Under the blindfold I would close my eyes, ride the black carriage, pass through the foggy forests by the turbulent rivers, and stand on the edge of the water. Then I would flap my wings and go towards the sky. I would see Manijeh there, in the same white dress that was in her framed photo on the wall, with a crown of tiny pink flowers that were beautifully tied together. I would stretch out my arms to her, as she turned her face. I would shout: “It’s me! Your cousin, your friend!” She looked at me with her big black eyes and shook her head.
Her black hair blew in the wind, as she elegantly swayed and got lost in the clouds. I wandered hopelessly in that cloudy and polluted sky. I saw Shohreh. Shohreh Shanachi, with that permanent smile on her face and her characterful face. She looked at me and walked away. Zohreh Hashemi, Alireza Tashid, Niloufer, they were all together. But the more I extended my arms toward them, the more they would appear further and further away. I wanted to break out of my body and be next to them; but rain started pouring from the clouds. They were lost in the infinite space of the sky. I was left alone under the rain.
Days had passed. I became calm and more withdrawn. It had been a while since I waved my fingers from under the wall to my friend. I was bored with myself. I had surrendered to the passage of time. I closed my eyes under my blindfold and imagined stepping onto an old wooden bridge. From there I opened my wings, flew into the skies, and wandered between the clouds. I played hide-and-seek and tag with my executed friends. Amongst the clouds I sat next to my late grandfather who recited poems from Rumi. Time passed. I don’t know how many thousands of seconds passed. I was tired of living in an imaginary world.
The sound of the Quran playing from the radio loudspeaker no longer tormented me. It was a soundtrack to my dreams. This was how I heard it now.
I felt liberated from my beliefs. I didn’t want to let this feeling go. I still did not believe that I had committed a great sin. What had I done that was a sin? Why did they call those who gave in ‘tawab’?1Tawab is used to describe someone who surrenders their ideology and defects to the other side. It was a derogatory term used commonly by the Iranian regime when coercing inmates to submit to their demands. I despised this word. It brought back bitter memories and was a reminder of the suffering and pressure that they put us under. I could hear Haji’s voice from the loudspeaker: “Standing against the Islamic Republic is the greatest sin.”
Disheartened and helpless from my futile struggle I was lost in the lonely streets...in the silence and stillness inside...in the waves of the radio...on the road leading to nowhere.
I felt like driftwood in the raging sea, not knowing where to go. I was lost. I took refuge in God. I closed my eyes and stepped onto that wooden bridge to meet him. I fell from the bridge into the coffin that I had been in. Falling meant I wasn’t yet accepted by him. I wasn’t cleared of my beliefs yet. It was as if I held a secret between myself and something I recognised as God. I recited prayers to myself internally, giving thanks that I was still alive. “There's nothing to be thankful for. You're not alive anymore,” I heard a distant voice inside of me say. I ignored that voice.
The internal conflict continued. But God entered my restless heart. He brought warmth and light with him into my coffin behind my blindfolded eyes. God wiped my tears and caressed my hair and promised a better world.
I needed it; I needed it to carry on living. I got up from my coffin with my eyes still closed under my blindfold. I held my head towards the sky, put my hands next to my ears and prayed. A light seemed to surround me. In the heart of this ruin, in the darkness under the blindfold, I was blinded by the pressure of that light as I heard Masoumeh and Zorah's voice, which turned into a panicked scream:
“Sit down! Why have you gotten up, huh? Sending another code you bastard?”
I didn't care anymore. They thought I wanted to rebel when I got up. They rushed towards me. When I knelt to the floor as I prayed, they calmed down. When I prostrated they were probably stunned. When I finished my prayer, I put my forehead to the ground and rested in that position.
Masoumeh called me and took me towards the bathroom as she asked quietly:
“Had you washed? Did you perform ablution?”
Had I washed? I hadn’t? Did I perform ablution? No, had I? I looked at her dumbfounded. I did not answer. I remained silent and returned to my coffin. Now that cold dark grave was the only safe haven in my life.
It didn't take long for Haji to come. He took me outside, and told me to remove my blindfold. He was happy, a light of satisfaction was shining in his raven eyes. He said:
“Thank God that you have recovered, I knew that you would change. Your nature was broken, but I knew you had the foundations.”
He spoke for a thousand hours yet I did not hear him. It was as if I was not in this world. I didn't want to let them enter my world which still felt so bright from that light. I just heard him say:
“I will send you to the third ward.”
I didn't want to leave my coffin. I replied: “No, I prefer it here.”
Surprised, he said: “Whatever makes you comfortable, but you can now lie down or sleep if you want.”
It didn't matter to me anymore. As long as I am here I won’t ever sleep or lay down. I hadn’t been torn to a thousand pieces so that I could sleep or lie down. How was I different from any of the others? Except that something inside me had taken me to the depths of God. I was praying to God, I wanted to perform Sama 2Sama is a Sufi ceremony performed as part of the meditation and prayer practice which includes listening to music and chanting to reinforce ecstasy and induce mystical trance. like the Sufis. I was sober, whirling with the dervishes and singing to God.
I used to sing along with the dervishes. The desire for freedom, to be freed from the world and everything in it, was burning inside me. I thought about how much better it would be to die, to be hung, to be shot by a firing squad—it would make it so much easier. Would anyone find me? No...no, I was no longer thinking about anything except God's forgiveness. I believed in him. I asked for the Quran and they brought it to me. I was reading the translation of a chapter on repentance, the one that didn’t start ‘In the name of God’, and my tears flowed on the pages with the words repentance...repentance...repentance.
Homa Kalhori is a former journalist and author. She appears in Mehran Tamadon's JAII KEH KHODA NIST (Where God Is Not).
This excerpt is taken from “A Coffin for the Living” (تابوت زندگان), published by Independent Publishers, New York in 2020.