We Have Everything
Contrary to my expectations, my ten years old nephew was not surprised to see the slinky I’d brought him as a souvenir from America.
“We have slinky too. Next time we go to the bazaar, I’ll show it to you amoo jaan or as you Americans say dear uncle. Whatever you find in America we have it right here in Iran.”
And he was right. To my surprise, the next day in the market he showed me a variety of colorful versions of slinky sold at much lower prices than the US, all home grown and unauthorized reproductions of the genuine article.
“So you claim that you can find absolutely everything we have in America right here?” I slyly taunted him at the lunch table that day.
“Everything, we have everything,” he boasted.
“In that case, you will produce one tall blonde woman with a big butt in short pants, tomorrow by noon.”
Now my nephew was sitting in front of me with a gloomy face. I had scored one.
He was the nephew I had the most fun with on my first trip to homeland after seventeen years. I’d never met him before.
After lunch I was to visit one of my sisters who lived in the same city and not far form my brother’s house. The only issue was that my sister and brother had not talked to each other for a couple years.
“Take me with you dear uncle to aunt Soraya’s house,” Naeem said.
“Please dear uncle, take me with you. I promise to behave,” he insisted.
“I know you will but I really can’t take you with me.”
I didn’t know how to say no him. I was not to establish any contact between the two families by taking him with me to their house. It was a non-verbal agreement I’d made with my brother and his wife.
“Maybe another time,” I said.
“But why, why can’t you take me?”
How could I explain it to him what his mother’s eyebrow gesture meant right after she heard her son’s request to go to my sister’s house. So I lied to Naeem.
“First of all. It’s too hot outside and we have to walk at least fifteen minutes under the scorching sun to get there. It’s not good for your white velvety skin, heat exhaustion is dangerous.”
“First of all dear uncle; unlike you Americans we are tough. We are not Orange Juice drinker wimps. Besides, you don’t know your way around these alleys, you’ll get lost.”
“Your mother gave me the address and showed me the way.”
“How does she know how to get there? She’s never been there. Mom and Dad never set a foot into the aunt Soraya’s new home. They don’t even mention her name. And if their paths cross in the market, they cross the street not to face one another,” he reasoned.
“And how do you know the address then?”
“I go to their neighborhood and play with my cousins.”
“Do they know you go there and play with their kids?”
“Oh no. We just don’t tell our parents. As long as they don’t know, everything is fine.”
My sister in law yelled from the kitchen.
“Don’t bother your uncle; son. It’s time for your afternoon nap.”
“Take me with you please, please. I hate to sleep after lunch” Now his eyes were moistened with tears as he was losing hope.
“I wish I could. I’ll find the way myself.” I desperately replied.
“Dear uncle, you will get lost. I am sure of it. This is not America. Streets are all crooked and their names change every time someone from the neighborhood dies in the war. For your information; we have so many martyrs dear uncle. We’re engaged in a long war.”
“Don’t worry dear, I still speak the language, I can ask if I get lost.”
“Ask? Ask who?”
Now I was being cornered, I could feel it.
“People on the street, shop keepers or pedestrians.”
“Now that shows how little you know about your city dear uncle. At one o’clock in the afternoon, you can’t find anyone in the streets. It’s so hot the asphalts get softened like the chewing gum in the mouth dear uncle. Every shop in bazaar is closed from 12 to 4 in the afternoon. Everyone sleeps after lunch under the air conditioner. So, whom do you ask for direction if you get lost my dear uncle?”
Now I was on the spot and didn’t know how to respond. As much as I wanted to, I could not ask his mother to grant him permission to accompany me. The two families were not on talking basis for a long time. I could not get involved. I was just a foreign guest who’d obviously lost his touch with the reality of his country after all these years.
“Oh, dear uncle. You are an American, you don’t know anything,” Naeem continued.
His mother heard this comment.
“Oh, I wish God himself scoops you off the face of the earth you shameless boy. I’m going to fill your mouth with red-hot Indian peppers so you never talk like that to your uncle. Wait until your dad gets home and hears this,” she shouted.
Now my nephew was in trouble. He silently rushed to his room to get his afternoon nap with tears in his eyes and I left the house with the address in my hand.
On the way to my sister’s house and as I was passing by the closed shops in the empty streets under the blazing sun, I was burning from the taste of red hot Indian peppers in my mouth.