PART I – Since your love became my calling

The big day finally arrived. After talking to one of the guards at Khomeini’s residence, Mustafa took me there on his motorcycle. Every afternoon, the Imam opened the door of his house to visitors even though not all of them could be admitted for the house was small. The guard took me in through the back door and before I knew what was happening I found myself in a corridor, standing in front of a tall old man in a white gown and a black turban.

‘Where are you running to, young man?’ he asked, putting his hand on my shoulder.

‘I want to see . . .’ I held my breath as soon as I looked up and saw those two black eyes under the two thick eyebrows and that white beard, so much like Santa Claus. I was silent for a few seconds, and it was only his encouraging smile that helped me continue.

‘I . . . I wanted to see you, Imam.’

He chuckled and patted my cheek.

‘So you have, son. What important matter brings you to me?’

I had none. All I could come up with was, ‘I want sugar cubes . . . for dad.’

Everyone laughed at my answer, while the Imam nodded to the young man beside him who went off somewhere. The sugar was Madar’s idea. According to her, dad did not observe his duties as a Muslim: he did not pray nor did he fast; hence, the only thing that could absolve him would be eating something blessed by the vicar of the Hidden Imam.

‘What is your name, son?’

‘Arash, sir.’

‘And your father’s name?’

‘His name is Jalal, sir.’

‘Master Jalal, you are not supposed to disrespect your father’s name.’

The young man returned with a handful of sugar cubes. Imam took them in his hands, put his hands in front of his mouth and uttered a prayer and a blessing. Then he put the cubes in my hand and asked, ‘Is that all, Master Arash?’

I bent to kiss his hand but he responded in a manner quite different from Ayatollah Shariatmadari: he withdrew his hand, bent over me and kissed my forehead.

‘You never bow to anyone other than Allah, of whom I am only a humble servant,’ he whispered in my ear. His gaze was overwhelming. A blazing intelligence mixed with a kindness and a seriousness that made it impossible for anyone to hold his gaze for more than a few seconds. Caressing my face, he moved towards the crowds waiting in the courtyard for a glimpse. ‘Send my greetings to your father, Master Arash,’ he said as he left.

And that was it. I never got the chance to tell him that I had lost my friend to the Revolution. I wanted him to pray for her, I wanted to make sure that she became an angel. That was my main reason for wanting to see him. Despite not a word on the matter, something in his eyes assured me that Azadeh was happy.