by Nahid Rachlin
When Shamsi and her two small children moved into some rooms in my aunt’s house, they looked very poor. My aunt, the owner of the house, took pity on them and reduced the rent by 30 toomans a month. Wherever Shamsi went her children followed her. One of her daughters, Zahra, the smaller of the two, was blind in one eye and her other eye could only see vague shadows of things. In the mornings her eyelashes were covered with pus and the whites of her eyes were lined with red veins.
No one knew how Shamsi suddenly began to acquire new possessions. She bought new clothes for herself and her children. She bought copper pots and pans which she polished every day. And a faint smile began to light her sullen face. Then Zahra disappeared. No one saw her in the mornings or at any other time and the smile on Shamsi’s face also disappeared.
One day in my presence, Shamsi confessed everything to my aunt. There was a man who was vague in marrying her but would not put up with a blind child. Shamsi had taken Zahra to a desert at the edge of Tehran and left her there. Zahra had resisted her destiny by crying after the receding silhouette of her mother. Shamsi ran and got into a jeep full of soldiers. The soldiers teased and flirted with her but she had covered her face under her chador.
I picture Zahra standing in the vast desert, listening to the vanishing echoes of her mother’s footsteps. Then waiting desperately for them to appear again until other frightening images and echoes sweep over her.
Nahid Rachlin attended the Columbia University MFA program on a Doubleday-Columbia Fellowship and then went on to Stanford University’s MFA program on a Stegner Fellowship. Her publications include a memoir, Persian Girls (Penguin), four novels, Jumping Over Fire (City Lights), Foreigner (W.W. Norton), Married to a Stranger (E.P.Dutton-City Lights), The Heart’s Desire (City Lights), and a collection of short stories,Veils (City Lights). Her individual short stories have appeared in more than fifty magazines, including The Virginia Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Redbook, and Shenandoah. One of her stories was produced by Symphony Space, “Selected Shorts,” and was aired on NPR’s around the country. Her work has been translated into Portuguese, Polish, Italian, Dutch, Arabic, and Persian. She had received a Bennet Cerf Award, PEN Syndicated Fiction Project Award, and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. For more, visit her website:www.nahidrachlin.com.