Perhaps the worst thing of all is that there will be large and inexplicable lapses in moral behavior this year, he read, lapses that can only be explained by the influence of the comet.
A low murmur came from the crowd as people began discussing the lapses they had already witnessed in the first days of the New Year. She took more than her share of water from the well, I heard Zaynab say. She was Gholams wife, and never had a good word to say about anyone.
Hajj Ali finally arrived at the subject that concerned my future. On the topic of marriages, the year ahead is mixed, he said. The almanac says nothing about those that take place in the next few months, but those contracted later this year will be full of passion and strife.
I looked anxiously at my mother, since I expected to be married at that time, now that I was already fourteen. Her eyes were troubled, and I could see she did not like what she had heard.
Hajj Ali turned to the last page in the almanac, looked up, and paused, the better to capture the crowds attention. This final prophecy is about the behavior of women, and it is the most disquieting of all, he said. Throughout the year, the women of Iran will fail to be acquiescent.
When are they ever? I heard Gholam say, and laughter bubbled around him.
My father smiled at my mother, and she brightened from within, for he loved her just the way she was. People always used to say that he treated her as tenderly as if she were a second wife.
Women will suffer from their own perverse behavior, Hajj Ali warned. Many will bear the curse of sterility, and those who succeed in giving birth will wail in unusual pain.
My eyes met Golis, and I saw my own fear reflected in hers. Goli was worried about childbirth, while I was troubled by the thought of a disorderly union. I prayed that the comet would shoot across the firmament and leave us undisturbed.
Seeing me shiver, my father wrapped a lambs wool blanket over my shoulders, and my mother took one of my hands between hers and rubbed it to warm me. From where I stood in the center of my village, I was surrounded by the familiar sights of home. Not far away was our small mosque, its dome sparkling with tile; the hammam where I bathed every week, steamy inside and dappled with light; and the scarred wooden stalls for the tiny market that sprang up on Thursdays, where villagers traded fruit, vegetables, medicines, carpets, and tools. A path led away from the public buildings and passed between a cluster of mud-brick homes that sheltered all two hundred souls in my village, and it ended at the foot of the mountain and the rutted paths where my goats roamed for food. All these sights filled me with comfort, so that when my mother squeezed my hand to see how I was feeling, I squeezed back. But then I pulled my hand away because I didnt want to seem like a child.
Baba, I whispered to my father in a small voice. What if Hajj Alis predictions about marriage come true?
My father couldnt hide the concern in his eyes, but his voice was firm. Your husband will pave your path with rose petals, he replied. If at any time, he fails to treat you with honor . . .
He paused for a moment, and his dark eyes looked fierce, as if what he might do were too terrible to imagine. He started to say something, but then stopped himself.
. . . you can always come back to us, he finished.
Shame and blame would follow a wife who returned to her parents, but my father didnt seem to care. His kind eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled at me.
Hajj Ali concluded the meeting with a brief prayer. Some of the villagers broke off into family groups to discuss the predictions, while others started walking back to their homes. Goli looked as if she wanted to talk, but her husband told her it was time to go home. She whispered that her feet ached from the weight in her belly and said good night.
Copyright © 2007 by Anita Amirrezvani
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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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