Yesterday was a day like many others in Maragheh. I sat around all day, and went to a dinner party at night. I was feeling disheartened, wanting (as I still do) to go back home. It’s not a consequence of boredom, but the coalescence of a growing annoyance with the personalities of people seen to often, a fear for my safety, and frustration with my inability to make my own decisions, even down to whether or not I will eat what and when I want.
And so, in the car on our way home, I gritted my teeth in a smile while my aunt told me over and over not to let myself get bored. I practiced a speech in Farsi that I’ll never give in order to keep myself quiet. Translated into English, it was:
I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but the thing I most want to do is go home. I came to Iran to see its beautiful side, but the country and even my family have shown their ugliest faces. Their ugliest faces.
Continuing on our way after dropping off a close friend of my aunt’s family, we came to a stoplight. “Don’t look,” my cousin driving told me. “But I already saw,” I replied. My other cousin, next to me in the back seat, tried to distract me by saying, “Look over here. Look at me.”
I ignored him to look out the window and smile. The man I saw begging there had a deformed face that has been reassembled in my memory as something out of Hollywood, and I can’t pull together enough of the recollection to give him eyes. He had them, but he didn’t make eye contact with me. What made me uncomfortable, more than the man’s appearance or his destitution, was the fact that nobody even looked at him, that they were scared and disgusted and completely inconsiderate of his living being asking them in the name of God to please help him.
“You looked at him anyway,” my cousin in the back seat said as our car drove away. “Poor man,” I replied. “Just think how hard it is to never see anyone smiling at you.”
I thought about him the entire way home. What gave this brave man the jor’at, the chutzpah to wake up every day and keep living? True to Maslow, I could only imagine that his first aim was just to survive, and until he did that he couldn’t ponder existence or things less concrete than bread and water. Did he cry into a makeshift pillow at night and hate himself for his appearance, like I’ve stupidly done so many times before? Does he lash out violently against cruel people in a hateful world? Did his mother love him anyway? Had he always looked the way he did now? Maybe he was a victim of the Iran-Iraq War, suffering from Saddam’s chemical burns?
Each time I tried to escape into a warm fairytale, he followed me. If I was on the beach, he was sitting next to me. Slow dancing, he was my partner. And each time I saw him, he looked back without seeing me, black spaces for eyes the way I’m sure so many people driving past ignored him.
I jolted out of sleep all night, and woke up with a headache.
This morning, I’ve expected him to be everywhere with me. I felt uncomfortable getting dressed, feeling him lecherously staying in the room to take in a sight he may not ever have seen. I saw his face before I saw mine in the mirror, and in his reflection I realized that his missing hand was probably not a war wound or deformity but a harsh sentence from Islamic law against a thief.
I can’t shut him out because I’ve taken him in as a sign. The world in its funny way knew what I was thinking, brought this man so that I could turn my life into a literary work and analyze its plot. I’m underlining the themes of ‘their ugliest faces’ and a mirror’s reflection, and assuming that the moral is to remember to smile.