Epilogue, October 2010
Half the people on the Circle Line are reading the Evening Standard; a dozen are reading books and the rest are just staring into space. I try to spot someone looking at the others. No one. No one looks into the eyes of another. This stillness on the move is a constant feature of London when the working day comes to an end. People are exhausted. They’re looking forward to going home, taking a shower, chatting with the family, watching TV.
An earthquake in Haiti. A hundred thousand deaths. An ad asks you to donate £2 to the cause: help hundreds of thousands left homeless in the streets of Port-au-Prince. That’s how you can make your day worthwhile: help others, thousands of miles away. You don’t need to think about the fact that 80 per cent of your donation goes into administrative costs and that the Haitians will be lucky if they receive the remaining 20. You don’t need to look into the face of doom: it’s too far away from this train on the Circle Line. You’re a cavalier, donating £2 to humanitarian causes. You’ve got your problems, too, don’t forget, although you’re luckier than your friends who have been struggling to get a job for the past six months. You’re working hard. You wake up at 6 in the morning, try to catch the train on time. You make yourself felt at work so that your hard work and your skills are appreciated yet not too much: you don’t want to be unpopular with your colleagues. How many days until the weekend? You begin to plan: go out, meet friends, catch a glimpse of the sun and the blue sky. Have a few pints at the pub, watch some TV, spend some time with the family, perhaps run for an hour. Make sure you don’t look at other people. Although you have no trouble looking into the face of Steve Jobs as he holds his new invention across half a page of the Evening Standard, that famous sparkle of satisfaction in his eyes. A feeling you have longed for all your life but never even got close.
And there I am, in the crowd on the wagon, the only one looking at the rest. These are decent people, working hard to earn a living, securing the future for their children. They have their concerns, their pains, their joys. But how can I compare them to myself? I have been pulled out of my previous life and thrown onto this Circle Line on which I commute to work every day. I am Iranian. And I am not able to go back to my country because I witnessed the murder of a girl who became the symbol of Iranian suffering. My life that I had taken for granted has been taken away from me: I have lost my career, my country, my life’s achievements. I have to learn to settle down in the UK, to acquire the British way of life, to understand British values. Or I will turn into one of those hundreds of thousands of exiles who never go back to their countries while, in fact, they never left it. As my friend Paulo used to say, in every life there comes a moment when one has to leave.
I want to leave now. I have to understand this way of life. I have to teach myself to enjoy the Evening Standard, Metro, X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, Rugby Union, Cricket, Tesco. And I have to learn how to satisfy my craving to change lives by donating £2 a month to a charity of my choice. I shall have to forget my love for international literature and let British crime stories or misery literature satisfy my yearning to read.
I am a writer, a publisher, a doctor. These are transferable skills. So what do I miss? What makes my heart so heavy that I can barely move on? You have to know what you are leaving behind before you can move on. It’s like the farewell kiss of a passionate couple who know they will never see each other again. Nothing in the world can replace that kiss; it will fill the void of nostalgia forever.
I never had a chance to say goodbye. So I cling to my past forever. I left Iran in a hurry, terrified of an arrest at the airport. I was so overwhelmed with fear and I had so much adrenalin pumping through my veins that I didn’t even stop to think that I might never see my country again. I didn’t realize that that was my last drive through the streets of Tehran, my birthplace. That I might never see the Sierra Alborz again. Nor the infinite scope of the Caspian Sea. Nor the everlasting blue of the Persian Gulf.
But I have heard that the mountains in Scotland look very much like the Alborz and I’m sure this ocean will inspire the same infinite joy as the Caspian Sea.
There’s something else I miss. Perhaps it’s the collective dream of a nation older than history itself.
In the UK, people complain about the unemployment rates, the corruption among politicians, the bad weather, the recession, Scotland Yard’s inefficiency in failing to find the murderer of a young woman whose body has been found by a lake in Kensington Gardens, the increase in travel fares, taxes, etc. But they ignore the fact that they have freedom of speech and individual freedom, that there is a system that actually prosecutes corruption among politicians, that the unemployed can receive job-seekers’ allowance and housing benefits, and that they can travel on their holidays to warm, beautiful places anywhere in the world. They ignore the fact that thousands of miles away there is a country, one of the richest in the world, that kills people when they ask for their votes to be counted, rapes them in the prisons and tortures them to death without accepting responsibility for any of its cruelties. A country that, despite possessing the world’s fourth largest oil reservoir and the second largest natural gas reserves, has people struggling to put bread on their tables every night.
Leaving this country infected with political corruption, tyranny, oppression, poverty and injustice shouldn’t be a bad thing; tasting freedom shouldn’t be so painful. Then why am I incapable of enjoying this freedom? Why is my heart away from me, afloat on the waves of the Green?
The people I see on the Tube every day are trying hard to kill their knowledge of death’s existence. They play at immortality, banishing death to a faraway land from where it can only manifest itself through fictional situations: an action film, a crime story, a bit of news. I guess that’s why the 47-second video of Neda’s death shocked the world in a matter of hours. She looked straight into its eyes before she died. I think most of the millions who watched her had never had such a close encounter with death. Neda was the testimony that everything can end here and now. The fact was overwhelming for a world that thought it had recovered from the horrors of the Second World War and the Cold War.
Maybe that’s what I miss. I decide there and then to tell this story. This is the story that may help me heal. It is also my farewell to my beloved mystical land, the land of Arash the Archer, the Land of Kay Khusro, the Land of Neda. It will also be a reminder to all the people on the Tube: don’t take what you have for granted. After reading my story they may embrace life with a little more enthusiasm and passion, living every moment as if it were the last.
Because this, too, shall pass.