PART II: If you want the ultimate pleasure step on a landmine

I thought things couldn’t possibly get worse nor life any gloomier when another series of blows fell across our fortunes.

Hormoz and Reza Company, Dad’s close friends who had been expelled from university two years earlier for their affiliation with the Tudeh Communist Party, were at home when I returned from school one day in February 1983. They were playing backgammon and chatting and everything seemed ‘normal’, although I knew that was far from the truth. Dad never came home so early and Hormoz and Reza had suddenly appeared in our house after several months’ absence.

I said hello, left them and waited for Mum to come home from university.

She, too, returned earlier than usual. I asked her what was going on. She motioned for me to be quiet and said she’d explain later. Then she joined Dad and his friends. I went to my room and tried to help Golnar who had recently begun school and was learning the alphabet and numbers. A little later I was called to join the grown-ups for tea and I noticed that the three men were working hard at repairing something while they chatted. It was our toaster! It had been broken for a while and a new one was not to be found in the shops; Iranian industries were not producing toasters and they couldn’t be imported either because of a combination of customs regulations and sanctions. Dad was in love with toasted bread. Both his friends were electrical engineers: it made sense to ask them to try and fix it. It also gave me an excuse to stick around: I, too, wanted to learn how to fix a toaster.

But the atmosphere was too tense. All of the leaders of the Tudeh Party had been arrested during the past two days and now the police were looking for all other members and affiliates on the grounds that they were spying for the KGB. Hussein, another mutual friend, had already been arrested and Hormoz and Reza knew they were being pursued. Although Dad had never been a supporter of the Tudeh Party—rather, he was one of its more serious critics—they had turned to him for help because they could no longer trust anyone within the Party.

They stayed until late. Hormoz stayed overnight. Despite Dad’s insistence Reza Company would not. He claimed there were important matters he needed to take care of before making his decision.

Just before he left, he asked Mum for a plastic bag into which he carefully put all the pieces of the toaster. Then he handed it to Mum and said, ‘Well, Pari, I think I’ll need to come back in a few days with my tools. I can’t fix it without them, and I need to buy a spare part for it as well.’ He laughed. We all knew there was nothing wrong with Dad’s tools. It was the anxiety that prevented him from concentrating.

He never returned to finish the job: he was arrested as soon as he got home. That was the last time I ever saw him. The disconnected pieces of the toaster remained in our cupboard for many years, a symbol of the lives that had come apart after the Revolution.

Hormoz fled the country through the mountains, entrusting his wife and two children to Dad. I never saw him again either. It took his wife and their two children six months to get their passports and another six months to get visas to Germany, where Hormoz had finally ended his journey. During that time they had no contact with Hormoz other than a few phone calls every couple of months, less than two minutes long and made from public phone booths. They also had enormous financial problems; all their savings had been used up after Hormoz’s dismissal from university, and his wife had been fired because she was married to a ‘traitor’ and had not filed for divorce. The night before their departure, she called Dad and thanked him for everything he had done for them in Hormoz’s absence. Dad offered to take them to the airport but she declined.

By now Dad had lost most of his friends. Hussein and Reza Company were sentenced to seven years in prison and Hormoz was in exile. A few years later, just before Hormoz died of cancer, Dad and he met for one night in Germany, the better part of which they spent drinking and smoking and telling jokes. Just like old times. As if nothing had happened. They bade farewell in the morning, knowing that it was the last time they were seeing one another.

Hussein’s wife didn’t have the luxury of joining her husband. She, too, lost her job at university but, after a year of knocking on every possible door, was recruited again by the order of Prime Minister Mousavi in 1984. She took care of her son on her minimal income for the seven years her husband spent in prison, and she never ceased to support Hussein.