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Fiction

Manijeh Khorshid,

2021

Bay Window

Do you wish the bay window to extend up closer to the ceiling, Mam? The constructor's question interrupts Mahtab’s thoughts dwelling in another time, another space.

It is a summer day, and the Caspian Sea seductively invites her to immerse in its blue water. The zephyr gently moves her shoulder-length black and silver hair and touches her soft skin. It evokes the memory of that summer day many years ago.

After years of traveling and living in different places, Mahtab returns home where she belongs, where it all started many years ago. A high executive job had taken her all over the world away from what she was escaping. The years living in Paris, London, and South America were at first a blessing for her. She could plunge herself into the work and assignments to release herself of the yoke of memories. But with passing time, the sweet and bitter memories of the past became closer than ever. The silent and powerful language of the past became more and more present in her life.

It is winter in Austria, and she receives another crucial assignment. A project to manage in Eastern Europe. That night in her apartment in Vienna, she reflects on her life. Chopin plays, and Mahtab is sipping her Turkish coffee. This solitude is a luxury treat for her. Often she has to have dinner with the company's clients. Then, she refuges to her quiet place and indulges herself in reading. But tonight is different. Her soul wants to reflect on the past instead of fleeing from it. They expect an answer to the proposal, not less than two days.

Usually, making a decision has been easy for Mahtab. From one project, she gladly and without any hesitation would go to another one. So what is the dilemma here? She is restless and cannot concentrate on reading tonight. Putting down the book, she walks to the window. Looking down to the snow-covered and ornamented streets with Holiday lights, she sees young lovers holding hands and walking in the late hour of the night. They seem enraptured with joy and free of any worries. The sight stirs deep emotion in her heart. A place she has not visited for a long time. Her dust-covered heart has played no role during her professional life and her successful carrier. She stayed single and unattached to any romantic relationship.

Many years before, under the sun on the shore of the Caspian Sea, the seagulls were flying. The bay window of the summer house allowed Mahtab's parents to sit there and watch the billowing waves pounding on the partly rocky beach. Her father would call her the moonlight of his life. Her name means moonlight, and she enjoyed hearing her father's poetic words. The only child of the family, her parents raised her in comfort. She has just finished high school and is planning to continue her education in Europe. So during the summer of that year, they decided to spend time in their summer place overlooking the Caspian Sea. The pleasant climate of the region was a lure for the visitors.

The family next door had their summer home for some years. Mahtab's father knew the man through his business connection, and they became friends with the Sea spread in front of them. Their son just had returned from abroad to spend the summer vacation with his parents. But he was returning to Europe to further his study in the Fall. It became another common bond between these two families. Both had one child, and they were going abroad to study at the end of summer. On their long walk on the shore, Mahtab had a chance to look at their son. His gentle and shy character kept him at first in the background. But that was attractive to Mahtab. It did not hurt that he was tall and had dark hair. Later she found his name was Mehyar.

It is ten at night in Vienna, and Mahtab receives a phone call from her boss that they need her answer to accepting the new project sooner than they thought before. He knows this is undue pressure, but he says that the competition is fierce, and they have to move fast. By eleven tomorrow morning, we have to respond, he adds. It is not the first time this undue pressure heaped on Mahtab. With nothing else to take her attention in life, her laser-focused work was an asset for the company. The boss said goodnight and hanged up, sure of Mahtab's acceptance and that her top employee will embrace the challenge like times before.

Mahtab is standing in the middle of the living room, frozen in time. Every bone in her body tells her to flee the world she made for herself. Maybe a hot bath helps her to collect her thoughts. Chopin is still playing. How much her father loved this music. How many times as a child she had burst to his library finding him reading while classical music was playing. Her thoughts take her to the last summer in their summer home. And then she remembered Mehyar. That young man who, after a few short conversations, had asked her to marry him. And she had said yes! In those days, parents accompanied their young daughters in pursuit of suitors. But love would happen even with a glance and a few words. The young girls would trace the tale of love differently. Most of the time, through intuition and higher senses, a girl would distinguish the goodness in her suitor. And this was one of those cases. The families were happy, hopeful, and planning for an elaborate wedding.

It was the first love for both Mahtab and Mehyar. It flourished, and they had a chance to walk with each other and talk more while their parents were walking behind them. The more she would listen to Mehyar, the more she would love him. This unpretentious joyful young man had such a vision of life which was thrilling to her. His love would allow her to be herself. She had seen her father with such affection for her mother, who had brought happiness to his wife. She was seeking such love. Despite her young age, she had wisdom.

The days of summer were ending. And in this epilogue of the season, Mahtab and Mehyar were happy to have found each other. Confident that they see each other next summer in the same place and marry soon. Then, on that fateful day, Mehyar and his friends decided to have their last boat ride. He called it his farewell to the Caspian Sea, which he loved so much. They were supposed to return in the evening. Mehyar came to see Mahtab before his departure on that day. He brought two books for her, Rumi's poetry book and the War and Peace of Tolstoy. That was the last time Mahtab saw Mehyar. He never came back from the Sea. Besides the search of the authorities, his parents spend a fortune to find him. In the sixties, they used all the technology they had to locate him or his body. But the Sea had devoured him. And it was not willing to return its take.

The happy summer for two families became a never-ending grief-stricken time. Mehyar parents eventually abandoned their summer home, and they never came back to it. Mahtab's family took care of their friend's villa until they became old.

The families remained apart from each other but bonded deeply with grief. One had lost a child to the Sea and the other to another Continent. Mahtab never returned to her land. One day she received a call from the lawyer of the family that her parents have died within a short time from each other. There was nobody in this world to call her moonlight anymore. She missed them terribly but did not have time to grieve and sob. She continued at the time to work and had deadlines which kept her intensely busy.

In the same year, she found out through a German newspaper that Mehyar’s parents died too. His father had trades, with Germany and they had spelled out the story of the missing son of this prominent entrepreneur and his wife. It was a sad story, a heart-rendering end for this couple.

It is two in the morning, and Mahtab is still pacing back and forth in her apartment in Vienna, wrestling to decide for her life. There is a thirst in her soul to see the old Sea and the land where she left behind. Her nostril seeks the smell of the Caspian Sea. Her feet its sand, and her eyes the turquoise color of its water. The two books of Rumi and Tolstoy are still in her library after so many years. She picks up Rumi's book for the first time and reads the note that Mehyar had written for her forty years ago. 'Remember me when you read these poems sitting behind the bay window.' She holds it to her chest. It is an awakening moment for her. Then, she writes next to Mehyar’s love note, these words of ‘I remember you.’ Vienna is quiet at last, and finally, sleep spread its wing over the city. She has made up her decision!

The sudden departure of Mahtab from the company shocked her colleagues, but no one was more shocked than herself. She did not know what force was drawing her back to the land where she had no relatives there. But she could not help herself. She had to go back to the place where had caused her heart to be closed. Thus, in the winter of that year, she flew to Iran.

Mahtab contacted her parents' lawyer, the only one whom she knew and remembered. They met later that week, and he provided all the documents for the transaction of the abandoned villa and other properties of the parents to her name.

Spring arrived, and with it came the abundance of flowers and blooming earth. Mahtab left for the Caspian Sea with her new orange BMW. She enjoyed her drive through the winding, narrow and picturesque roads along the Alborz mountain to the north. After a few hours of drive, she found herself standing in the old villa. An indescribable feeling came over her. She heard her father calling her moonlight of his life. Saw her mother tailoring her dresses. She did not know why her heart bonded with the dusted and abandoned place in an instant. Was it that it mirrored her heart? The lonely, neglected, and dusted heart of her? Her thoughts transported to those happy and lively times, to Mehyar and their walks on the beach.

Looking outside to the backyard, she found that the vegetation has survived so well during the last many decades. That is strange. Oh, it has to be the mild weather of this region, she thought to herself. She left for downtown to stay in a hotel. Also, she wanted to find a contractor to take care of the place.

The smell of the Caspian Sea had awakened every cell in her body. She remembered how much she loved to come to this region from her childhood. The breakfast was brought to her in a tray with the tea, marmalade, and butter on thick homemade bread. Later that day, she went to the lobby and called the constructor whom the Hotel manager recommended. They set a time to look at the villa. Mahtab told him that she wanted as little change as possible. Especially the bay window.

Finding out how important the bay window was to her, the constructor asked her about enlarging the bay window. It pleased Mahtab to find the constructor observant of her vision and likes. Happy with the arrangement, she trusted the man. He was meticulous. Besides, he was a native of the area with a good reputation.

Two days later, Mahtab returned to the Capital to finalize the other legal transactions. Six weeks had passed when she received a call informing her that the summer home is ready to be occupied. She packed up her summer clothes and headed to the north. The hovering clouds over the lush green mountains were an image ingrained in Mahtab’s mind. She felt she was home. As far as she remembered, she never had a home. She has been a traveler on borrowed land. But here, with the familiar mountains, the fragrant land, the rocks, and sandy beaches, she could not help but feel at home.

Mahtab put the chair which belonged to her mother behind the bay window and sat there to watch the sunset. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Who is that? Hesitant to open the door, she looked through the window and saw a man with gray hair and round eyeglasses. She opened the door and heard the man gently saying that he is the next-door neighbor. And he noticed the car in the driveway, so he came to welcome the new owner of this beautiful villa. There was such a sadness in his posture and voice, which took Mahtab by surprise. But his voice was like a magnet to her heart. Then, he turned back to leave.

Without being able to thank the man, she abruptly asked did you happen to know the previous owners? The man stopped walking away. His eyes lighted with joy. Yes, he said. Yes, of course, I knew them. They were my parents’ friends. ‘And I was in,’ but he did not finish his sentence. I knew their daughter, he continued. His shy behavior prevented him from any eye contact with Mahtab.

The feeling of dizziness came over Mahtab. She felt she knows this man. Could he be the dead Mehyar? Could he be alive? Who is this creature? What does he want from her? Frightened and fuming, she told him to get out of her property while slamming the door. The man stood there for a few seconds, then walked away. From the window, Mahtab noticed he was limping and had a cane in his hand. That night she had many versions of one nightmare. The Sea monster was coming after her, and she could not escape to the mountains. In the morning, she made some tea and walked to the seashore. She sat there for hours. How could she be so rude to a stranger? She was reflecting on her reactive response to the man who wanted only to welcome her. She remembered he told her he lives next door. Maybe she should go and apologize.

Mahtab gathered all her strength and found herself knocking at his door. There was no answer. She knocked at the door again and was ready to leave when she heard a familiar voice. A voice she knew from the time past. She saw the man coming towards her having his hands filled with flowers from his garden.

He apologized for not being able to come sooner. My leg does not obey my wish to walk faster, he said.

I am sorry, Mahtab said. I did not want to interrupt your gardening.

You interrupted nothing, he gently said.

I am here only to apologize for my rude response yesterday and return your visit, Mahtab said.

You were not rude at all. Would you like to come in to have a cup of tea, the man said.

No, thank you, but may I ask you your name?

The man apologetically introduced himself as Mehyar Esfandiari.

A deep silence fell over the space.

Catching up her breath and holding back the flowing tears, she said I am Mahtab.

Mehyar came closer to see Mahtab's face. His failing eyes did not help him to recognize her. He threw the flowers at Mahtab's feet. Then kissed her hands. He did not let go of them. Both, overcome with emotions, had to sit on the garden bench. They had not much time to talk about the past, but she wanted to know what happened. Mehyar, who could not take his adoring gaze from

Mahtab's face shared his horrifying story. The boat which they took that summer day to the Sea capsized, and he and his friends were for days stranded in the Sea. A Russian fishing boat rescued two of them as the other two had drowned, later they told him. It took him a year to gain some function in his body. But the loss of his memory stayed with him.

For months he remained in the hospital and, when an English businessman in Russia happened to know about his condition, volunteered to take him to England for more treatment. With no memory, he started to get treatment and study at a local college. Later he finished his courses at Oxford. He was in his forties when he was involved in a motorcycle collision. The accident brought back his memory. A deep pain of the loss of the past came over him. He contacted his parents but to his grief learned from their lawyer that they have just passed away. But he encouraged him to get back to take care of the properties.

His best memories of the short courtship with Mahtab brought him here, and ever since, he has lived in this house. He has been the one taking care of the garden of Mahtab's house.

The two summer homes went up for sale soon. The marriage of Mahtab and Mehyar took place in their new summer home, which they bought together. Years have passed since their happy reunion. Behind a bay window, two elderly reminiscings on their first date during summer many years before.

June 19, 2021 04:51

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