It is snowing, far too cold for anyone to go outside. Therefore, the entire family, from Father’s brothers and their extended families to several of Father’s cousins, uncles, and aunts and their families, is inside this dwelling, one of the cave houses carved into the plateau of Meymand. Father feels the claustrophobia every time he returns to his childhood home from his three-storey house in Shiraz, but he feels it particularly today, as he has to finally announce what he has been thinking of doing for the last few months: to bring his mother to live with him in Shiraz.
It is not the time to bring it up before breakfast. Father lies in his bed, trying to rest. He is literally in a cave dug out of the cliffs millennia ago. On the floor are carpets and pillows for people to sit on. Beds are pushed to the sides of the rock walls, with piles of coverings and comforters and sheets for people to keep themselves warm in the winter months. Some sills were carved out of the stone long before Father was born, and on them are ornamental plates, pictures of family members, porcelain vases. the space inside of the cave is small, particularly in these winter months when everyone is inside. Father is not tall, but he still cannot stand upright, always having to duck while walking.
This is why he mostly remains in the bed he used to sleep in as a child even after he awakes.
At the hour of breakfast, Father is called. The wife of Father’s elder brother, Arash, is Nousha. She begins by serving everyone tea at the long wooden table they use for their meals. Steam from the black brew wafts across Father’s nose and warms his neck. Everyone is at the table, not yet talking amongst themselves, still waking up.
Father decides there is no better time than the present.
« .Everyone ،hello .It has been too long since I have come »
The fact that he is speaking has already antagonised someone. Father’s first cousin, Arman, interrupts.
« .Hessam ،three or four months it has been ؟Why did you ignore us ؟Why did you ignore your mother when her health is like this »
16 January 1965
Once when Hessam was a little boy playing football with his cousins and brothers, he kicked the ball through a window of a car. It was the property of one of his relatives visiting from abroad, and they had asked a lot of money for it to be repaired. It did not help that Hessam’s father had been drinking that day. So, immediately after, Hessam was beaten by his father to such an extent that it looked like he had developed welts.
The first boy who talked to him after his beating was not any of his brothers, who were scared of upsetting their father, nor any of his friends, since Hessam had trouble making friends, but his first cousin, Arman. Arman came and sat on the ground by Hessam’s bed as Hassan lay in pain. Hessam remembered how Arman was not one of the boys who often chided Hessam for being bad at kicking the ball, though he snickered when the other cousins teased. Hessam did not blame Arman or think of him much.
« .Your father has hurt you more than he should have » Arman said, and Hessam lifted his eyes towards him in recognition.This was a brazen thing to say, considering the relatives were in earshot and anyone could have come in and hit Arman.
But no one came in, and Arman continued « .I am angry you were punished like this .You do not deserve to be hit .You do not deserve to be made fun of »
Arman spoke emotionally, and Hessam touched his hand. They held each other’s hands for some time before Arman got up and left.
Later on in the week, after Hessam had recovered enough to join in with football again, it was like nothing had been said. Arman remained in that group of boys who made fun of Hessam, and he never stood up for Hessam against his friends. Arman and Hessam did not talk much after that incident.
19 November 2023
Father takes a look behind him. On the other side of the wall is one of the bedrooms, and on one of those beds is his mother, sleeping. One of Arash’s children is watching her. In a half hour, Nousha will come to take her son’s place.
« .That is exactly what I have come to talk about » Father says, but before he can say more, Arash stands up and pinches his fingers, lifting his hands towards Father in confrontation.
« .Your mother is the most important person in this room ؟Do you know how much we have suffered in trying to help her ؟ Do you know how much we have done for her »
12 July 2023
One day in the middle of the night, his mother began to sob uncontrollably. Arash had already been out all night drinking in one of the other caves with his friends. As he came in and sat down, waiting for the alcohol to wear off, he heard her cries.
« ؟What is wrong ،my mother » was all he could manage to say.
It was a different version of his mother these past few weeks. His mother was no longer able to explain why she felt pain. She had become like a child, crying whenever she wanted to go to the toilet and whenever she wanted to eat. When she felt the pain of her muscles stiffening outside of her control, she cried. And when she was confused, sad, or hurt, she cried.
Through his drunken stupor, Arash was unsure whether his mother had responded. Her sobbing was starting to annoy him, so he told her to stop. When she kept sobbing, he shouted louder « !Shut up » Then he noticed the shape of her open mouth, a full O. Because they took out her dentures at night, there was nothing to give dimension to her face. She looked like a baxtak ready to attack him.
Arash started to laugh. He literally fell over, grabbing his stomach, and then he was laughing at the bizarre face his mother was making, the way he had fallen funny, the whole sad situation. Suddenly, a sharp cell phone light was in his face.
It was his youngest brother, Behrouz, who must have woken up from the commotion.
« ؟Arash ،what are you doing »
Arash told him « Look at our mother »
Tears shone all over their mother’s face, and she had a perplexed look.
Behrouz sprang into action. « ؟Mother ،are you okay ؟Did you soil yourself »
He checked her diaper, and when there was nothing there, he checked her vitals, and then he found a damp towel to rub her face with.
« .Arash ،you are drunk .Go back to bed »
Arash went back to bed, but as he tripped over himself, he said this:
« .Look how bad our mother is doing .She is useless now .I can’t believe it has gotten to this ؟And what can we do about it »
19 November 2023
Father speaks over Arash. « .I know what you have done for her .You have done everything .I have done nothing »
One of Father’s cousins interrupts. This is a woman with what looks like scars from a bad burn all over her body. She is a woman in her fifties, and Father cannot help thinking that she is pretty, a face well shaped, even if a bit mousy. He remembers that she is a daughter of one of his mother’s second cousins, but whose child she is exactly, Father does not remember.
« .Do not be hard on yourself .You live so far away .You send us so much money .I remember when I had to have my surgeries ،and you funded it from afar .I am so grateful to you »
1 December 1999
Tarja had a dream to leave her village. In a village like Meymand, nothing much happened. Tarja was married to a man, had a son, and had the life she believed she was meant to have.
Despite that, Tarja wanted to leave.
So, one day, Tarja got into a car with a stranger who liked the way she looked. Tarja was thirty at the time but had not had enough life experience outside of a marriage to understand what was going on. What she knew was she liked how the man talked, like one of these free-minded big shots from Tehran who was exploring the country on a whim. An hour on the road, and Tarja felt like she could tell him everything, from the music she liked to dance to to the way she wanted to burn her headscarf.
He asked for her to give him a blowjob, and she mentioned that she was already married with a child.
The man was not happy. He yelled at her, and she was scared. She tried to open the car door, but he reached over her, hovering over her body, trying to lock it. The car was in motion and going fast, but Tarja knew it was her only chance to escape.
She opened the door and fell out of the moving vehicle.
The pavement charred the skin all across her left arm and back. She thudded and rolled as she fell, destroying her hip in the process. She was lucky at least to have fallen just outside of a settlement. Everyone came out and called an ambulance to take her to the nearest hospital in Kerman. After some days, her husband found her. He yelled at her, threatened to divorce her, beat her. He left the hospital without paying a single thing.
The doctors told her she would be able to walk with surgery. But who would pay for it? Tarja was a housewife, and she came from a poor family with little resources.
Then one day, she found out that her mother had made some phone calls and found a cousin who was willing to help. This was the son of her cousin, actually, who had decided to pay for the medical bill and the surgery. Filled with gratitude, Tarja wanted to call this cousin to thank him.
But the cousin was a distant relative and busy with his own life in Shiraz and took no interest in taking the call.
So, Tarja had her life returned to her, and to this day she still didn’t know why this cousin had helped her.
19 November 2023
The woman clasps her hands together towards Father, and Father has to look down. He feels uncomfortable as he cannot remember when or how he helped her. He is used to helping his family in these ways—generous, but removed. He does not like when it is formally acknowledged. It makes him feel more responsible for his helping out than he actually feels.
Luckily, there is not any time for her to say more, as one of Father’s paternal uncles intrudes.
« ؟ You are sending money ؟ Where is this money !I am not getting it »
Another uncle from that side of the family adds « .I have never gotten money from Hessam »
His Uncle Ali who is related to his mother and not his father chimes in « If you are sending money to one of us ،you should send it to us all »
And then Uncle Ali’s son Arman says « .Father Farzeen sends us money every day from Kerman »
His Uncle Javed, who is also related to his mother, complains « .I miss my children .I wish they visited from Kerman rather than sending money at all »
At this point, the announcement that Father wanted to make has been buried, and the uncles and cousins are bickering amongst themselves for unrelated reasons. The chai is getting cold. The steam from the kettle has settled down onto the table as drops of brown dew. The women have come with trays of cut cucumber, tomato and feta cheese, dried nuts and fruits, adasi, sharseer, jam, and pita bread. The elders who aren’t shouting begin to serve themselves. The little kids take the pita bread and thrust it into the feta or sesame oil without any concern for their elders, getting the seasonings all over the table.
No one is really listening to Father anymore.
But Father is not deterred.
Father says as loudly as he can « .Everyone ،I am taking my mother to stay with me in Shiraz »
The uncles keep shouting at their sons, but one of the aunties has heard Father properly and she grabs her husband by the shoulder sleeve to quiet him. Father’s younger brother, Behrouz, has also heard and he hushes everyone, repeating « .Hessam wants to move our mother to his home »
Now there is a silence in the room that Father rarely hears. It is like being on a lone highway road with no other car. It is like no one knows what to say and is waiting for that one boisterous uncle or auntie or cousin to speak up, but no one wants to be the first.
Father expands on his point.
« .I have talked to my wife about this for months .Meymand is a small village .There is no medical support here .In Shiraz ،we have everything »
Already he is interrupted, this time by Arash’s wife, Nousha.
« .He is saying that no one is taking care of our mother in this village .I am by my mother-in-law’s side every day .I wash her face with a wet towel .I massage the back of her head .I teach her the words she has forgotten in Farsi .She does need a nurse in our home .I am there for our mother »
15 August 2023
One day Nousha tripped in her mother-in-law’s room. She thought she had known everything about the space. She knew where the comforters were stacked, where people kept their slippers, what was part of the rock floor and what was carpet.
And yet somehow she had tripped. No water was spilled. No piece of rug was slightly furled. Nothing was out of place in fact.
She hit her toe and fell on top of the bed and almost hit her mother-in-law with her elbow. Luckily she missed, her arm landing by her mother-in-law’s side.
Nousha looked up. There were only the both of them in the room. The lights were on. There was no noise or source of distraction. Nousha usually thought about this or that in her head, but she never made mistakes like this.
Her hands shook. She stared at them long and hard in agony.
Was she getting older? Was she starting to reach the age where she, too, was going to succumb to these sorts of diseases, physical and mental?
It was unlikely. She was only in her sixties.
But still the thought was in the back of her head, and it scared her. She was a caretaker, not only for her mother-in-law but also for her irresponsible husband, her immature children, and her fairly young grandchildren. If she were to lose her mind or capacities, who would take her place?
19 November 2023
Arash cuts his wife off before she can say anything else.
« .I do not need any help as well .When our mother has trouble standing ،I help her to the toilet .I close the door and wait until she is finished .Then I put her back in bed .Behrouz takes her out when she wants to walk .It is cold ،but she enjoys her time outside .And in the summer months she was so happy to see the pistachio trees blooming »
Father says « .I can do such things at my home too »
Still Arash carries on. « .But you have not been helping as such yet ؟How long has it been since your last visit »
Behrouz interrupts his eldest brother. « .Let Hessam speak »
11 November 2023
Behrouz was resting with his mother when she tried to speak. It was in the early morning hours, just as everyone else was getting up. His mother yawned and pointed upwards. Behrouz looked into her eyes as she struggled to voice a sentence. A few months ago, these tics of dementia and Parkinson’s were new to him, and he felt anxious whenever he was alone with his mother in the room. But he was used to it now. He tried his best to observe calmly and interpret what exactly his mother meant. Sweat shone all over her face despite the coolness of the cave. She must have been pointing towards her forehead. Behrouz picked up a towel and started to clean off the sweat.
She opened her mouth and then shut it. Whatever his mother was going to say, she must have forgotten already.
She forgot everything these days, within seconds.
A fresh smell of pomegranate being opened filled the room. This was most likely his sister-in-law snapping one apart so that it could later be served. Behrouz remembered how much his mother loved the start of pomegranate season, how she had been the one to open the pomegranates for the entire family up until a year ago.
When she had fallen, she had really scared the family, and everyone pushed her to rest in her bed. She had gotten so used to that that nowadays she remained in a state where she found herself unable to leave her bed.
Behrouz wondered what would have happened if they had not babied her so much after her fall, if they had let her do small things like open pomegranates or clean the floor in her room.
Their brother Hessam was coming to visit soon. Arash was not going to like it, but Behrouz was entertaining a new thought: perhaps it was time for their mother to live with Hessam in the city. Shiraz had hospitals, people who were professionals who could help their mother stay stable. Yes, their mother was surrounded by relatives in their home; yes, she was loved and taken care of, but her mind was getting worse and worse each day. It didn’t matter how many people were there to help her to the toilet or feed her from hand to mouth if her situation grew serious and needed medical intervention.
It was an idea Behrouz was sure none of the other family members were going to like, but Behrouz knew they were reaching their limits. She was in need of much greater help.
19 November 2023
Father says, trying to keep his tone as objective as possible « .I have a full job at the hospital .This is also a job with which I use to pay your bills .This is where the money comes from so you can feed our mother and your own children »
Arash says bluntly, as he often did when he was drunk « .How he rubs it in our face .He makes more money than all of us .He is better than us because he has money .He does not care for his family but he has money .How better he is .Yes »
Father feels a saltiness in his throat and in his chest, but he knows he has a relevant point to make.
« .I am not trying to demean you .I am not trying to make you feel insignificant .I am saying that I have things in Shiraz that will help our mother .I am also saying it is my turn to help »
It is about to become a fight between brothers, but Uncle Ali decides to speak up. He has always been nice to Father, despite their bickering. « .We know you have good intentions .You make mistakes ،but you mean well »
Auntie Mahnaz, a first cousin of his mother, says « .Hessam ،I know you well .You mean nothing with arrogance .You want to help ،and your feelings are true .But my son ،we do so much already ،and your mother is stable because of us ؟Are you aware of what could happen if you move her »
« .If it was last year ،I would say yes » Father says. « .But look at the state of our mother now .It is worse than dementia .She cannot make sentences .She will soon need more than someone to wipe her forehead .She will need proper medical attention .I am the only one in this family who can give it »
Arash clears his throat and looks away. The other elders are looking away as well. The silence becomes almost like the heat coming from the nearby furnace—an uncomfortably warm presence, unavoidable, but everywhere.
The one who decides to break the silence is Uncle Ali, who asks with genuine curiosity
« ؟Hessam ،do you really believe you can provide care to our mother that she cannot receive here »
For once, Father is confident. He looks around at these rock walls, then back at his family, and says « .Yes »
1 October 2022
It had been two days since the esteemed elder of their family, Zahra Ahmadi, had a fall owing to a stroke, with a lot of her motor function damaged either by the stroke in question or the fall when she hit the back of her head. Now she had been taken back home from the hospital. Zahra’s two sons and their families took care of her by her bedside. In the dining room where they kept their long wooden table, everyone from Zahra’s generation, from her cousins from marriage to her own brothers and sisters, discussed what to do.
« .She is clearly in a bad state »
« .I am Javad ،her brother .I will take care of her »
« .Javad ،sit down .You feel dizzy the moment you walk for some time .Arash is by her side .Wait »
« .I feel so helpless .I feel so old .I feel like I can do nothing for us »
« .It is not your place to do anything ،my brother .She has her own children »
« ؟But where is Hassam ؟Why has he not come yet »
« .He lives far away ،my uncle .He will come once he can »
« .Zahra should be in the city with him .She is resting in a cave .She needs to be in a hospital »
« .That is true. As her condition worsens ،she will need more help .The hospital is so far .Petrol is getting more expensive .We are old »
« .But her children are there .They live by her side .They will help »
« .But there will come a time when their help will not be enough ؟What will we do by the time her condition truly deteriorates and she needs more than rest »
« .I suppose when the time is right we will have to depend on Hessam .He is the one who does the most when we expect nothing out of him »
The conversation moved on to other topics, but the whole family thought about it long after, each one with their own opinions, and each one wondering if they were right, if indeed Hessam would take on the responsibility as he had always done, even if from afar.
19 November 2023
Father asks once more.
« .I want to begin the plans to move my mother towards Shiraz ؟ Are there any objections »
Uncle Ali says Shiraz is a nice city. Uncle Javed says that Meymand has no medical care, and it will be good for his cousin to have a proper bed. Arash doesn’t say anything, and Behrouz whispers his proud approval into his brother’s ear.
Father is glad.
This time there is not a single person who protests.