The Bronze Statue
He was from Abadan and because of the war* he had moved to the north to Mazanderan.
He said: “Do you know Farnam? I’ve been looking for him for years. He was a good friend from childhood.”
I said: “I know him and I don’t know him. He’s a distant relative, and by distant I mean very distant. When I was a child I saw him a few times in family gatherings. Farnam is now living in Canada with his wife.”
So the man from Abadan told me this story:
We had heard the news; we went to see what was going on. We had our ears on the mosque wall: we could hear the voices from the other side of the wall. There was me, Reza and Farnam. The man who was talking said something about kicking some people out of the village. He was saying they should not live with us! He said: “This land belongs to us: The Muslims. All our ancestors lived here. But these people; they are English; they are Israelis. They have come here and reproduced and now these usurpers seized our land. They are farming and cultivating our fathers’ land and there is nobody to kick them out.”
It was many years ago.
We heard the door open. The sound made the sweet I was sucking on fly out of my mouth. It was in the air and I tried, as if it was a ping pong ball, to catch it before it fell to the ground. I was very scared. We began to run and soon we disappeared into the darkness of the alleyway. As we reached the main road the small snowflakes were still coming down dancing; under the street lights, they were spreading a grey blanket of light on the ground.
The bronze statue of Amirkabir on horseback: The horse was standing on its hind legs and neighing; Amirkabir was holding his long sword with its shadow reflected on the ground. The statue was right in the middle of the square and was surrounded by a few lampposts.
A few days earlier, we had been sitting on the terrace of the house belonging to Farnam’s parents. His father was holding an old transistor radio close to his ear while turning the tuner. It seemed as if he was looking for a sound that would never come out, no matter how hard he tried.
His mother came onto the terrace carrying a tray with refreshing lemon squash and gave each of us a glass.
Farnam’s father put the radio aside and said: “Nobody cares about us; they have forgotten us all.”
In the alleyway as we were heading towards the playground I asked Farnam: “Who’s your father waiting for?”
Farnam was looking at the ground and kicking the pebbles. He said: “How should I know?!”
It was the early years of the war, and every night they would warn of red situations and then white in various parts of the country. A few of our fellow students had gone to war. And every morning at the assembly they would play some exciting and emotional anthems about going to war and defending the motherland. The dean would tell us to shout: “Death to America, death to Israel.”
When I passed the main square I would see Amirkabir on his bronze horse, holding a sword and triumphantly making the horse stand on its hind legs. The town we lived in was a coastal town with green mould on its walls; even the hooves of Amirkabir’s horse had been covered by it.
It was in those days that it happened. At school Farnam had become more reclusive and the dean whispered something to those who were close to him and moved away frowning. I wasn’t noticeable because I had come to this school as a refugee from the war zone and for this reason nobody bothered about me.
The rain was falling very gently, making a rhythmic sound as it hit the roofs. I was on my way home carrying bread in a basket. It was dusk and the alleyways were getting dark. As I turned the corner I saw Farnam’s father sitting by the wall, cross-legged, holding his face in his hands! Blood was trickling through his fingers and covered his face.
I was dumbstruck, unable to say anything. I reached for him and pulled him towards me. My sleeve was covered with blood. He kept on saying I shouldn’t say anything to Farnam!
I was frozen on the spot and looking at him dumbfounded and confused. A young man came running and as he passed us he shouted at me: “Don’t interfere… Go… Go and get lost now!” When the young man passed us, Farnam’s father said again: “Don’t tell Farnam, OK?”
I nodded my head and sat next to him. I said: “Who beat you up? Why is your face bleeding like this?”
He wasn’t saying anything; only wiping blood from his face with the cuff of his jacket sleeve.
In the evening when I told my father what had happened he shook his head, indicating an indifferent attitude and lack of interest and said: “These things don’t concern us, people have issues with them! They say they are Anglophile; they are filthy. Don’t get mixed up with these things!”
I said: “Mixed up with what things? Why do they have issues with them? I have been to their house many times; they are nice people; Farnam’s mum brought us lemon squash, and very delicious it was, too!”
He said: “What? You drank their lemon squash? Weren’t you listening to what Haji Agha was saying? Why did you go to their house?” And then he raised his voice and said to my mum: “This kind of loitering and wandering is your fault!!! I am out working like a dog from dawn to dusk and you let this child out in the street to spend time with these people! So, if tomorrow they kick us out of our house don’t say a word.”
Mother was peeling potatoes in the kitchen and looked at me smiling, shaking her head as if telling me not to pay any attention to him; as if saying: “He doesn’t know what he is talking about… He is just tired!”
The next day when the bell rang for the break the students ran enthusiastically to the school playground.
Farnam was sitting in a corner biting into his bread and cheese sandwich. I went and sat next to him. He tore the sandwich into two and offered me half. I bit into my half greedily and said: “How is your dad?” He stared ahead and didn’t say anything.
The dean turned up and called me and said: “Aren’t you Shia?”
I said: “What? What is Shia?”
He said: “Don’t your family perform their daily prayers?”
In our house nobody said any prayers. But it was wartime and we had come to this town as a refugee; I had no choice but to lie. I was afraid they would kick us out of the village.
I said: “Yes sir; we all say our prayers!”
He said: “Don’t your parents tell you who you should and shouldn’t become friendly with?”
I said: “Yes sir, they do!”
He said: “Didn’t you just get some bread from him and eat it?”
I had chewed the cheese sandwich and its delicious taste was still in my mouth. I opened my mouth so he could see it was empty and said: “No sir, I didn’t get anything from him; I picked it up from the ground!”
He was holding a metal ruler and playing with it. He said: “Don’t let me ever catch you going here and there with him again.”
I nodded my head to show that I had understood everything he had just said and that it was not necessary to scare me with his metal ruler. He turned and made his way back towards the school building.
That evening I passed by Farnam’s house. There was no sound coming out of the house. His father was sitting under a street lamp and two or three people had surrounded him; they were talking to him in loud voices and his head was bent, listening to them quietly. One of them was holding a large club shaking it as he talked.
That was the evening the three of us had our ears to the mosque wall and heard what the villagers were saying.
The man who had seen us by the mosque was running after us very fast. I told Reza and Farnam we must split up and go different ways so they couldn’t catch all of us. Reza had reluctantly joined us in the late afternoon. He said: “I don’t like doing these things; if my mum finds out she will kill me.” He left us and went the direction of his home.
Farnam and I ran together in the same direction but at the top of the alley we separated.
The small snowflakes were falling, dancing and settling on the ground and our path had become slippery to run on.
As I was passing the square I felt a heavy blow on the back of my neck and fell to the ground. For a split second everything went dark before my eyes before I hit the ground face down. The color of blood in the night was more like black than red and it was opening a narrow path on the snow. He kicked me on the side and shouted: “Who were you spying on?”
I couldn’t talk. I think one of my teeth had also been broken and there was blood coming out of my mouth. Once again he kicked me and said: “Who is your father, son of bitch?”
I felt myself blacking out. I turned my head and said: “I’m a war refugee; we weren’t doing anything!” I already knew that being a war refugee would lessen my sin.
He shouted: “Then what the hell were you doing there?”
Slowly I dragged myself home. When she saw the blood my mum began to scream, yelling and making a lot of noise.
The man from Abadan paused. “Two, three decades have passed since that evening but every detail is still fresh in my memory.”
I said: “Were you good friends?”
He said: “We were both lonely; I was a war refugee and nobody took any notice of me, and Farnam was always on his own.”
The following day I didn’t go to school. My face was swollen and bruised and my mum wouldn’t let me go to school. It was around midday that there was a knock on our door.
It was Farnam’s father, who had brought with him some bandages and a small jar of antiseptic cream. He said: “Your son has been beaten up because of us.” He said he had brought those things to help with the wounds. My mum invited him to come in but he refused. He said that for some time they had been inciting people in the mosque to harass and persecute them. He said they had lived in that place for many years. “This is the land of our ancestors; we have led a peaceful and quiet life and now they are trying to provoke and set the people against us.”
My mum asked: “Why are they doing all this? What’s their reason?”
Farnam’s father said: “They say our religion is polytheism; they don’t like our religion and that is why they are harassing us.”
After he had left I asked my mum: “What is polytheism?”
She looked at me for a few moments and then said: “By the grace of God, I don’t know what the hell is going wrong with these people; what is it to you! To each to his own!”
That year mum died of grief: two of her brothers were killed in the War. I saw Farnam in the playground from time to time and couldn’t leave him alone. Whenever he brought food to school he always shared it with me and said: “My mum has put some in for you.”
Many days, weeks and months have passed since those years and Farnam’s house has been turned into multi-story apartments and there is no sign of them.
The War went on and on and I too, after mum’s death, was forced to enlist and go to war. When I came back everything had changed. The bronze statue of Amirkabir was completely covered in green mould and the horse’s hooves had decayed and come off through the force of time and neglect. The sword had been broken into two and Amirkabir’s face was covered with vegetation.
In those years my dad used to say: “We have come to a town where no one lasts more than a few years; it is all because the damp from the sea swallows everything.”
Yesterday when I went to town with the intention of hiring a truck I saw that a few workers had tied a rope around the statue of Amirkabir and his horse and were trying to pull it down.
I said to one of them: “Why don’t you tie the rope to a car so it will come down a lot easier.”
One of them said: “Dear engineer, don’t look at its size and appearance; it has no strength to stand there anymore; a wind is enough to bring it down. God willing after a few shakes it will tumble down!”
I smiled and said: “Well, what did they do with the statue? Did it fall?”
He said: “As I was walking past the statue it fell to the ground with a terrifying bang.”
The night I saw Farnam’s father sitting by the wall of the alleyway, he put a hand on my shoulder and said they wanted to kick them out of their home. “They told the people in the mosque that our race should get rid of this race from the earth! What sin have we committed that they incite so much hatred in people against us? We are fellow countrymen. We have sat at the same table and broken bread together. How come the people in the village have forgotten everything? This is my house; we have roots in this land; where can we go?”
I had nothing to say. I was only eleven years old and didn’t understand anything about having roots in the land and inciting the mob and shouting slogans. But I was speechless to see a man so dignified and manly, with a family relying and depending on him, sitting by the wall with his face covered in blood.
I wasn’t concerned or scared about my clothes being covered in blood and would like to have wiped Farnam’s dad’s face with my old jacket.
My tongue wouldn’t move and no words came out of my mouth to soothe and comfort him. All I could do was to touch and caress his long white hair and say: “Farnam is a good friend; he always shares his food with me.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
*The Gulf War between Iran and Iraq, 1980-1988. An estimated 500,000 Iraqi and Iranian soldiers died, in addition to a similar number of civilians.
Sepideh Zamani’s essays, short stories and novels focus on immigration and exile, gender inequality and the life of ethnic and religious minorities under forced assimilation. Her first collection of short stories, Barbuda, was published in Farsi in 2016. Her novel Ouroboros was published in 2018. Her third book Sleeping in a Dark Cave and her fourth book Women Looking at the Sky are forthcoming in 2019. Sepideh Zamani was born in October of 1973 in Iran. She graduated from law school in 1999 and moved to United States a year later.