I’m thinking we can enjoy the rest of the visit in Iran, now that Habib is out of jail. Nasser’s wedding has been rescheduled and the family is happy. I feel more relief than joy though I do allow myself to fill intermittent cracks with happy feelings. Still, I’m guarded. Still, I’m nervous though it is definitely ratcheted down.
Just before the big wedding event, a whole lot of relatives have descended to Nasser’s house. Everyone is happy, excited. Why am I not affected by this; why do I not share the same feelings of joy? All I can think of is why can’t everyone just leave? Why oh why am I not allowed to recover, just Habib and I, from the most traumatic event in each of our lives?
A HUNDRED EIGHTY DEGREE TURN
Instead, the jailbird time has been all but forgotten, a “well, glad that’s over with” moving on sort of thing that makes no sense as if it was as ordinary as eating breakfast or crossing the street. I am to discover much later the dictatorial acceptance, even if hated, is weirdly accepted. Maybe that’s the only way they can survive emotionally, psychologically, preserving a necessary denial of costs to their personal dignities.
Anyway, I continue observing the very noisy, almost raucous flock-of-squawking-crows comprised of friends and neighbors in Nasser’s living room with Habib at my side. There’s a strange energy that shifts to the women in the room as several of them lead the bride-to-be down the hall, twittering, presumably to the master bedroom. Bizarrely, even in the absence of four or five of them temporarily gone, the living room is no quieter! It’s as if, there is a noise ordinance level that must be maintained.
I ask Habib what the bride-to-be and the small matronly flock is doing since there seemed to be a secretive formality about it. He’s vague, dismissive even. Later I learn the journey to the bedroom is to establish the bride-to-be must prove her virginity on the wedding night, from an examination of the sheets! The old world quality of this feels both quaint and repulsive.
AN ELABORATE AFFAIR
It’s “the big day.” The wedding is this evening and I’m looking forward to a party, though in a way, it feels anti-climactic and odd that there’s been so much gathering of friends and relatives prior to the big event. Still, this is to be in a ballroom. There’s supposed to be a brief marriage ceremony as well but the happy couple has already done the legal part.
It’s late afternoon near dusk when Habib and I arrive for the big event. The place is impressive—a large, open dance floor with a live band and stage of some sort. There are already guests here but it is to swell even larger in terms of what is to become a near raucous enormous crowd. It already feels celebratory to me though odd in a way, given what has transpired the first month in Iran!
I’m dressed in a long crème colored gown and, if I do say so myself, look svelte! Habib is in a suit, handsome, and sports a happy face as if just 10 days ago he’d never been in jail! Even for me the juxtaposition of what was and what is currently seems jarring. I haven’t even begun to come down sufficiently from the ratcheted higher level of anxiety that still lurks underneath as some sort of substrate.
The ballroom is quickly filling with more and more guests and they seem to move like a noisy school of fish. As if on cue, they separate like Moses’ Red Sea suddenly, just enough to allow the bride and groom to enter the middle of the room. The couple glows.
In a rush, the swarm surrounds them, hugging and kissing cheeks with congratulations and well wishes. I remain off to the side, in the background really. While I have definitely gotten caught up in the overall mood, my reluctance to fully embrace all the joy as if nothing has happened in my or Habib’s personal life feels contradictory somehow. Oddly, Habib’s response is with the throng, as if nothing has happened. Has he already blocked out a month of solitary confinement? Is this strange disconnect how they all survive here?
THE TWILIGHT ZONE
What appears to be toasts, congratulations by a speaker, music by the band follows, and, shock of shocks to me, a belly dancer starts her gyrations. I continue to smoke, lost in the small sea of humanity, alien in every sense of the word. In a surprising turn however, our friends Kathy and Ali suddenly appear, having just arrived from a car journey through Turkey from Europe. They are here to stay, setting up a new home after Ali’s recent training for the Iranian navy. Their presence makes me feel grounded again, at last a more meaningful lifeline.
In a dark turn, I see an older gentleman standing aloof, talking to no one. He surveys the crowd like a bird on a perch, removed, above it all. Watching him for a bit, I turn to Habib and ask him if he knows that man; is he a friend of his side of the family or the bride’s. “No”, he says. He’s SAVAK—-the Shah’s secret police. A chill runs through me. We are being watched!