Had he still been alive, their father would have wasted no time in making a point of this Eastern descent. Javid Aminpour often boasted a lineage to Genghis Khan, beating his chest while yodeling Mongolian war songs, in imitation of an ancestry he was determined to stake a claim to. He died two months before Layla's first birthday, so she could barely recall her father's theatrics, but Bahar's many bedtime stories over the years had given Layla ownership over her own set of memories.
Layla never knew her mother either, for she died shortly after pushing her out into the harsh world. After a nine-year drought, it seemed that this last child had released in Shirin Aminpour an inner tourniquet that kept on flowing until there was nothing more to give. The weary doctors in Tehran General Hospital had no explanation for the merciless bleeding and just shrugged with defeat when they told her father the news. They failed to mention that, as the last drops of blood seeped into the hospital's sea green bedsheets, a tiny bud had popped out of his wife's womb. When the flower seed fell into the pool of blood, it blossomed into the face of a full-grown rose. The fearful doctors had kept this to themselves, partly to avoid a malpractice suit, and partly because the rosewater and cinnamon scent that accompanied the flower's miraculous unfolding reminded them of a time when military guards did not hover behind every surgery room door. So it is that people who are denied hope become greedy hoarders when granted even the smallest of drops.
But the doctors' selfish motives had made little difference in Layla's fate. Even from those first minutes in the outside world, she was charming all who crossed her path. In Layla's hopeful aura, men like Benny Corcoran were free to relive the ambitions of their idle youths, dreams that were once entertained behind closed doors as they rubbed away under sweaty teenage quilts. Those were the moments of pure self-indulgence, before the repercussions of manhood were thrust upon them in the form of soul-breaking jobs and nagging wives.
Sensing Benny's adoring eyes on her, Layla quickened her pace down Main Mall. A gaggle of primary school children milling about outside the news agency were too busy sucking gobstoppers between crooked teeth to notice her. On the opposite side of the street, a beauty salon, Athey's Shear Delight, was just opening up its flamingo pink window blinds. Still too early for customers, the three hairdressers were enjoying their morning tea inside as they flipped through old magazines. When Layla walked by, the beauticians dropped their Irish Women's Weekly and Celtic Hair and stared with open mouths out the window.
"Now who do you suppose that is, then? Would you look at the length of skirt on her!" Joan Donnelly, hair colorist and sister to the proprietor, slammed her teacup down and marched over to the window, widening the gap between two blinds with her fingers. Joan was a small, nervous woman. Although blessed with a talent for both hi and low-lites, she had found no cure for the barrage of dandruff that fell daily from her own bowl-cut fringe; the flakes sat like a conscience on her pointy little shoulders. "She looks right foreign to me. Spanish or Italian, wouldn't you say?"
"Haven't ya heard, so? Sure, I was meaning to tell ya!" Nineteen-year-old Evie Watson's sparrow voice piped up. "That Delmonico woman, she's got the old pastry place up and running again. With some sort of foreign hippies, no less. To listen to Dervla Quigley tell it she's ready to put Corcoran's out of business."
In spite of her bulimic frame, or perhaps because of it, Evie was always hungry for approval and did her best to gather tidbits of Ballinacroagh information that might prove useful. Evie's eagerness, though, was quite different from Dervla Quigley's lust for gossip. Her chatter was grounded on good intentions and hopes that it would boost her position from salon apprentice to full-time stylist, like she had always dreamed.
Excerpted from Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran. Copyright © 2005 by Marsha Mehran. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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