New short story: The Circus


The Circusa story by Showey Yazdanian

Abbas Farmanfarma, forty-five and hefty, hated Toronto in the summer. He was perspiring prodigiously into a huge American car on his way home from work, burning with anger at the traffic that dragged along the highway in slow motion.

“What a country,” mumbled Abbas, fat face glistening under its mighty Iranian five o’clock shadow as a bus blurted a smelly black cloud into his windshield. “You either freeze or boil.”

“Thank God it’s Friday, Toronto, and it is hot hot hot!” said a WOLD radio cretin. “Is it hot enough for you?”

“Shut up,” mumbled Abbas. Even the highway shimmered with sweat.

“I said is it hot enough for you Toronto?”

Something in Abbas’s brain exploded. He floored the gas pedal. Five seconds later he screeched to a halt behind a red minivan, obviously air-conditioned, which sat with pointed obedience at a yellow light.

“Beshoor hammal, move!” screamed Abbas. [No-brained dirty labour worker, move!]

And the howled reply: “Hey fat man! Learn to drive!”

“Kooft! Ridam be ghabre pedaret!” [Syphilis! I’m going to take a shit on your father’s grave!]

“Learn English, you fat Al Qaeda bastard!”

Abbas blasted his horn. That was all it took in Toronto at rush hour. Within seconds the offending minivan was at the epicentre of a cacophony of beeping.

His rage quenched, Abbas rolled up the window. When he finally pulled into his trim suburban driveway, it was seven o’clock and there were twin swatches of yellow sweat under his sickly-smelling arms. He stepped out of his car, swayed upright for a few seconds, and finally fainted onto the lawn.

Nasim, Abbas’s diminuitive wife, was inside making supper when she heard the thump of flesh on grass. She bolted outdoors and nearly tripped over the whale-like body of her collapsed husband. Fearing the worst, she began to whimper.

“Leave me alone, woman,” rasped Abbas, his mouth against the grass. His eyes were scarcely visible in their great bags of darkened flesh. “I’m dying.”

“You cheated on your diet today, didn’t you, diabetic one?” hissed Nasim, glowering over him like a very small avenging angel. She pulled Abbas to his feet and massaged his face with agitated strokes. “Abbas, how many more times does this have to happen? You won’t listen to me, you won’t listen to Dr. Khorsandi, you won’t listen to anyone.”

“And you won’t stop jabbering like a parrot!” bawled Abbas, reviving a little. He groped his way into the house. “Close your beak, woman, and get out of my way. I need to eat.”

“Dinner will be ready in five minutes. Look at you with your diabetic eyes, your hands are shaking,” said Nasim.

But Abbas was deaf to everything but food. He retrieved a jar of honey from the kitchen cupboard and swallowed huge golden spoonfuls of it, panting lightly. Soon the furious blood in his eyes stopped churning and a delicious coolness spread all over his body. When he was finished, he gazed lovingly at his wife and said, “May I have some tea, my little?”

Nasim kept her back to him. “Tea is on the table. You are going to die one of these days. I will be all alone and then Sami and Sara will grow up without a father. And all for what? Because you refuse to take your illness seriously. Are you listening to me, Abbas?”

Abbas was not listening. He was savouring the fresh breezes in his new, clear brain.

Nasim frowned in the direction of the window. “What’s Godphrey doing in our garden?”

Their neighbour Godphrey, a Nigerian about seven feet tall, was neatly tracing their backyard grass in a ride-on lawn mower, big knees almost touching his chin. When he glimpsed the two faces peering at him from the window, he beamed.

Abbas waved back, nodding in his chair like Cyrus the Great. “Very nice of him. He’s a good man.”

Nasim glared at him. “You’re just happy because you don’t have to do it now. Of course it’s nice of him. Why is he mowing our lawn?”

Abbas sipped his glass of tea. “How should I know? You know these religious fanatics and their dealer-wheeling with God. Maybe if he cuts enough grass his Jesus will give him a medal.”

“We’ve been neighbours for six years. This is the first time he’s cleared our lawn.”

Abbas shrugged. “Maybe it’s those tickets I gave him yesterday.”

“Tickets?” said Nasim suspiciously. “What tickets? What have you done now, baba?”

“The dealership gave circus tickets to the top sellers last month. I moved forty vehicles last month, how about a bonus? Maybe stock options? A BMW? No. They give me tickets to the circus.”

“And you gave them to Godphrey. Maybe I wanted to go to the circus,” said Nasim crossly. “We never go out anywhere.”

Abbas looked amazed. “What would a woman your age do at the silly circus?”

“What do you mean, a woman my age?”

Sara, their seventeen year old daughter, hollered down from the depths of her bedroom. “What did you say about the circus?”

“Suppertime, Sara. Sami, that means you too,” called Nasim. She turned a steaming pot upside down, releasing a magnificent cake of rice onto a waiting platter.

Sara bounded down the stairs, black hair streaming behind her like a banner. “What circus?” she said breathlessly.

Abbas crushed his daughter in a hairy embrace. “My little doll,” he cooed. “Khoshgel-e-man, who’s my beautiful little girl?”

“Set the table, Sara,” said Nasim. “Your diabetic father had honey for dinner, without his family, never mind that I had a long day at work and rushed home to cook for us.”

Sara’s reply was muffled by Abbas’s barrel-like chest. “I thought you were taking your insulin these days, Daddy.”

“Bah!” said Abbas, his face clouding over. “The pharmaceutical companies could cure diabetes tomorrow. Do you know why they don’t? Because of profit, my dear. So long as they’ve got people hooked on daily insulin, those kharcalehs [donkey heads] can keep on bilking.”

Nasim snorted. “Do you hear that, children? Your father hates the pharmaceutical companies. He hates the pharmaceutical companies so much that he is going to spite them all by dying. He is going to be the greatest of the great martyrs. In Qom they will make a shrine and everyone will pray to him. What’s the matter with you Abbas, why can’t you just take insulin like a normal person?”

“Your mother never lets me speak,” said Abbas wondrously. He took Sara’s face in his hands and frowned. “Eh eh eh, what’s this? Nasim!”

Sara wriggled out of her father’s embrace and darted to the other end of the kitchen. “What’s what?”

“Nasim! Nasim, look at your daughter. She’s gone and plucked her bloody eyebrows!”

“I had a unibrow. I looked like an ogre!”

“In Iran, only brides pluck their eyebrows! Are you a bride, madam? What are you doing, teasing boys at your age?”

“Alright, Abbas,” cut in Nasim as she poured four glasses of orange juice. “It’s harmless. Your daughter is hairier than a man. The boys at school were calling her Troglodyte.”

“They call you Troglodyte? Big deal! You call them Moglodyte!”

“I can’t call them Moglodyte!” shrieked Sara. “That’s not even a word!”

Abbas ignored her and continued to expel words in his wife’s direction. “Nasim, why are you trying to marry the girl off? Are we in Yemen? Are you going to trade her for a pack mule? What’s the matter with all of you?” He addressed himself to his daughter. “How else can I make myself clear? No makeup. No eyebrows. No boyfriends. No girlfriends. You kids don’t know how good you have it, you’re all so bloody lazy, and all I have asked of you, the only think I have ever asked of you, is to become educated human beings. Even better: become dentists. What’s the big deal? Do you want to live in poverty for the rest of your life, Sara?”

Nasim rolled her eyes.

“You don’t live in poverty, and you’re not a dentist.” accused Sara.

“Don’t even think of comparing yourself to me! I listened to my parents. I studied like a dog. For two years I ate books and drank books. And then what happened? Mullahs happened. No dentistry for your Daddy. Do you think there’s any glory in selling used cars? It’s a hard way to earn a living, my girl.”

Sara stalked over to Nasim to show Abbas that he was out of favour. “Mom, what were you saying about the circus?”

“Nothing,” said Nasim, with a dismissive lift of her chin. “Sami! Supper time! Enough of the computer.”

“The dealership gave me some circus tickets,” explained Abbas testily, “And I gave them to Godphrey for his kids. Don’t begrudge.”

Sara carefully addressed her mother. “What circus?”

Abbas jerked his head to indicate that circuses were beneath consideration. “Circus Disarray, Mircus Pissoray, what difference does it make? You are a grown-up woman now with no time for circuses. My God, with those eyebrows you are almost a bride!”

Sara forgot her hauteur entirely. “What do you mean, Circus Disarray?”

Nasim sniffed and placed the aromatic cake of rice on the table. Abbas glared at his daughter’s shapely eyebrows.

“Daddy,” said Sara urgently. “Please tell me that you did not give away tickets to Cirque du Soleil. You’ve been in Canada for twenty years. How could you never have heard of it? It’s the best circus in the world.”

“No Circus!” barked Abbas. “Study!”

Sami poked his head into the kitchen and sniffed the air. Sami was eighteen and handsome, with black hair in a braid that Abbas affected not to notice. “Hey,” he said. “That smells great, Mom. I’m hungry.”

“Daddy got free tickets to Cirque du Soleil and gave them to Godphrey,” Sara informed him.

“Of course Sami is hungry,” boomed Abbas. “He studies hard and works up an appetite whilst you, my girl, starve yourself to look beautiful for boys. In a few years your brother will be a dentist. He can go to go twenty circuses a day if he wants. How many circuses will you be able to attend? Ask yourself that.” He held out a palm. “Come on, son. Punch!”

Sami punched his father’s outstretched hand. Abbas kissed him vigorously on the forehead.

Nasim raised her voice. “Sometimes I feel like I’m invisible. Would one of you at least set the table? Sami, stop wrestling with your father, he collapsed today.”

“Eh, what are you talking about Nasim jan,” said Abbas genially. “I could kill the boy if I wanted to. I could flatten him with one finger.”

“Don’t kill Sami, Daddy,” said Sara with a saccharine smile. “Then he won’t get to be a dentist.”

“Don’t kill Sami,” agreed Sami.

“If you don’t become dentists,” said Abbas, staring fixedly at Sara’s forehead, “You might as well die. Life in the poorhouse isn’t worth living. Go on, Nasim, encourage them. Laugh at the father of your children. Tell your daughter to keep teasing boys with her eyebrows. In twenty years, when she lives in a shack married to a garbage collector she’ll understand the wisdom of my words. Where will I be then? Dead.”

“That was nice of you to give the tickets to Godphrey,” said Sami neutrally, white steam from his dish of rice curling around his nostrils. “They’re worth a lot of money.”

Abbas froze.

“I hear scalpers are selling them for three times their face value,” continued Sami. “Mom, this ghormeh sabzi is really good. Did you use fresh herbs this time?”

“No,” said Nasim tetchily, suspicious of the least attention to her housekeeping, “These are dried herbs, but I got them from the new place on Cumberland. The quality is much better.”

“It’s great, Mom,” said Sara, carefully angling her eyebrows away from her father’s line of sight. “Why don’t you tell us how you made it?”

Abbas grunted and stewed in silence for the rest of the meal.

 

***

 

When dinner was over, Sara jogged upstairs to her brother’s bedroom. Sami lay flat on the carpet with a heavy textbook in his hands, already buried in study.

“Hey,” said Sara, slouching against Sami’s prized life-sized poster of Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue at the world. “What are you doing?”

Sami didn’t look up. “Studying for calculus. Shouldn’t you be studying too? I thought you had a test next week.”

“I’ll study for it tomorrow. I can’t believe Dad gave Cirque du Soleil tickets away.”

“I know.”

“He could have at least asked us.”

“Yeah.”

“Sam, can I ask you a favour?”

“If you want to sneak out with Rajeev again, I’m not covering for you this time.”

“Sami, please.”

“No. Not after last time.”

“It’s really important.”

“Half of Richmond Hill knows you and Rajeev are a couple anyway. It’s almost like you want Dad to catch you.”

“Maybe I’m not as good a liar as you are. So what? Maybe I’m happy I’m not a good liar.”

“Don’t be a hypocrite, Sara,” said Sami, without deviating from his textbook. “We’re both liars. Is a bad liar a better person than a good liar?”

Sara kicked her brother in the head with a pink-socked foot. “Last week you went to a rave and told Dad you were volunteering at the hospital, to improve your chances for dental school. You don’t feel even a little bit bad about that?”

Sami shrugged. “Some people don’t deserve the truth.”

“What does that even mean?”

“It means I never lie to rational people.”

“Well I’m happy you can justify it,” said Sara, sniffing a little. “I can’t do that. I hate lying about Rajeev. I hate it so much I can’t sleep sometimes. It makes me feel like what we’re going is wrong.”

Sami still didn’t look up from his textbook. “Then don’t lie about Rajeev.”

“Dad would kill me if I told the truth! Did you see the hell he kicked up about my stupid eyebrows? What would he do if he knew I had a boyfriend?”

“Break up with Rajeev. Then you won’t have to lie anymore. Problem solved.”

“It doesn’t work that way when you’re in love,” said Sara passionately. “You’ve never had a girlfriend, so you don’t understand.”

“I’ll have plenty of time for dating when I move out.”

There was silence for a moment.

“You’re moving out?” said Sara in a very small voice.

“Yup.”

“When?”

Sami’s voice was carefully neutral, but he met his sister’s eyes with obvious pride. “I found out yesterday, actually. I’ve won a full scholarship to McGill.”

Sara sat down on the neatly made bed and kicked him again, but this time the kick was full of admiration. “Wow, Sam. You are so smart.”

“Thanks.”

“How come you haven’t told Mom and Dad?”

“I will. Dad will be incontinent with joy.”

Sara looked glum. “I wish I could move to Montreal.”

Sami laid his book aside and stretched luxuriously on the carpet. “If you did less dating and more studying, you’d get a scholarship too.”

“We’re not dating,” said Sara instantly, sinking down onto the carpet next to her brother. “We’re in love. We’re going to get married.” She exhaled noisily. “If I moved to Montreal I wouldn’t have to lie about seeing Rajeev anymore. Sami, please help me out. Can you tell Dad I’m coming with you to volunteer at the hospital tomorrow? Rajeev and I want to go to the Gay Pride Parade.”

Sami sat up straight. “What the hell for? I don’t know if I want my little sister messing around there.”

“Oh my God, Sam. Don’t be like Dad.”

“What, has Rajeev turned gay now? Why the hell would you want to go the Gay Pride Parade?”

Sara flared. “Is that supposed to be funny? We just want to check it out. All you do is study with Ariel and your stupid anime friends. You’re so gay they’ll probably give you your own float.”

Sami ignored her. “Dad will kill you if he finds out. He refuses to even call it the Gay Pride Parade. It’s the parade that must not speak its name.”

“He won’t find out.”

“The last time I covered for you, you kept me waiting until four o’clock in the morning. I thought Dad was going to go into diabetic shock. I don’t think he bought our story about the streetcar breaking down. He’s not as stupid as you think, you know.”

“Was it my fault that Rajeev had to get his stomach pumped? Was it my fault the stupid Iranian taxi driver threatened to tell Dad on me? I had to bribe him to keep his mouth shut.”

“You came home reeking of booze that night. I don’t like that. It’s stupid. If you can’t act like a lady, maybe you should just stay home. As for bribing the taxi driver, I don’t even know what to say, except congratulations, girl, you’re a real Iranian now.”

Sara slid off the bed, white-faced with anger. “Don’t call me stupid. I wasn’t drinking. Someone spilled a beer on my dress.”

“Bullshit.”

“Why are you always so mean to me, Sami?”

Sami looked at her sharply. “Fine. I didn’t mean that. But I don’t want you hanging around at the Gay Pride Parade, Sara. I swear to you I’ll tell Dad. Just stay home for once and study for your test.” He stood up, retied his braid and shouldered his bookbag. “I’m going to Ariel’s house. He’s got my algebra notes.”

Sara glared at him and stalked out of the bedroom.

 

***

 

Downstairs, Abbas and Nasim were sipping tea and watching Pop Idol. A pert girl in a sparkling green dress simpered on the massive television screen.

“Excellent. Bah bah. She will win the competition.” said Abbas, patting his hemispherical stomach.

“What a pretty girl.” said Nasim.

“Not half as beautiful as Sara. Sara might have buggered her eyebrows, but at least she doesn’t shovel on the make-up. Look at these girls, flaunting their bodies in front of millions of men,” said Abbas, wagging an accusing finger at the television. “It’s not right. Where are their parents?”

“Don’t even compare Sara and Sami to these little tarts. Our kids are much better-looking.” said Nasim. She smiled. “Last week Roxana khanum joked about our Sami and her Haleh. That woman never stops pushing.”

“Sami is too young for girls,” said Abbas instantly. “His body isn’t even developed yet. Why do you give the kids bad ideas? If you would just leave them alone, maybe they would stop running wild with their hormones and concentrate on studying.”

“Give it a rest, Abbas. I’ve had enough of your diabetic tantrums for today. The woman was only joking.”

Abbas’s gaze did not waver from the glittering sirens of Pop Idol.

“It was very good of me to give those tickets to Godphrey.”

“Oh, it was super of you,” said Nasim sarcastically. “What a generous man I married. Turn up the volume, baba. The black one is going to sing now.”

“Cirque du Soleil is the best circus in the world,” said Abbas, who had made a few phone calls in the interim between dinner and washing-up. “Those tickets are worth a lot of money.”

Plagiarizing other people’s ideas was one of Abbas’s more singular traits. Nasim rolled her eyes. “You’re a detective, Abbas jan. You’re like a bloodhound.”

“I know,” said Abbas, accepting the compliment without a trace of irony. “And I hear that scalpers are selling those tickets for three times what they paid.”

Nasim sipped her tea. “I’m sure Godphrey’s wife will enjoy the show. Some women get lucky in this world.”

“What is it now, you want to gossip about Godphrey’s wife? You’re not thinking, are you? How can I get those tickets back?”

Nasim gave him a swift glance. “Abbas. You are not going to ask Godphrey to return them. How demeaning. How can you even think it?”

“Of course not!” said Abbas hastily.

“Then what?”

Abbas nodded vaguely, his attention drifting back to Pop Idol. There was a new contestant, another glossy beauty who confused emotion with volume.

“I don’t know.”

Nasim muted the television. “Why don’t we just buy the tickets,” she said cautiously. ”Just this once. You did so well last month at work, Abbas joon.”

Abbas turned the volume up. “Baba, you don’t understand economics. Why would we buy them when I got them for free?”

“Easy come, easy go. Abbas, just buy the tickets. The kids are only young once.”

Abbas allowed himself to daydream for a moment. In his mind, he clutched four tickets spun from the purest gold. Sara was begging him for a piggyback ride, her eyebrows restored. Sami pleaded to sit beside him at the show. ‘When I grow up,’ said the imaginary Sami, whose head was bereft of braid, ‘I want to be exactly like you, Dad. Except a dentist.’ Nasim looked on adoringly.

“I’ll get the tickets,” he said.

Nasim looked at him suspiciously. “Should I call Ticketmaster then? Maybe I should call around and look for a coupon?”

Abbas pounded his thigh. “No! Are you trying to put us in the poorhouse? I’m going to go to the dealership tomorrow and see if there are any tickets lying around.”

“You’re going to rob the dealership?”

“How can it be robbery, Nasim? The tickets are meant for the top sellers. Some people don’t even know how valuable they are.”

“Abbas, please,” said Nasim tiredly. “You nearly passed out today. Stay home and be normal. Watch some TV. The other hygienist is sick, so I have to be at work at seven-thirty tomorrow. Hafez does everything wrong these days, and I’m stuck cleaning up the mess. I think he’s finally found himself a girlfriend. All this time I thought he was queer.”

“I think that this circus could be very educational for Sami and Sara,” continued Abbas. “Especially Sara. When she finds out how much these tickets cost, she’ll understand once and for all that if she doesn’t make it as a dentist, she’s finished with life. She’ll have no choice but to doll herself up and marry a rich man. Is that the future you want for your daughter?”

The bouffant nymphet on Pop Idol wept in a magnificent dress. Nasim closed her eyes. “Abbas, what if you’d collapsed on the road instead of in the garden? You would have killed yourself and maybe a dozen others with your diabetes. Forget the tickets. It’s time for your insulin shot.”

“You have to change the subject, don’t you? Everything is diabetes for you. You’re obsessed. Maybe you have diabetes.”

“You can’t go to the dealership tomorrow anyway,” said Nasim with some relish. “The Gay Pride Parade is on tomorrow. They’re shutting down half the city. You’ll be in traffic for hours.”

Abbas cursed. “Typical. Every time you want to get something done in this city, someone’s having a parade. What are they saluting this time? Sodomy. What’s wrong with this society?”

Nasim gave him a look.

“Man-uh chap chap negah nakon,” said Abbas irritably. [Don’t look at me left-left.]

“Your cousin Amin is gay,” said Nasim.

“Amin and Ardeshir are roommates. There are no sodomites in my family!” thundered Abbas.

“Of course they’re roommates,” said Nasim comfortably. “They’re fifty-five year old male roommates who never married.”

“Bah!” said Abbas. He switched off the television. “I’ve had enough idle chit-chat. I’m going to take out the garbage.”

Nasim turned it on again, settled cozily back in her chair and changed the channel. She hated Pop Idol.

“And Abbas,” she shouted. “Take your bloody insulin!”

 

***

 

Abbas was full of thoughts as he sorted bags of garbage in his backyard, and all of them whirled around circuses.

“Abbas.”

He peered over the hedge in the dim evening light into his neighbour’s garden. Ginady, the Russian-born Israeli next door, was also heaving garbage bags into bins. Abbas and Ginady had a cordial relationship exasperated only by politics.

“Good weather today,” said Ginady, leaning against his minivan with the special half-smile he reserved for teasing Abbas. “Not so hot.”

Abbas knew that smile, and produced a horrible, yellow-toothed facial contortion of his own. “Fantastic weather, Ginady. And now I’m going inside. You should too.”

“Did you hear the latest comments from the Iranian president?”

“No,” lied Abbas.

“Your president says he wants to wipe Israel off the map.”

“I did not watch any speech.”

“But it was all over the news,” said Ginady. The two men peered at each other in the light of dusk. In terms of sheer bulk, Abbas had the distinct advantage, but Ginady had the formidable sturdiness of a true Russian bear.

“Not in my house,” said Abbas, flicking his chin.

“Well, what do you think about it?” insisted Ginady.

Ey baba, thought Abbas. Do these Jews ever stop ambushing their neighbours? Suddenly inspired, he said: “I was watching the hockey game. We Canadians must take an interest in our national sport.”

Le’Azazel, thought Ginady. Do these Arabs ever stop lying? “Hockey season ended months ago,” he said.

Abbas clashed the bin lids together and pretended not to hear.

“Abbas,” called Ginady. “Godphrey told me all about the gift you gave him. His wife and kids can’t wait for Cirque du Soleil.”

Abbas gritted his teeth. “What else could a good neighbour do? Godphrey’s children are like my own. Have you ever given anyone a present?”

“I’m taking Alina and the kids.” said Ginady. He closed his garbage bins and stepped back to admire his garden. “Have you seen my tomatoes? They’re huge this year, I’m telling you. Maybe I planted melons by accident.”

“How nice for you.”

“These circus tickets are like gold, I’m telling you. I could scalp them for three times what I paid six months ago.”

“I know that. Everyone knows that. Do you think I’m stupid?” said Abbas irritably.

“You want them back, don’t you?” concluded Ginady. “You didn’t know what they were when you gave them away to Godphrey.”

Abbas narrowed his eyes. In the semidarkness he looked like a fat, sinister Persian cat. “This country is three million kilometres long,” he said, “And still I have no privacy.”

“What does privacy have to do with it?” said Ginady, shrugging. “It didn’t take a detective. You’re as cheap as shit, and believe me I’ve known a few cheapskates in my lifetime. But listen. I was going to call you anyway. I heard that there’s some kind of radio contest for Cirque du Soleil tickets. If you’re one of the first five people in line at the WOLD station, you get six free tickets.”

Abbas immediately dropped the malodorous bag he was attempting to disguise as recycling and hoisted himself over the hedge onto Ginady’s lawn.

“When is the contest?” he said, panting a little.

“Tonight, I think.”

“Really.”

“You’d probably have to start lining up at two o’clock in the morning,” warned Ginady, frowning at Abbas’s heaving chest. “Are you sure you’ll live until then?”

“What else can I do?” said Abbas, a hand moving heroically to his palpitating heart. “My kids want to go to the circus. Soon they’ll be grown up. When they’re thirty-five, will I be able to take them to the circus anymore?”

Ginady leaned moodily against his minivan. “Our kids don’t know how good they have it. When I was my Ariel’s age, did my father take me to the circus? Huh! What circus? Soviet power sent me to dig holes in the Caucuses. Every time I see a godddamn hole I want to kill someone.”

“At least you were digging in the fresh air. I served six months in a tank in Abadan just after the war.”

“The mighty Iranian army,” scoffed Ginady. “You probably sat around all day eating kebabs. I spent a year in the Russian Navy. We had one samovar for the whole entire ship. One day a rat fell into it and boiled to death. Rat hair everywhere, but I’m telling you we still drank it.”

Abbas snorted. “In Abadan there were two seasons: summer and hell. What do you think got to eat? We would have killed for a cup of rat tea. Some of the Iraqis were still gun-happy and shot me when they got bored. The Americans and your great Israeli prime minister gave them the bullets. As if you didn’t know.”

“We wouldn’t have had to,” smirked Ginady, “If they’d been smart enough to make their own bullets. But listen. If you could prove that you caught thirty rats on ship, you got two weeks of shore leave. What a champion rat catcher I was at the end of my tour.”

“If you could forget about rats for just one minute,” said Abbas, holding up his palm like a traffic policeman. “What about those tickets?”

“If you go, you’d better go tonight. You’ll have a hell of a time in traffic if you try to go tomorrow morning.” He wrinkled his nose. “The gays are going to be parading themselves tomorrow and they’re shutting down half of Toronto. I’m telling you, this is a sick society. In Russia – ” He pointed an imaginary gun at his head and pulled the trigger.

Abbas scowled. “I forgot about that.”

Ginady shook his head. “Listen, if you get the tickets, give me two. We can scalp the ones I have and split the profit.”

“I knew there would be something in it for you.”

“So what if there is? There’s something in it for you too. That’s how alliances are made. That’s what you people don’t understand.”

“Tell it to your government.”

“And you tell your government to stop wiping us off the map.”

“And you tell your government that they’re the ones with a nuclear bomb.”

“I thought you said you didn’t watch the speech.”

“Bah!” said Abbas, heaving himself back over the hedge into his own backyard. “Enough idle chit-chat. I have to stand outside a radio station all night freezing my ass for my children. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

 

***

 

Upstairs in the Farmanfarma household, Sara was sequestered in her bedroom, murmuring into the telephone. Abbas was shuffling through the closet looking for a jacket when Nasim walked into the bedroom, flushed and damp from a shower in a little white nightgown.

“Abbas, where are you going at this time of night? Have you taken your insulin?” she said, towelling her hair dry.

Abbas’s voice was muffled by fabric. “Back to Tehran. Family life is not for me. Tell me, what does our daughter talk about on the telephone for so many hours? She has a test next week. Why isn’t she studying for it? What does she want out of life?”

Nasim scowled and put her hands on her hips. “You want to go to the dealership and steal Cirque du Soleil tickets, don’t you? Abbas, forget the circus. Take the kids to the park. I don’t want you driving after your episode today.”

Abbas’s head emerged from the closet. “You have to be joking, Nasim. Our kids are modern kids. They don’t go to parks, not until Mr. Steve Jobs makes an electronic iTree.”

“Anyway, Abbas, you can’t go anywhere tonight. Sami took the car to go and study for his math test with Ariel. You’ll have to go tomorrow.” Nasim finished drying her hair and climbed into bed.

“By what right,” bellowed Abbas, “Does our son take the car without asking?”

“He asked me. How was I supposed to know that you wanted to play midnight cowboy?”

“I was at Ginady’s place five minutes ago and I didn’t see Sami or Ariel there.”

“He said it was too noisy here. They’ve gone to the Second Cup.”

“Of course it’s too noisy here!” shouted Abbas, slamming the closet shut. “Sara never stops talking on the phone!”

“Where are you going now?”

“Downstairs for some peace and quiet. I won’t go tonight. I’ll get the tickets tomorrow. Happy now?”

Nasim closed her eyes and fell back on the pillow. “Fine. Don’t stay up too late. You need to rest. Do you understand me Abbas? You don’t take your illness seriously.”

“Go to sleep, azizam, my little,” said Abbas soothingly.

 

***

 

Snacking liberally from a big bowl of dried fruit and nuts, Abbas stared dourly at the eleven o’clock news on the basement TV. Every few moments, his gaze shifted to the digital display of the telephone, which stubbornly continued to read ‘Line in Use.’

The heartburn of waiting became unbearable. Abbas inflated his powerful lungs and howled, “Sara, you have ten seconds to get off the telephone or I’m going to smash it to pieces!”

The sweet voice of his only daughter lilted down the stairs. “One second, Daddy.”

Abbas erupted. “No one second Daddy! Now! Now! Now!” He grabbed the extension and pressed it to his ear, exactly in time to catch a not-entirely-broken male voice whispering “Just give me a call ten minutes before you get to the station and I’ll meet you there.”

“Sara!” shrieked Abbas into the receiver. “I don’t know who you are talking to, but you are not meeting him anywhere, not at any place in this earth or heaven. Get off the phone and study for your test!”

There was silence on the line.

“Goodnight, Mr. Farmanfarma,” squeaked the immature one, cracking slightly on the second syllable.

“Who in God’s name are you?” screamed Abbas.

Click.

“Sara, you naughty girl!”

“Yes, Daddy,” came a small voice.

“Who was that boy?”

“No one, Daddy.”

“Alright. Now you’ve had it. Now I’m going to get mad. Nasim!”

“Daddy, please! He’s a boy in my class. His name is Rajeev. We were going to meet up before school on Monday so he could help me with my math homework.”

“Are you stupid, girl? That’s the oldest trick in the book!”

“No Daddy, I’m sure he just wants to help me with -”

“Sara jan. Pedar sokhteh. [Little rascal, lit. “burnt father”]. You listen and listen well. You’re a good girl, you don’t know what boys are like at this age. But learn to trust your wise father. This boy, this Rajeev, only wants one thing. What that thing is, is not good for young girls to know. But from now on if you want help with maths homework, you ask your brother. Understand?”

“I wanted to,” tattled Sara. “But Sami took the car. I’m sorry, Daddy.”

“I’ll deal with Sami when he gets back,” said Abbas darkly.

“I’m going to finish studying. Maybe when Sami gets back he can help me out.”

“Good,” said Abbas approvingly. “Sleep well, jigar-e-man.” [my darling, lit. “my liver”]. He hung up.

At last, he said to himself, pulling Nasim’s big black address book out from its shelf under the table, I can use the telephone in my own house. Composing himself, he picked up the phone with its mellifluous dial tone, smiled his best salesman smile, and dialled.

“Massoud jan,” he said merrily into the receiver, in Persian, “It’s Abbas. How are you?”

“Hey, goozoo [flatulent one],” came the voice of Massoud. “That car you sold me, I had to take it to the mechanic three weeks later.”

“Come on, baba,” said Abbas irritably, forgetting for a moment that he wanted something, “Everyone knows you drive like a donkey with a shit stuck up its –“

“Mee goozam rangesh kon? [Why don’t you just go paint one of my farts?]”

“Easy there,” said Abbas nervously. “Listen Massoud. I’m in a bit of a jam right now. I desperately need to go downtown, but Sami has the car. Could you lend me yours?”

Click.

Abbas muttered under his breath, hung up and dialled again.

“Salam Jamshid.”

“Salam Abbas. How have you been?”

“Jamshid jan. Thank God for friends like you. I’m in such a jam. Sara suddenly got sick and I have to get her medicine straight away. Unfortunately my car’s radiator exploded. Can you lend me yours? I’ll give it back first thing tomorrow morning, then we’ll go to Taftan for a chelo kebab. I’m paying, you understand? No arguments about that.”

There was silence.

“You want to borrow my Mercedes?”

“No, I want to drive downtown in your lawn mower,” howled Abbas. “You’re my good friend, Jamshid. Come on baba, lend me your car. Would I ask you if my daughter wasn’t lying on her deathbed? Sami has the car, for God’s sake.”

“I’m sorry Abbas. I would love to lend you my car, but -”

Abbas cursed and hung up. In desperation he dialled Morteza, the pariah, who had become even more tedious with his religion.

“Morteza khan.”

Morteza always sounded like he was a million kilometres away instead of down the street. “Abbas, my friend. Where have you been?”

“I am so sorry for my neglect, aziz-e-man. Sara has been ill.”

“God willing, she will get better.”

“Morteza, Sara needs medicine. But my car has broken down. It’s in the shop. What can I do, Morteza?”

There was a deep sigh at the other end of the line.

“I suppose you should take her to the pharmacy tomorrow morning.”

“Tomorrow,” boomed Abbas righteously, “The gays are having their parade. No one will be able to move a muscle in this city, they’re shutting the downtown. You’re a pious man, Morteza. What do you think of that? What kind of morality is this? Will God ever forgive these people? Can I borrow your car?”

Morteza sounded pained. “Please Abbas, why don’t I go to the pharmacy for you? I used to run a pharmacy back home, I know exactly what to – ”

“Never!” thundered Abbas. “I wouldn’t dream of interrupting your evening prayer. Just lend me your car, Morteza khan.”

“But I wasn’t praying – ”

“What a friend,” marvelled Abbas. “I’ll be at your house in five minutes.”

 

***

 Want to know what happens next?  Either write to me or buy the book.  🙂

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