless mother. The dazed parents do not know where their firstborn will end. But they have confidence that she does not vanish in the dark storm of prejudices. I carry their sigh of relief of my departure. Elated and alive, I hear the stewardess announcing the coffee time that brings me to the moment.

I look down again and can't even see the land. So far removed from the place where my memories formed and my longing scattered. Ache visits my heart. I remember the night when my father gathered us in the living room of their house in Tehran. The night was pregnant with shattering hopes. He cut the cord of togetherness for the first time with his children. He told us we only survive in the diaspora. The agony of separation has to be accepted, he said. Resistance to leave our parents we the children repudiated, denied, we rejected all my father's suggestions. Silence prevailed. A mountain of ice appeared in the living room on that night. Mom served hot tea in her gold-rimmed teacups. I do not know how? The tea helped to forget for a few moments the tumultuous future we all had to embrace. But my father was adamant and knew that getting a visa for a family was impossible. Close to dawn, the wise man, with his gentleness and reason, prevailed. He knew better, and as always, it was all about our safety and not his.

I find myself jotting down these words in the plane which, reflects my deep anxiety and unspoken stress at the time:

I hear them coming,

The rows of old crows

Croaking from distant.

Harbinger of death,

The cunning takers,

The uprooters reached the gate.

We had to leave our home each for different countries. How true my father foresaw our future. We never lived on the same continent again. Separated by oceans and mountains, we learned to be with each other without being together.

I look back at the old photo, and I see colors of love and life. Days such as that day in childhood have formed the prologue of the book of my life.

Hearing the doorbell, I leave the scene of the past behind and fold my memories to rest. The face masks from Amazon just arrived. Now, I will be safe! I tell myself. But is there any mask to protect me against the grief and loss? Any remedy to heal the pain of the violated past? Any power to shorten the distance between those in the photo? Is there any mask to return what the exponents of tyranny took from them?

'Oh! The song of life has many melodies,' the universe whispers in my ear. And if there is no song left to dance with, there is always the power of imagination to see colors in everything. And to usher our soul into the whirl of joy in every moment.

Rumi comes to mind

My place is placeless, a trace

of the traceless. Neither body nor soul.

I belong to the beloved, have seen the two

worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that

breath breathing human being.

November 19, 2021 02:31

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Betty Jean Ward
14:38 Nov 25, 2021

This was filled with description. Very good story.


16:22 Nov 25, 2021

Thank you.


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