The love story of an American girl and a young Iranian revolutionary in the year before the fall of the Shah.
Remembrance of the Sun
When Jill and her family come to Tehran in 1977 they are only vaguely aware that hatred of the Shah has brought a tense city almost to the boiling point. For them the challenge is coping with life in a very foreign place, learning its language and customs, getting around in the vast maze of Tehran streets.
Then Jill meets Shaheen, the charismatic first horn player of the high school band, and the difficult, almost hostile city becomes a place of wonder and fascination. At first the two are constantly together, sharing their love of the french horn and climbing in the foothills of the Alborz mountains that rise behind the city. Then more and more Shaheen is called away to urgent meetings and finally to dangerous demonstrations against the Shah.
It is a time of anger and hope when only a few outsiders understand that the young people of revolutionary Iran are about to exchange one tyranny for another. For Jill and Shaheen it is the culmination of a passionate love affair and also its inevitable end as her father and the other foreign consultants are forced to leave Tehran.
By six a.m. when we hit the road it was already clear that Tehran was in a state of evacuation. The normal morning flow of traffic had been reversed. Everyone except the very infirm and the very sensible was headed for the hills.
"Pity the poor mountains," I said to Shaheen as we waited for the light at the corner of Avenue Pahlavi, "having all this bad luck dumped on their innocent feet."
Shaheen smiled at me. "They can take it," he said. "Look at them."
The mountains, indeed, were as enormous and serene as ever, towering above the plane trees to our left. I felt as if I had been gone from their peaceful flanks for months rather than only a few days. The light changed, and Shaheen seized the gear stick. I shifted my grip from his hand to his knee. Ever since he had come in the door this morning, I had been unable to resist touching him — reassuring myself that he was here with me, real, alive, unchanged.
"The traffic will be horrendous later," he said, "but this picnic day will be good for people. When total revolution comes, there won't be much time for picnics."
"You're sure that it will come?" I asked, and he nodded vehemently.
"Now I am sure," he said. "Now that I've been out in the streets and felt the strength of the crowds. And you know, Jill, already some strange things are happening. We are less afraid of the army than we were. Yesterday a small group of soldiers refused to fire on the people. It was only one incident, but it was heartening. Khomeini tells us that we must offer ourselves as martyrs to the soldiers, and to call out to them as we fall that they are our brothers and that we have but one cause. He says, 'The blood of each martyr is a bell which will awaken a thousand of the living.'"
I stared at Shaheen and slowly withdrew my hand from his knee. I felt cold, as if I had touched him and found him already dead. And yet he had never seemed more alive. In the first rays of the morning sun his face was bright with the passion of conviction, and I thought that for all his western sophistication, the Iranian ideal of martyrdom had a powerful appeal even to him.
"Shaheen," I said, "you must fight for freedom and for social justice. The soldiers should be made to see that this is their battle too, because they are part of an oppressed people. But all this religious fervor makes my blood run cold."
"Oh it's not religious for me," he said. "You know that. But it's the same feeling. It must be. Only so are the great, unequal battles won."
"Yes," I said, "freedom fighters are always fanatics, and when they have won, they are still fanatics. This is what makes revolutions turn out so badly."
"You sound like your father," he said, and added quickly, "not that that is such a bad thing."
"Well, you can't expect the blood of martyrs to run in my veins," I said, "but I want you to win, and I will do anything to help you. What can I do?"
"Nothing for the moment, love," he said, reaching out and recapturing my hand. "Just be my girl for a while, and I'll let you know if there's something more concrete."
"Maybe I could limp around handing out pamphlets," I suggested. "Who would suspect me?"
"Maybe you can," Shaheen said. "Meanwhile we are supposed to be carrying all the bad things from last year out of Tehran and dumping them in some babbling brook, so let's concentrate on that."
"Only good things happened to me last year," I said, "but I'll try to think of something."
We took the highway west out of Tehran and then turned into the foothills in the hope of finding some secluded and attractive valley that would call for a minimum of walking. This turned out to be not at all a simple matter, and I could see as we wound steadily upward that Shaheen was really very tired.
"You should have taken your holiday at home in bed," I said.
"Not without company," he said, his spirits briefly revived at the thought.
"Resting," I replied firmly.
"I shall sleep in your lap," he said, "if we ever find a place to put your lap."
Finally we settled for a place where a tiny stream came down from the hills and wound its way around the feet of three old walnut trees. Shaheen parked the car on the verge and helped me down the embankment, and we spread a blanket on a circle of grass that was hidden from the road by a thick tangle of wild rose bushes.
"Not that we won't be joined," Shaheen said gloomily. “We would have to drive a hundred miles from the city today to find a place to ourselves this near the road."
"This is lovely," I said, "and it's small. Perhaps we'll be lucky. Anyway, have some fruit. You look as if you could use a second breakfast."
When we had eaten, I propped my back against a walnut tree, took off my shoes, and stretched my still wintry-looking legs in the sun. I was wearing a soft old denim skirt instead of jeans, in the hope of getting a little tan. It also made a better resting place for the head of my beloved, who promptly carried out his threat to fall asleep in my lap.
You might think this a dull way to spend a holiday. I did not find it so. I looked at the mountain peaks through the lacy branches of the trees and listened to the complicated language of the stream. A round brown bird like a quail, made bold by our silence, led her brood of six across the clearing and into the shelter of the rose. Soon I began to see the swift flicker of lizards among the rocks, and one came out and stretched itself in the sun almost at my feet.
Most of all, of course, I gazed down at Shaheen. He looked young and strangely innocent in spite of the thick black beard, and I thought of the revolution and of Khomeini's thirst for martyrs. "They can't have him," I said to myself. "It's not right. No cause is worth this sacrifice." But I knew that I was probably wrong and that anyway, it didn't matter what I thought. Young men had died for centuries, and I supposed the lucky ones were the ones who died for something for which they cared with this consuming passion. So many gave their lives for no reason at all.
I had plenty of time to think as well of topics which were more personal and less grim. In this I was stimulated but not helped by Shaheen who, from time to time, smiled happily in his sleep and burrowed deeper into my lap. When would we sleep together? Where? What would it be like? This was no longer a debate, if it ever seriously had been. Now every nerve in my body cried out for it to come. Shaheen stirred again, this time more vigorously and, turning on his side, slid one hand up under my skirt to a cozy resting place on my upper thigh. This felt extremely good and took my mind off a growing problem I was having with the circulation in my lower legs. It also made me quiver from head to foot like an aspen leaf.
The sun rose higher and began to burn my shins. Then came the sound of a car stopping on the edge of the road, followed by voices and laughter. I gave Shaheen a shake. "Time to get up," I said. "We're about to have company, and besides, I think I am paralyzed from the waist down."
He sat up groggily and glared at a large Iranian family that was struggling down the embankment with huge hampers and shopping bags full of food. They came to rest on the opposite side of the stream and began to spread out a formidable feast. Melons and bottles of Coke went into the water to cool. These were followed by a large pot of sabzi, the hundreds of green shoots shining in the sun as they broke apart and swirled away in the current.
"We should have brought ours," Shaheen said. "I suppose my mother pitched it in the Jube."
"That's what we did with ours," I said, "but I hated to see it go."
"Well, it would be scandalous to keep it," he said. "Ali would have done it for you, if you hadn't. Why don't those people move upstream a little? My countrymen are too gregarious."
"Be grateful that we had the morning to ourselves," I said. "Anyway, if they are from Tehran, they probably feel that an ocean of space separates our two picnics. The children are darling, but can't the little girl take off her chador even out here?"
"She could if she wanted to. If it were hotter, she would probably go swimming in it." Shaheen stood up, yawning and stretching, and ambled down to the stream to retrieve our wine. He stood on the bank for a moment and greeted the family across the water while I waved to the children from where I sat.
"Will they mind if we drink wine?" I asked when Shaheen had returned to our blanket.
He grinned cynically. "We'd just better drink it fast," he said, "before the men come over for a little hospitality."
No one, however, attempted to join us, and we had our lunch in some privacy, the others being absorbed in a spread that was surely fit for a Qajar prince and his court.
"Time for another nap," Shaheen said cheerfully when we had packed up the remains, but I shook my head.
"I really don't think so," I said. "While you slumber blissfully with your arms around my legs, I may have trouble sitting here looking like your albino sister. Let's limp up the stream a bit and then go home. Maybe we'll be ahead of the worst of the traffic."
And so we walked a little, using my evident lameness as an excuse for arms tightly wrapped around each other. Then we joined the stream of picnickers on the road back to Tehran. Thus ended the thirteenth and last day of No Ruz, a day of peace that we would look back upon with longing during the stormy weeks that lay ahead.