Posted by: Corri van de Stege | November 15, 2008

Departure, July 1980

Lisa is pushed forward, her hand slips away from Behruz.  She tries to balance the buggy in the crowd that swallows her up and drags her along. 

            ‘Don’t worry.  I’ll be over soon,’ he says.

He does not look at her, they’ve been over this so many times.  How he will follow, what he will do.  She knows he will.  This is a temporary arrangement, making sure that they both, his wife and daughter get out safe, before it all goes pearshaped.  She swallows back her despondency.

            Then they are behind her, Behruz, Ravi, and her father in law.  She is carried by people with bags, suitcases, children, prams, boxes and parcels tied with strings.  Some shout instructions, others weep; women with high pitched voices and men in lower grumbling sound that rebalance the hysteria.  Lisa looks back, sees Ravi’s big smile, her solid brother in law, the oil man from the Black Sea.   Kish’, Roffida exclaims, every time she sees him.   Ravi’s eyes twinkle behind his heavy dark framed glasses.  Behruz moves forward as if he is going to grab them, but then he does not, and she loses sight of them.  The porter who carries her suitcases nudges her to the right towards the tables where women are searched.   Chador- clad female guards watch. Others wear tunics over shapeless trousers, black scarves tightly knotted under their chins and pulled over their foreheads. Their hands are free to body search the female passengers. 

            Lisa follows the porter who drops her luggage in front of a table, behind which two female guards scan passengers as if they are cattle to be measured, prodded and tapped before anyone can make up their minds about suitability for travel.  The porter points at Lisa, bows his head to the guards and gestures that he is going. 

‘Farangi’, he says to the guards, foreigners.

            One of the women beckons Lisa to come forward, looks her up and down and scans Roffida who is fast asleep, a wisp of thin dark brown hair stuck across her sweaty cheek.  Underneath her seat is a plastic shopping bag with clothes, food, nappies, and some small toys. 

 ‘Berfama-id,’ the guard says and points at the bag.   ‘Open!  Also the suitcases.  Open everything.’ 

She calls out to one of the male guards who heaves her suitcases on top of the table.

            Lisa does not want to be here, does not want to audition for this play.   She looks back again, to where Behruz is but everything behind the frosted glass weaves like paint spray in a storm.     A woman next to her talks at the guard, her immaculately plucked eyebrows in a curve of disdain below a richly coloured silky scarf that is casually knotted under her chin and which sets off her healthy complexion as if in defiance to the guards.   The woman points at her two children, a boy and a girl of about five and six, who have their lips pressed together as if trying to prevent being sick.

            ‘Xeili xaste-and,’ they’re tired, she says.  ‘We’ve been waiting for an hour to get this far and again we are told to wait!  What is this, some endurance test?  Some kind of punishment?  All we want to do is get on that plane!’

            She changes from Farsi into English. ‘We’re only trying to leave the damned place,’ she whispers to Lisa, ‘they should be glad to be rid of us!’

            ‘You are next,’ the guard says.  ‘First this one, she has very small child.’

            Again she says ‘open up.’

            There are the two of them, fingering her toilet bag, turning her shoes, shaking her underwear, her blouses and skirts, feeling her trouser pockets and smirking over her nightdress.  The two gold chains around Lisa’s neck feel like chainsaws and she wonders what will happen if they take a dislike to her.  One of the guards pulls a doll out of Roffida’s suitcase.

            ‘Take off the head,’ she commands.  ‘We must look for drugs and gold.’

            The heat and stale smell of human sweat in the airless, windowless space make her gag, but she swallows it down. 

            ‘This is all she’s got left.  I’ve had to leave all her toys behind and you want me to take it apart?’

            She is angry now at where she is, with the grubby fingers going through their clothes and possessions, at herself for wanting to leave, with Behruz who has let her go, angry that she married him in the first place, that she came to Iran.  Tears start to push down her face, her sinuses are giving way. 

            ‘‘You do it,’ she says. ‘You pull it apart.  Why do you expect me to do it?’

            The guard clicks her tongue as if she is a teacher and Lisa the naughty child, and then her colleague whispers something and walks over to the male guard.   They look over at Lisa, the buggy, Roffida and the doll.  Roffida wakes up and Lisa squats down to stroke her hair and face. 

            ‘It’s alright baby.  Mummy’s right here. ’

            Roffida looks at the doll in the woman’s hand and stretches out her arms.  The woman looks at Roffida, then at her colleagues who nod and she hands over the doll. 

‘Let me see what’s in the pram,’ she says to Lisa.

            After the search and the disappearance of the suitcases they wait for two hours before they can embark.  Roffida is fretful and wants to walk around but Lisa is reluctant to leave her seat, squashed between two families.  On her right is a western dressed couple and their children, at the other side women wearing chadors and men with unshaven faces, muttering ‘Allah oh Akbar’ whilst fingering worry beads.

            Lisa thinks about what she will do.  She has not thought about it too much, has been too preoccupied with her departure, once she and Behruz agreed that Tehran was not now a place for her and Roffida.  She would have had to accept the hejab, take second place, unable to go for a swim or be in the company of males without constantly being on her guard. 

            ‘I don’t want you to feel oppressed.  This is not why I brought you here,’ Behruz had said, when she had returned from a shopping trip, shaking, because she had run into a small but hostile demonstration against everything and everyone foreign. ‘Marg bar Amrica’, death to America.

            ‘But what will we do?  What will you do?  You’ve always wanted to come back to your country,’ Lisa had said.

            Behruz had shrugged his shoulders.  ‘Yes, but not to live under an oppressive regime that does not allow you to live in freedom.  I’m not a Moslem.  Khomeini does not mean anything to me.’

            ‘Mummy, mummy,’ Roffida’s voice, wavering between crying and puzzlement, wakes her out of her reverie.’

            ‘It’s alright, darling, mummy’s here.  Come, I’ll read to you.’                          

            ‘Aren’t you cute,’ the woman on her right says, in a heavy American drawl.  ‘You wanna sit on my lap for a bit?’  She stretches her arms out but Roffida looks away and Lisa smiles apologetically.

            The woman’s face and skin exude health and well-being but she looks bare, and she licks her lips, presses them together as if spreading out lipstick which is not there.  She pulls at her scarf.

            ‘Darn thing,’ she sighs.  ‘Bloody rigmarole.’

            Small beads have formed above her upper lip and on her forehead.  Lisa touches the back of her own neck, under the scarf, where her skin feels thick and blotchy as if a virulent eczema has erupted.

            Lisa tries to hold on to her thoughts, feels a sudden unease at what the woman says, how she says it.  It reminds her of her mother-in-law’s initial refusal to compromise her independence, to accept the furtiveness in public spaces.  She had railed against the imposition, said that women were treated as if there was something to be ashamed about.   Lisa realises that this was one of the main reasons to leave.  If it was that difficult for women who had lived their whole life in Tehran, what hope was there for her?   

            Lisa pulls at her scarf, as if to rid herself of these thoughts.  Will Behruz follow her to England and watch from a distance at what is happening in his country?

            ‘Mummy, mummy.  Daddy?’  Roffida, on her lap, pulls at her face with her chubby fingers, holds the flesh of her cheeks painfully in her grip.

            ‘Daddy will come later, darling.  We’re going to see grandma and granddad.  We’re going on a short holiday.’

            She puts her head in Roffida’s chest, holds her up to hide her tears which again force themselves to the back of her nose, push against her forehead.  She sniffs, and then snorts.

            ‘Are you alright?’  The woman asks.  ‘You look quite pale.’

            ‘Yes, yes,’ she says.  ‘Just tired.  We’ve been up all night to get here on time.’


At Geneva airport Lisa sits alone with Roffida on her lap in the transit lounge, a modern and glassy container that is kept clean by a Turkish-looking woman who wears a scarf.  She sits on a long bench and stares outside, over the tarmac, where men in garish yellow plastic coats direct planes and loading vans come and go. 

‘You know, darling,’ Lisa says.  ‘I don’t think daddy will come soon.  We’re going to have to set up home with grandma and granddad for a while.  Until mummy gets a job and we have found you a nursery.’




The above is a short story written by me – none of the characters are real, although the story is based on real life events….  This is fact into fiction…..  Writing from experience…..  What do you think???



  1. This is wonderful. I so clearly remember this period in recent history and although I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be Iranian and to flee my homeland, you’ve made me believe it.

  2. I enjoyed it very much for mainly two reasons…….one from having ‘lived it’ and one from having ‘known you’ and trying to imagine just which parts were actually ‘real’. It left me with a giant lump in my throat and my stomach in a knot……….keep up the great work.

  3. I did not expect to find a story but began reading immediately. I was going to look ahead to see how long it was and if too long, maybe not read it all right now.
    But I did read it all. I had to see what you were up to. I had to see how things went.

    I must say I was quite relieved to find mother and daughter in Geneva. I did not care a fig about the husband. (was I supposed to?)

    Well done. The tension AND the reality are compelling. And it makes me angry. But that is not my culture.

    So, what does this reader want to know? More about what went before (how did the woman met her husband and their decision to return to his country) and then, what follows in terms of them living apart … or, together.

    Excellent use of farsi and english in your dialogue – really well done.

  4. I read this quickly but I really liked it. The tension and the details, the Farsi and English. It brings the experience of being in Iran at that time into focus. But I also think that a sentence or two of description would help the reader to get their bearings before launching into the action. This reminded me a bit of Reading Lolita in Tehran, which I enjoyed (on the whole). Well done.

  5. Lisa – I really am glad that you liked the story. It was quite a traumatic time, although the characters in this story are completley fictional!
    Linda: Great to see you here! We know which parts are ‘real’, but it’s never like that when you look back, is it? That’s why the characters live their own lives.. xx
    Oh – I’m actually glad you want to know more – that means I can write a couple more stories…. I’m really glad you enjoyed it and want more.
    couch trip: those of us on creative writng courses tend to shy away from too much telling, and perhaps wrongly so! Why are we always told that ‘telling’ is something you should never engage in?? I appreciate your comments though and I think you are right that I need to do a bit more balancing and provide more of an anchor… All: Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment! I very much appreciate it.

  6. Great narration and the feelings ome across. In other wors, I like!

  7. And my thoughts:

    Life in general

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