When she peered out the window, everything was so different from where she grew up. The street below was overrun with the crowd. Tons of young people were gathered in small circles, passionately arguing. Some held signs, waving them furiously, heads moved back and forth and hands cut the air like knives. She’d never seen people that excited before—what could have made so many people so angry? She wondered.
She could not read Farsi but recognized the curved letters with dots in their bellies like pregnant women with triplets. Letters with mouths half open, hungry enough to swallow the silent characters sitting quietly next to them and the sharp blades of some like the sickles peasants used to harvest. She’d seen these characters in books her father read.
The warning from the National Security Center on the radio this morning echoed in her head, “Any gathering of three or more persons on streets is prohibited and illegal. Perpetrators will be arrested.” She could not estimate the number of buses required to haul all these sudden criminals to jail. If people back in America took to the streets as passionately as these, at least obesity wouldn’t be an issue. She grinned at her own thought.
She sipped the hot Darjeeling tea BeeBee, the grandmother she’d only met yesterday prepared for her. The young woman wasn’t sure if her weakness and spacey head resulted from jet lag or the crowd of cousins, aunts, and uncles vying for a glimpse of her. On this, first trip to her motherland she was overwhelmed by endless platters of delicious Persian cuisine and constant kisses blanketing her cheeks and forehead. Her nostrils were burning from Espand, the scented seed, grilled to protect her from the evil eye.
Suddenly, she was stunned by her mobile phone ringing out the first few bars of “Yankee Doodle”. This was the first time it rang in the three days since she left America. Enthusiastically, she pushed the talk button. “Hello?”
“Hello. My name is Peter Burton from Prudential Insurance. I have great news for you and I promise my call wouldn’t take more than a few minutes of your time. ”
“How interesting, I’m thousands of miles away from home. I can’t believe I’m receiving calls from the US. What can I do for you?”
“Yes, it’s amazing how connected we are in the world.”
Outside, in the street a uniformed officer snatched the pamphlets from a young man’s hands and threw them in a ditch. His action agitated the crowd around him.
“I am calling to offer you the best life insurance at the lowest premium.”
A second officer approached the same young man from behind, tackled him violently and pounded him to the ground with the butt of his gun.
“All you pay is a few dollars a month and we insure your life for $250,000.”
The young man coiled in agony. An old woman stood a few feet from the scene, watching with trembling hands clamped over her mouth.
“I need to ask you a few simple questions just to fill out the forms.”
A shot cracked the air. The crowd scattered in fear.
“Are you between 18 and 25?”
A line of soldiers flooded out of a military vehicle and took positions on both sides of the street. Their helmets reflected the sharp rays of light into her eyes.
As a running woman tripped while escaping the chaos, her scarf fell to the sidewalk. Now she’d broken the law by not wearing her Hejab in public. She knelt to retrieve it, but an explosion convinced her otherwise. She ran leaving her scarf and her right shoe behind to disappear under the feet of others.
“Are you currently a full time student?”
“Any demonstration is considered a threat to national security and perpetrators will be severely punished.” The words echoed in her ears.
The armed military personnel surrounded two young demonstrators. As others rushed to their rescue, soldiers shoved them away. A military Jeep approached the circle and officers wrestled two men and a woman in their early twenties into the vehicle.
“You don’t smoke, do you?”
“No.” She nervously shifted her glance to her sweating palms and wished she had a cigarette now.
Another Jeep plowed through the crowd. Soldiers leaped out taking positions on the sides of the street; their guns aimed at demonstrators.
“By not smoking, you have done yourself two favors. First you haven’t shortened your life. Second, you’ve drastically reduced your premium.”
She squinted through the window and noticed a soldier on the roof across the street aiming. Down in the street, a young woman, one who looked quite like herself, was wandering around confused, lost in the crowd. She could hear her heart pounding. More shots echoed across the buildings. People scattered. Some crowded into a sandwich shop, a few rushed into a bakery. Others ducked behind cars. Apparently, everyone else knew what to do in a chaotic situation, but the young girls. Neither the girl in the street nor the one behind the window knew what to do, or even where she was. They didn’t understand the chaos, strangers lost in the pandemonium.
Another shot was fired.
“You are in prime of your life.”
She collapsed. Everything turned gray except the growing red spot on the front of her dress.
“Congratulations! You are qualified for the lowest cost life insurance.”
The young girl touched her heart; she was drenched in blood.