Unaddressed by Hamour Baika
by Hamour Baika
I had to deliver the illicit letter before my better judgment convinced me it would only earn me ridicule. Or worse. But if it did work, against all odds, I would gain something so amazing even thinking about it brought me joy. Last night, in a fleeting moment of hope, I made the final decision. The first draft bore annotations and notes. Words were crossed out and replaced with others. The paper had been folded and crumbled, reminding me I’d given up the idea several times. In the end, I rewrote it in the best calligraphy I could master on a sheet of stationery paper. The only envelope I’d found had “My dear brother” written on it in childish handwriting, with a pink heart sticker on the side. Couldn’t Mahsa just give me the homemade card without ruining the envelope? It gave me an idea. I “borrowed” a piece of red paper from her craft supplies and made my own envelope.
I got off the bus on Emam Mousa Sadr Road and walked toward the school. This letter could destroy everything. What if… “No,” I almost yelled at the voice in my head. I paused to see if anyone had noticed me talking to myself. Two guys were walking behind me, engaged in their own conversation. I’d decided I was going to hand over the letter after school. No more contemplation. Whatever happened afterward, at least I wouldn’t be in the barzakh of indecision.
As I reached the entrance, I noticed a few students waiting in a line. Looking into the high school yard, I walked sideways to avoid colliding into them.
“You, crab-boy! Don’t you see the line?” Someone yelled at me, then busied himself with checking the contents of the bag that belonged to the first guy in line.
I’d seen the yeller before. He was from the Association. They didn’t routinely search bags. It depended on the whim of whomever felt like they had the power to do so. It happened when a member of the Association needed a better grade for Discipline, or if a university admission team wanted to verify his commitment to their principles, or if it provided a cover to investigate an enemy for a personal vendetta. These searches never signified anything serious. The ones that did would be pursued by the Principal, not the Association’s minions.
“Open your bag.”
It was my turn to enter.
“Let’s see what our crab-boy has for us.” He dug in.
“Careful. Don’t tear up my bag,” I objected.
“Take everything out.”
I complied. “Obviously, I don’t have a tank in there.”
He pushed his hand into my newly emptied bag. “Oh, crab-boy has jokes. I don’t know about a tank. But maybe an extra pair of underwear for when you wet yourself.” After he seemed satisfied, he handed me my bag. “Get lost. Your mouth reeks.”
I paced away, shoving my books back into the bag when I heard something hit the ground.
“What’s that?” The yeller inquired.
I looked down. The red envelope. “Nothing. Just a —”
“Give it to me.”
He walked to me and snatched it out of my hand. “For my friend and dear,” he misread.
The guy behind me giggled.
He pushed his meaty finger under the flap and tore up the envelope. After reading a few sentences, he smirked. “Stand over there.”
Two other guys were already waiting by the sole palm tree in the schoolyard. One of them had “long hair.” I didn’t know the other guy but assumed that he was found guilty of a similar crime against morality.
Some twenty minutes later, the yeller instructed, “to the Vice Principal’s Office.” We three stood by Mr. Zaeri’s office as all other boys at school lined up in the yard for the morning ceremony. They recited the whatever-prayer and listened to Mr. Zaeri’s pointless “motivational” speech. Then he stood by as each line walked to their classroom. He warned the guys with “long hair” as well as those displaying some other character flaw, anything from listening to mobtazal music, made by diaspora Iranian singers in Los Angeles, to attempting to follow fashion, if not wearing socks did in fact constitute a trend. The student body had to live up to the standards of the Martyrs’ High School. Everyone could see the three of us standing by Mr. Zaeri’s office, segregated and outcast.
I hoped that he would just give me a warning too. If they subtracted points from my Discipline grade, it could jeopardize my college application.
Mr. Zaeri reprimanded the first guy, reminding him that his hair could be only as long as the width of his fingers. It turned out the other guy carried a knife. He was sent to the Principal’s Office. Then the Association lackey gave Mr. Zaeri the red envelope.
“For the friend of my soul,” he recited. At least he could read. He couldn’t have been more than three sentences in when he looked up at me. “Whom is this for?”
“You wrote me a love letter then?”
“What’s your name?”
“Garavand?” He noticed my last name. “Are you a Lor?”
That was the eloquence of Khuzestani people. They wouldn’t say “Arab” as a euphemism for “stupid” the way the rest of Persians did. Because many people in Khuzestan were indeed Arabs. Instead, they said “Lor.” And we Lors had to either deny we knew what they meant, or deny we were Lors.
“Huh, figures.” The yeller concluded.
“Whom is this for?”
“Nobody. Just a joke.”
“So you don’t even like her. This is just a prank to ruin a girl’s life? For what, your amusement?”
“No, Sir. It’s nothing.”
“I’m holding it in my hand. It’s obviously something,” he raised his voice. “Whom is this for, Garavand? Are you targeting a specific girl or planning to amuse yourself at the expense of any random one? Just walk down to Zahedeh High School and insult the honor of the first girl you see?”
Oh no, he started accusing me of insulting someone’s honor. This would last a while. I would probably miss math class. At least, I was good at math. Not at good as Kayvan though.
From there, I was sent to the Principal’s Office, where the knife guy was already waiting. I thought I could smell my underarms. I touched there. Damp. I wanted to unbutton my shirt and air out a bit, but that would add to my crimes, showing skin and all.
The Quran teacher noticed us. That’s what we were lacking, another preacher.
“Why are you not in class?” He addressed me. “What have you done?”
“He’s written a letter.” Mr. Zaeri showed up, giving him the red envelope.
The teacher skimmed it. “What is this nonsense?”
It’s not nonsense.
“Do you think this is all it takes? A letter with some half-cooked allusions and some lazy metaphors? The handwriting is hardly legible. Is this the best you can do?”
“What’s your name?”
“Garavand, let me tell you something. Marriage is a holy union.”
Who’s talking about marriage?
“It takes more than a cheap attempt at a love letter. You’re too young. And in ten years, in your mid-twenties, you’ll still lack what it takes.”
“Nobody will give you their daughter in matrimony without you having a good job and a house and a car.”
I remained silent.
“But this is not about marriage, is it?”
I shook my head.
“Do you know that zina is a capital crime?”
My face got hot. An accusation of adultery meant I wouldn’t be admitted to university.
“Lors are honorable people. You shouldn’t stain a good name, Garavand. But I guess you forgot to pay attention in class.”
I grew up Muslim too. But we both knew that he wasn’t talking religion. He was talking ideology.
He walked into the Principal’s Office, shaking his head as if he lost a great battle with Satan. He kept my letter.
More waiting. I was getting hungry. A handful of konar fruits were in my pants pocket. I took a couple and enjoyed the sweet-sour taste. That would help with my bad breath, if it were anything more than an empty insult. I took the seeds out of my mouth and pushed them into my pocket. I wiped my hand on my jeans.
The door to the Principal’s office banged open and he charged out with my red envelope crumpled in his hand.
He stood in front of me, his hairy nostrils enlarged with fury, looking like a pig snout. Without saying anything, he slapped me so hard I almost fell down. I didn’t know they beat you in high school. Apparently, my extraordinary offense called for particularly degrading treatment.
“Who the hell are you? Did you think you can write this stuff and not suffer the consequences? That you can dishonor an innocent girl for your animalistic urges?”
I hadn’t written anything animalistic, but he must’ve had a rich imagination.
“Your mind is filled with filth. You brought shame not only to this poor girl but also to your own family. And to this school. This is an automatic five-point deduction from your Discipline grade.”
FIVE points? I might as well just become an apprentice in a car mechanic shop.
“Shame on you.” Particles of spit flew toward me as he yelled. “You hear what I s—” He slapped me mid-sentence. I collapsed onto the floor. My cheek felt like smoldering charcoal.
Are you kidding me?
“Haroomzadeh. You’re nothing. I’m going to call the Basij.”
This is getting out of hand.
“They should come and take care of you. Spend a night in jail and you’ll never think of this again.” Still on the ground, I saw his feet get closer. Was he about to kick me? I shielded my face with my arms.
“Don’t upset yourself,” I heard Mr. Zaeri’s voice. “He’s sorry. He apologized to me.”
“I’m calling the Basij. This can’t happen in my school.”
I stood up as Mr. Zaeri pulled him away. Messing up my Discipline grade was bad enough. But if they handed me to the Basij, they’d beat me bloody just for fun. If I had an arrest on my record, the police could harass me for years to come. My stomach twisted as if I hadn’t eaten in a week.
“See what you’ve done,” Mr. Zaeri returned. “If you had only told me whom the letter was for, all of this would have been avoided. Now, he’s going to call the Basij.”
They can arrest me. They already have proof in my own handwriting. Is this enough to convict me of corruption on earth?
“Sir, please,” I started to panic. “I’m so sorry. Please.”
“Let me see what I can do.” He walked back into the Principal’s office.
I felt sweat forming on my forehead. The bell rang. Recess started and finished. Teachers switched classrooms.
The sun was now higher in the sky. I dried my forehead with my sleeve. After a while, our Developmental Science teacher—the resident brainwasher—showed up with the red envelope in his hand. He was the nicest and youngest teacher, yet, he taught us that everything we did was sinful and the only way to be a worthy human being was to be exclusively in love with God.
“Mr. Qavami wanted to call the Basij,” he reprimanded me. “But I changed his mind. I think you have already learned your lesson. It’s not entirely your fault. At your age, your hormones tend to get the better of you. We’ve already talked about this in class.”
“Yes, Sir.” I hated that I sounded like a sheep.
“I feel like I have failed you. I thought I taught you better than this, Maziar.”
He was also the only teacher to call us by our first names, as if we were best buddies.
“But you have to improve your behavior. I can’t do it for you.”
“Of course. I promise.”
“Tell your father to come see me.”
“I need to speak to him. Mr. Qavami was gonna call the Basij on you. This is not a negligible thing.”
“I’m sorry.” My voice was small.
“I’d like to see him tomorrow, if his job allows.”
We both knew there was no “if” about it.
“I want to see you every Thursday after class.”
Oh God, kill me now. What next? Is he taking me to the mosque?
“Have you thought about joining the Islamic Association, Maziar?”
Even worse. I shook my head.
“Well, think about it.”
“And don’t write this bullshit again.”
I had never heard him curse before. Then, he tore up the envelope and the letter inside into small pieces, dropping them on the floor.
“Now, there’s no proof of your…” He let the accusation hang in the air.
I wanted to hug him “Thank you.” Instead, I lowered my head in a slight bow.
“Clean it up.” He walked away.
My tears blurred my vision as I picked the pieces off the floor. I shouldn’t cry. Not in public. My sleeves to the rescue again.
The letter I’d spent so much time on was now shredded and dusty. I threw the pieces into the garbage can and knocked on the classroom door.
“Come in,” the teacher exclaimed.
Kayvan stood up and moved so I could sit down. His dark skin contrasted with his bright smile. If our school didn’t have all these stupid rules, would his hair grow into a beautiful afro? Like in American movies? Would he be furious if he found out about the letter?
The teacher was talking. I placed my literature book on the desk, unable to pay attention.
“What happened?” Kayvan whispered without looking at me.
“They found a letter in my bag.” I could hardly hear myself.
He stole a glance at me. “What sort of letter?”
This cursed letter only earned me about two hours of humiliation. I should have destroyed it last night when I had the chance.
“Where is it?”
“In the garbage can. They tore it up.”
The teacher looked around. Did he notice us whispering? He started speaking again.
“The brain-washer. He wants to see my dad tomorrow.”
“Why? What was in your letter?”
I could now smell my own body odor. I was about to lose my most cherished friendship. There was no way out now. But when Kayvan asked something I answered honestly. I loved him too much not to. He was looking at me with his eyebrows furrowed.
“I’d written it for you.”
I pressed my foot onto the floor so it would stop shaking. My vision became blurry again. Kayvan might stop talking to me. Or beat me up just to make a point. “About my feelings,” I replied, rubbing my hand on the bench between us to dry it off.
Kayvan put his hand on mine, his fingers as cool as a spring breeze. “That’s a pity,” he pressed his fingertips on my skin. “I wish I could read it.”
FEATURED IMAGE BY Ashkan Forouzani via Unsplash
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hamour Baika was born in Iran and lived in Ahwaz during his teen years. He wrote his first novella, a fan fiction piece about the alien creature E.T. at age 12. Baika has a master’s degree in human rights. A painter and classical pianist, he now lives in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. His debut novel, On the Enemy’s Side, came out in 2020, the Persian edition of which will be released soon. Stay updated on his writing by subscribing to his newsletter on his website at HamourBaika.com. Find him on Twitter @hamourbaika.