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PART IV: Lie if you want to survive

It was 7.30 a.m. by the time we got to the infantry base. We were searched thoroughly at the entrance and our cigarettes were confiscated. No one was allowed to smoke in the infantry, it seemed. Later I realized that the whole point of confiscating our cigarettes was to make us buy them from the smugglers within the infantry at a much higher price. We were told we were not allowed to shave our faces, then we were divided into three groups and sent to the three dorms. But there were not enough beds for all of us, so the commander announced that those who lived in Kermanshah could go home at night. We decided to volunteer so that we wouldn’t be trapped in that base for two months.

We were trained again on the use of a gun, how to respond to chemical attacks and how to use RPG-7 rockets. We also attended war strategy classes and received Islamic training.

Hamid was one of the men who left the base with us every evening and we had become friends. When I heard his surname was Barazesh, I asked, ‘Do you know Barazesh, Deputy Minister of Culture?’

He smiled and said, ‘Yeah, sort of. Why?’

‘I really wish I could speak to him.’

‘You can if you want. He’s my brother.’

With growing excitement, I explained Dad’s situation regarding the Publishing Licence.

‘No problem. Call me when we go back to Tehran.’

He truly performed a miracle. Two months later, when our military training was over, we returned to Tehran.

Within a few days, he telephoned.

‘What do you want to call your publishing house?’ he asked.

‘Caravan.’

‘OK, ask your father to come and get his PL tomorrow.’

The path that had taken two years and then petered out into a dead-end suddenly opened up again.

In Iran, everything was impossible and everything was possible. It all depended on who you knew.

It was 7 in the morning. We had just returned to the infantry base and were preparing for the morning ceremony when the Sergeant called us out and asked us to fall in line.

‘In the name of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful. YOU DIRTY SCOUNDRELS! YOU WIMPS!’ he bellowed. ‘I thought you were educated! I thought you were doctors and engineers! Now I know that you are nothing but a rotting disease at the heart of the Revolution!’

He cursed us for 10 minutes, while we looked at one another in bafflement. What was wrong?

‘You’re a disgrace to your country! You think I don’t know what goes on in the dorms at nights? I have eyes everywhere . . .’

Ah, he must have witnessed something truly terrible! Perhaps two boys had been caught having sex? Taking drugs?

‘Don’t you respect the blood of the martyrs who once lay on the same beds as you filthy animals? For this disgrace, you will do 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups!’

We were all scared to death. What on earth had happened? I didn’t sleep in the dorm so I had no clue. I looked at the others to see if they knew what the Sergeant was talking about but they were as astonished as I.

Meanwhile, the Sergeant was about to reveal the unforgivable, heinous crime.

‘I have received reports that some of you pigs have been sleeping only in your underwear!’

‘Ha ha ha ha . . . !’

Someone burst into laughter and the sound of it rippled through the courtyard. Everyone turned to gape at him. The Sergeant, too. Oh my God, I don’t believe it: it’s me!

‘You, Dr Asshole! Step forward.’

Although I knew I was in trouble, I simply couldn’t stop laughing. That sleeping in one’s underwear was being treated as a national security problem . . .

I stepped forward.

‘You have insulted the blood of the martyrs for which you will be punished severely.’

He called the group leader. ‘You start counting, 100 pushups, 100 sit-ups. And you,’ he turned to me, ‘come with me.’

He took me to headquarters and told me to wait outside while he reported my crime to the commander of the infantry. I was no longer laughing but thinking hard, trying to come up with a way out of this mess. Insulting the blood of the martyrs was a serious accusation. I couldn’t defend myself before the General; he wouldn’t care; he’d feed on my fear and make an example out of me for the others. I decided the best way forward was to take the offensive.

I was summoned inside. The General looked at me contemptuously and said, ‘The Sergeant has a complaint about you. You have insulted the blood of the martyrs.’

‘Sir, I . . .’

‘Shut up! Don’t speak until you’re asked to. This is the army, not a hospital.’

the gaze of the gazelle

I shut up.

‘Do you have anything to say?’

‘Can I speak openly, Sir?’

He nodded.

‘My fellow soldiers and I are the ones who will file a complaint against the Sergeant.’

Both the General and the Sergeant raised their eyebrows. ‘Can I speak, Sir?’

‘Yes.’

‘Apparently, a few soldiers have been sleeping in their underwear. But no one knew that sleeping thus was a crime. The Sergeant did not explain the rules to us but punished and insulted everyone. Further . . .’

The General and the Sergeant looked at me with ominous smiles. I realized that my case wasn’t strong enough.

‘I will complain against the Sergeant for having insulted the blood of the martyrs.’

The smile faded from both their faces. ‘Why?’ asked the Sergeant, clearly anxious.

I turned to the General and continued,

‘The blood of the martyrs is sacred. The blood of the martyrs is what this glorious Revolution and the sacred regime is founded upon. The blood of the martyrs is our most powerful weapon against our arrogant enemies. It belongs to the whole nation and the Sergeant has no right to use it to his personal advantage. More important, he has no right to link the blood of the martyrs to the underwear of the soldiers. This is sacrilege! We will not let this happen again.’

The Sergeant was shocked, and the General, realizing he had to save himself, asked me to leave.

When I got back, the team had already finished the 100 push-ups. I asked them not to go through the sit-ups but to wait and see what happened.

An hour later, a new Sergeant was appointed. Ours was sent off to lead another team.

I was saved.