It was about seven o’clock in the morning in the year 1993 when my mother decided to sit me down at the faded yellow picnic table that we used as a dinning room table. I remember sitting there on the hard wood chair and giggling softly as the chair rocked back and forth due to its shorter front leg. I continued to giggle my high pitched six year old giggle until my mom reached across the vast table and grabbed my tiny hands with hers. She stared hard at me with her emerald.
“Allia, it’s time for you to pay attention. You have to listen now. I need you to go to your room and pack up as much stuff as you can into your little Sleeping Beauty backpack.”
“But where are we going mom?”
“We’re going to see Miggie and Papa in Ohio.”
After hearing the news I hurriedly ran to my room and began packing as many toys as I could fit into my little pink backpack. Polly Pockets, Littlest Pet Shop, Barbies, all my toys were crammed into my little backpack. After attempting to zip it up, my mom came into my room to check on my progress. My mother was silent. She delicately pulled out all my toys and replaced the empty void with my rainbow colored clothes.
“But Mommy, why can’t I bring my toys?”
“Sweetheart, we can only take what you can fit in your backpack.”
“But Mommy, I can’t leave them behind. They’re my friends.”
“I’m sorry, Sweetie, but we have to leave them behind.”
My little lip pouted out, expressing my stubbornness, and I crossed my tiny arms tightly across my chest. My mother looked at me and smiled softly, kissed me on my cheek, and left the room.
My dad came home at around five that night, much earlier then normal. He didn’t say a word. He just looked at my mother and told her that it was time to leave. My mother helped me put on my black wool coat and my peacock patterned shawl. I never minded wearing my big girl coat and pretty shawl. I had always enjoyed playing dress up.
We walked out of the front door of the apartment and the lock clicked louder then normal. We walked down the darkly lit hallway that smelled of saffron that leaked out from the other apartments. Out on the cool night street the taxis zoomed by, a blur of yellow. A small white van sputtered and jerked to a stop in front of us. The door slid open to expose the riders inside. Aunts, uncles, grandma, everybody in my family were there and I was temporarily blinded by all their glimmering white smiles.
After 15 minutes of silent driving we arrived at the Iranian International Airport. My father climbed out of the van and began unloading our luggage. His brown skin glistened with sweat and his black hair clung tightly to his forehead. I stepped out of the van onto the yellow curb alongside my family. I began to be covered in loving kisses and soft salty tears as I told my family “Bye, Bye”. I told them that they should not cry over my goodbye. “Don’t cry. You’ll see me again.” I told them. After a few minutes they began to lumber back into the white sputtering van, occasionally turning around to stare back at me with tear filled eyes.
I turned my tiny body around and faced solid steel double doors. Though the doors were made of steel they were terribly faded and looked as if they would fall apart at the slightest touch. Above the doors was a rusted sign bolted to the wall. To Gangway. My neck craned upward as I stared at my father through my brown almond eyes. He let out a heavy sigh and pushed open the doors. There was a long hallway illuminated a sickly yellow. The linoleum at my feet was worn and emitted no reflection of the light above, giving the hallway an even more lifeless appearance. On both sides of the hallway, acting as its walls, was bulletproof glass held together by steel and bolts. I timidly began to walk along side my father occasionally tripping over my own feet in the attempt to keep up with his. My mother glided quietly behind us with her green hooded head staring at her feet, occasionally whimpering. We began to walk down the gangway.
Slowly, as I peeked through my peacock colored shawl, I saw what these hideous glass walls were trying to keep out. They were people. People as far as my tiny vision could see. They were like a sea of black and brown moving and churning preparing for the storm. Surrounded by the black sea, I saw the ivory faces of these dark ghosts. An old lady with sunken eyes had white hair that pierced out from under her shawl. Her mouth consisted of pink gums and no more then 7 yellow teeth. She kept screeching at us. They were all screaming for us to take them or help them to get out. I was so scared. My knees began to give out on me and my mouth grew dry. The tears stretched down my face in continual streams. My grip grew tight on my father’s hand. Don’t let me go, please don’t let me go. My vision began to fade and slowly blurred and my grip on my father’s hand began to loosen. Oh no! No I don’t want to be left here. Please no!
I faded into darkness.
When I awoke I was on a plane flying over the Atlantic Ocean. I sat by the aisle and my mom sat hunched over by the window. I could not see her face but I could see the wet tear stains on her lap. She was sobbing terribly. I had loved Iran and at that time, I did not understand why we had left. The revolution had come, the Shah was overthrown, and Americans were no longer safe there. At that moment I understood why my mother was crying so hard. My goodbye that I had told my family was permanent. I would never see them again.
The mother cries. The daughter understands.
(Winner of the 2008 Toyon and Sherry Debrowski Prize for Best Feminist Multi-Genre Fiction)