Aziz Aqa's Gold Filling*

by Goli Taraqqi **
Translated from the Persian
by Farzin Yazdanfar & Frank Lewis

Persian painting

Persian painting: Garden of Secrets
Artist: Alavi

We try to catch bus no. 70, but it sets off before we get there. My little girl runs after it for a few steps, but gives up the chase before reaching the intersection. We will wait for the next bus.


Suddenly it begins to snow. The snowflakes, like translucent dust, swirl through the air. A pleasant calm has descended over the usual bustle of the city; everything is still and white. This is the first time in the eight years we have lived in Paris that such a heavy snow has fallen.

I still hear my grandmother's voice echoing in my ears: "The angels are busy cleaning house, dusting the clouds and sweeping the carpets of the sky."

I am thinking about the sunny winters when I was still in Tehran. I think of the Alborz Mountains standing tall under the clear, bright sky, of the banter of the snow sweepers pushing the snow off the flat rooftops of the houses, and of the tall poplar trees, white like tall old ladies, standing at the far end of the garden.

As a child, when it started snowing, it seemed it would never end. Saturday, Sunday, Monday, I would count the days and the centimeters, ten, twenty, half a meter. The snow would pile up and the schools would be closed for a week.

What happiness! What unbelievable joy! For a week I could stay under the covers in the morning, I could play with all my cousins in the streets. A whole week and no fear of seeing the headmistress or my bad-tempered math teacher. A whole week without opening our textbook on religious law or doing homework! No memorizing long, meaningless poems or practicing penmanship with reed pens and black ink. Seven days of play and freedom, released from school!

How wonderful it was to have company at home when the snow blocked the roads; our guests would stay for two or three nights until they could go back home.

One of these guests was my kind, thin grandmother. Night and day she would pray, wishing us a long life full of health and happiness. Her older sister, Bibi Jan, would also be there. She was practically deaf and almost senile. She used to mistake me for my brother and my brother for one of my cousins and my cousin for our neighbor's son and our neighbor's son for me.

Dear, sweet, Aunt Azar was another of those guests. Her crazy kids were always playing leapfrog in the hallways. They were worse than wild monkeys, always howling as they climbed up the walls and trees or slid down the handrails.

My uncle, Ahmad Khan, was the kindest dentist in the world, and couldn't bring himself to pull a single tooth. Every time one of us cried, tears would well up in his eyes.

Then there was my older uncle, who had been an artillery officer in the army. He was so scared of horses, rifles and cannons that right from the start he hung up his uniform and left the army. He decided to stay at home. He wore an apron, made delicious jams, and knitted colorful woolen pullovers.

Finally, there was Tuba Khanom. She was a fat, lazy lady, who knew weird stories and messed around with jinn and ghosts. She also knew sorcery and juggled for us. All these guests would stay in our house until the snow melted. I loved our guest-filled house and its crowded rooms with quilts spread side by side on the rugs and the tables on which one could see all kinds of dainty foods - pitchers of sherbet, bowls filled with pomegranate seeds, sholeh-zard, pistachios, sowhans, Isfahani gaz, and the delicious baklava that my mother used to make.

How I loved the thousand intoxicating smells that would fill the nooks and crannies of our house and waft through the corridors - the smell of tobacco from grandma's hookah, the pleasant vapor steaming up from Bibi Jan's boiling concoctions, the fragrance of saffron on the warm rice, mixed with the smell of cinnamon, cumin, rose water, roasted onions, and half-charred kebabs over the hot charcoals.

I loved to fall asleep listening to the whispers and muffled laughter of the grown-ups in the adjoining rooms, to be lulled to sleep by the soothing sounds of my younger uncle playing the tar and the sweet humming of Aunt Azar and the clicking of my mother's slippers going up and down the stairs. I would wake up in the middle of the night and see that the lights were still on, the grown-ups were still awake and the kitchen was still full of people cooking and rattling the pots and pans. Then I would drift off to sleep again, a sleep as light as a feather.

Tonight, watching the snowflakes, I am happy and excited again, as in the days of my childhood. My daughter, too, is excited. She spins around, dances, and makes snowballs with her little hands, tossing them here and there. She is constantly running into the street and looking impatiently for bus no. 70 to arrive. Her impatience reminds me how my own little heart would beat anxiously every afternoon after school as I stood in the street waiting, counting the minutes, to see my friend, Aziz Aqa.

I tilt my head back and open my mouth until the snowflakes fall on my tongue. How good they taste and smell! It's as if thousands upon thousands of jasmine petals are falling from the sky. I feel that my feet are no longer on the ground and I am floating in space as though I were in a glass bubble being blown backwards by a hidden breath to the days when I was a kid.

I see myself as a ten-year-old child standing at the intersection near the school waiting for the bus to Shemiran to come. Our new house is at the other end of the world. We live in the middle of nowhere behind the hills, where there are no other houses. Sometimes at night, we hear jackals howling. My mother is frightened. Our cook, Hasan Aqa, is scared too. He makes his bed in the hallway behind the door of my father's room. I love living in the middle of nowhere. I am not afraid of the huge water reservoirs or the pond which is full of frogs. I am not even afraid of the black shadows of the trees that look like wicked people. I use old sheets to make a small house for myself behind the boxwood trees in the back of the garden. Nobody can find me there. I hide my snacks under the bricks, and if my grades are too low, I bury my homework in the ground so my mother will not find out.

The poplar trees are my playmates. Every tree has its own name. The taller ones are boys. As soon as school lets out and I get home, I toss my satchel aside and run to tell my playmates everything I have done. I show them my paintings and read them passages from my books. Some of them are stupid and yawn. Some of them are naughty and jealous. They don't listen. I kiss the ones who are my friends and stick my chewing gum on their leaves. I punish the ones who talk behind my back and tie their branches up with rope.

It takes half an hour to get to Firuzkuhi School if my father gives me a ride. It takes more than an hour to get there if we take the bus. My brother is older than I am and he is allowed to come and go by himself, but I can't even take one step without holding onto Hasan Aqa's hand. This is my mother's rule, but I do whatever I want to and I will skin Hasan Aqa alive if he tells my mother because I know that the key to the storage house, which is supposed to be lost, is in the lining of his jacket, and when my mother isn't home, he takes lentils, rice, and beans by the handful from their gunnysacks, puts them in a box, hides the box behind the outhouse in the back of the garden and takes it with him on his days off. For this reason we don't interfere with each other. We are even.

At four o'clock school gets out and Hasan Aqa comes to pick me up. We stand at the bus stop close to the intersection, waiting for the bus to Shemiran. It is snowing today. The snowflakes are so big that each one seems to be the size of a saucer. Everything is white with snow. Hasan Aqa, like a ghost, is standing by the wall. His face is like a wisp of transparent cloud, like the clouds I see in the sky every night and I know that these clouds look like the people who lived a thousand years ago. Some of these men are crowned and have long beard and ride their horses very fast. If you look carefully at the moon, you will see that there is a kid sitting there with his head on his knees, crying. I keep pointing him out to my stupid brother, but he can't see him. My mother is afraid of the full moon and tells me that I shouldn't stare at the stars. Sometimes the big dragon that lives up there appears in the dark blue of the sky and then disappears into the Milky Way. When I tell Hasan Aqa about the dragon, he gets scared and screams. He hides himself under the quilt and begins praying at the top of his lungs.

The bus that is supposed to take us to Shemiran hasn't come yet. I am excited about the snow and keep sliding on it in the middle of the street. I kick the trees and knock a little sprinkle of snow from the branches onto my head. Hasan Aqa, who has my backpack and lunch pail under his arm, is shivering. He opens his mouth and a white vapor comes out. He has my father's old shoes on. They are too big for him; so big that there is an empty space like a hole behind his ankle, filled with snow. His hands are small, too. He has my mother's gloves, which don't match. One is made of leather red as jujube, and the other is black lace. My father always buys a new jacket, a new shirt, new underwear, and a new pair of shoes and socks for everyone at Nowruz, but Hasan Aqa doesn't wear his new clothes. He either puts them in his suitcase and waits until the end of the summer, when he takes them back to his village, or sells them. If he sells them, he hides the money in the chimney. I am the only person who knows where he hides his money, but I don't touch it. I swear.

The sound of a bus engine can be heard in the distance. Hasan Aqa jumps up. I am happy and anxiously watch the small white structure clattering toward us. I say to myself, "If the driver gives me a signal by blinking the bus's lights, I will get on. Otherwise, I'll wait until the next bus comes, even if Hasan Aqa freezes and it gets very late and mother goes mad with worry or even if I die of starvation and exhaustion." This is a secret that nobody knows about. I mean nobody! It's a secret between Aziz Aqa and me. Even Hasan Aqa doesn't know about it. He doesn't understand why some days I refuse to get on the bus. It's because if the bus doesn't signal me by blinking its lights, the driver is not Aziz Aqa. I run from Hasan Aqa and ignore all his protestations and complaints. He has threatened me several times, and wants to tell my mother about it. Every time he threatens me, I bring up the key to the storage house which is in the lining of his jacket, and then he doesn't bother me anymore. If the bus flashes its lights three times, it's Aziz Aqa. Every night before going to bed, I say to myself, "I won't get on any bus unless the driver is Aziz Aqa." I say this instead of the prayer that my mother has taught me to say. This is the silent promise that Aziz Aqa and I have made and we are supposed to keep this promise until doomsday. Of course, I have never spoken to my big friend, who is even taller than my father. I don't dare. Even the cops are afraid of his scary face.

The bus flashes its lights on and off in the distance. My heart spins like a top. The bus stops and I get on, with Hasan Aqa in front of me. Aziz Aqa looks at me, greeting me with his puffy red eyes. His hair is greasy and curly. Hasan Aqa says that Aziz Aqa's hair has a six-month perm. His eyebrows are black and his thick bushy mustache covers his mouth. I sit on the seat behind him. Hasan Aqa sits in the back of the bus where it is warmer. As soon as he sits down, he falls asleep. There are only a few people on the bus, all of them dozing. It's quite a journey from school to my house, especially in the winter time when it snows and all the cars that have no chains on their tires slip and slide, blocking the road. Some days Aziz Aqa is tired. He yawns. His breath is stronger than the smell of iodine that my mother puts on my scraped knees. I feel dizzy and my stomach has started making noises. He looks at me in the mirror and makes faces. He puffs out his cheeks, wiggles his nose, and pretends to be cross-eyed. I put my hands over my mouth so the rest of the people on the bus won't hear my laughing. I laugh hysterically to myself. My friend, Aziz Aqa, is like a demon. All the little kids are afraid of him. He has tattoos on his hand and his upper chest. A thick purple line stretches from ear to ear across his neck, as if someone had tried to cut his throat. My mother never rides the bus. She has her own car and driver, but she knows that there are demons like Aziz Aqa out there and that is why she worries about me. She doesn't like me to go to school by bus, but this is my father's order and it cannot be disobeyed.

Hasan Aqa has fallen asleep all curled up in the back of the bus. A cold breeze is blowing through the bus from a broken window. The passengers are freezing. Aziz Aqa takes off his jacket and covers my legs. His jacket stinks. I want the others to see me as I proudly touch the collar of his greasy jacket. My fingers become smelly; a strange smell which is neither in our house nor in my aunts', my uncles' or my cousins' houses. It is not even the smell of cats, dogs, cows, and sheep. It is a smell from an unknown world; the smell of the bad things that kids shouldn't do and the things they shouldn't know about just yet.

My mother's smell is different from any other. It is the smell of European perfume and powder, the smell of movie stars, fashion magazines, Lalehzar Avenue, and the ballroom of the Shahrdari Café. My mother's smell is the smell of the days yet to come, the smell of tomorrow and the good things that I expect to have in the future.

With Aziz Aqa's jacket on my legs, I have become another person, a kid who doesn't have to be neat, or studious, or the best student in the class. A kid who doesn't have to wear huge bows in her hair, greet everyone and bow, or recite poems at all the parties she attends, poems that she has learned in school, but hasn't yet memorized very well. A child who doesn't have to play her first piano lesson, which is nothing but a repetition of do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti, for her talkative and impatient relatives. A child who doesn't have to compete in the "Most Beautiful Child" pageant and lose.

With Aziz Aqa's jacket on my legs, I begin to look just like him. I imagine that I have tattoos all over my body and half of my teeth have gold fillings. I see myself walking around in the streets just like the daughters of Fatemeh the laundress. I see myself giggling, riding a motorcycle with the most handsome boy in the neighborhood, and going with him to see a Tarzan movie.

As soon as we reach the Abshar Station, Aziz Aqa stops the bus. Most of the passengers get off to drink a cup of tea in the nearby teahouse. Hasan Aqa and I don't move. Before getting off the bus, Aziz Aqa takes a small bag out of the glove compartment and puts it on my lap. He looks at me in the mirror and winks. His face is full of kindness and soft wrinkles. He looks like a rag doll. My friend, Aziz Aqa, is the best demon in the world. Something like a transparent vapor comes off his hands and his feet, his breath, his red eyes, and his old greasy jacket. A Magical vapor which surrounds me; like a snowflake, I melt in it. This makes me so happy that I want to stay like this. Here on the bus, for a thousand years without ever growing up or changing, like a statue made of stone.

Today, Aziz Aqa has brought me dried cherries. Hasan Aqa, who is sitting in the back of the bus, calls out my name and asks me what I am up to. I ignore him and keep counting my dried cherries. The passengers are standing outside drinking their tea. Aziz Aqa sips his booze and goes behind the trees to piss. I try not to look. I hold my face and keep chewing my dried cherries, but I can see him in my imagination and my ears turn red as I blush.

The bus starts off again, moving like an ant very slowly toward Vanak Square. Sometimes the bus slides back. Other cars are sliding too. They come to rest in the middle of the road, blocking our way. It is getting dark now, and the whole world is white. Hasan Aqa, in the back of the bus, is scared and keeps calling out my name. I know that he is going to cry soon. He's always on the verge of tears. Every day he cries two or three times for no reason at all. My mother believes that Hasan aqa's sorrow is like the clucking of hens - there is no special reason for it. My father says that Hasan Aqa is a stupid ass, which makes Hasan Aqa laugh, because he likes being an ass. As he takes the dishes and plates away, he looks at my father chewing the pieces of kebab that he has made. He is satisfied that my father likes his cooking.

Cold air is coming through the broken window next to me and blowing on one side of my face. My neck is stiff and my back is frozen. Aziz Aqa is anxiously watching me in the mirror. He stops the bus and tries to close the crack in the window with old newspapers and a piece of an old rag. After he's done, he sits in the driver's seat again. I know his silent language. I know that he is worried about me and wants me to change my seat. I know that he is talking to me with his eyes and telling me: "Get up! Get up, you stubborn little girl! You will catch a cold. Sit in the back of the bus. It's warmer there. I'm worried about you. You may get sick." I answer him with my eyes and tell him: "No! I am not going to move. This is my seat and I am not going to give it up." I like Aziz Aqa's concern. His motherly affection shows how deeply he cares for me. I close my eyes and travel through time to the glorious past, to the age of the great kings when loyal brave men used to walk on red-hot coals in their bare feet, and fight with seven-headed dragons just to prove their honesty and allegiance to the king.

The bus has stopped. There is a traffic jam. It is cold everywhere. The right side of my body and my toes have grown numb and I can't feel my feet. My head is heavy and feels as though it has been filled with air. It grows larger and then smaller. I am freezing. Through my half-closed eyelids, I see shadows dancing and whirling in the snow. My nose is running and my eyes are burning. Suddenly, I feel a hot flash. I am burning and trembling now and my teeth are chattering. Tears are pouring from my eyes. I can't help it. Aziz Aqa is touching my cheeks with his rough fingers trying to wipe the tears from my cheeks and dry them. He smiles at me with a closed mouth. His assistants, who know him well, say that all of Aziz Aqa's teeth have gold fillings. I don't believe them. I ask my mother about it. She doesn't know either. She doesn't even know who Aziz Aqa is. She doesn't like my question and threatens to punish me severely if I look at bus drivers or if I talk to them. My mother believes that only no-good lower-class people have gold fillings and they are thieves and murderers who do bad things to little girls. I don't believe it and I am sad that my mother is sometimes mean and tells lies. She makes fun of Aunt Azar and calls her fat and ugly. I get sad when I see that there are many things my mother doesn't know. For instance, she doesn't know the names of the capital cities in most countries and she isn't familiar with the basic rules of mathematics. In spite of this, I think she is the best and prettiest mother in the whole world. At night, I pretend to have a stomachache so that she will sit by my bed all night. I want to tell her about all the bad thoughts I have about her, but my mother is always busy. She is always in a hurry and doesn't listen to me. If she finds out that I eavesdropped on her while she was talking to my father, she will punish me severely.

Aziz Aqa is frustrated with the snow and the traffic jam. He tries to make his way through the snare, but he can't. It is almost as if we were lost in a big white desert. I hear Hasan Aqa's voice from afar. He is moaning. He is so scared that he can't stop hiccupping. I have a strange feeling. I feel I am getting sick. My stomach is filled with dried cherries and I feel like throwing up. With both hands I am holding Aziz Aqa's coat tightly around myself. I'm getting dizzy; I try to stand up but there is no strength in my legs. I open my mouth, but I can't talk. There is snow everywhere. The whole bus, the whole town and the whole world are covered with snow, and I am frozen under this arch of white. It seems that I have been frozen for years. The only parts of my body that are not frozen are my eyes, burning like two furnaces, and my tears, pouring down. My mouth, dry and bitter, is gasping for water. Water, water, water.

A cool, perfumed hand, scented with powder and lotion, is caressing my forehead. Someone is praying in my ears and blowing on my face. Familiar faces are standing around my bed. Aunt Azar's big, sweet eyes are sparkling under the light and I can smell Bibi Jan's concoction. I recognize the feel of my own soft blanket and clean sheets. Now I know that I am in my own bed, with my mother sitting by my side. My heart is filled with relief. I close my eyes and fall asleep. I see in my dreams that I am being carried piggyback by Aziz Aqa and he, like a flying carpet, is flying above the clouds and taking me to visit distant exotic cities. I wish he would open his mouth so that I could see his gold fillings. But what a pity that his lips are sealed and his mouth is closed like a jewel box.

I am terribly sick. Dr. Kawsari comes to visit me every Thursday. I have a rasping cough and at night am very feverish. Every time he comes to visit me, he changes my medicine, and I get sicker. I am thin and pale, and my hair is falling out. I look deathly ill. My parents have started consulting another doctor. He coughs more than I do and his medicine is not available in any pharmacy.

Days and weeks fly by. I have forgotten about school. I sleep during the day and cough even while asleep. My grandmother sits by my bed holding her prayer beads and softly reciting her prayers. When I am awake, she tells me stories and spoon-feeds me. Every day I look at the persimmon tree out in the garden. I see its bare, leafless branches, and I count the days until spring comes. Every day, around four o'clock, Aziz Aqa's bus passes by the intersection in front of the school. I see him in my imagination looking at my vacant seat as he passes by. Perhaps he has forgotten me by now and gives the snacks that he hides in the glove compartment to some other girl. This makes me jealous. My coughing gets worse. My mother gets worried and quickly calls Dr. Kawsari to come and see me. I hear my father giving orders to the servants to make preparation to take me to Europe.

I know that I will flunk school this year. This makes me sad and I cry. Aunt Azar says that there is nothing as important as one's health. I wish it were summer and the cherry tree would blossom. Our house is more crowded in the summertime. Our family is like a big tribe. I have dozens of aunts, uncles, and cousins. My father is the head of this tribe and everybody holds him in high regard. Every Friday these people eat in our house and my mother asks half of the guests to stay overnight. All of us sleep on the terrace in the garden, the kids lined up in a row and the grown-ups a little farther away under the poplar trees. They sleep on wooden beds under mosquito nets. My father sleeps in the arbor where you can hear the murmur of purling streams on either side all night long.

My grandmother sleeps next to the kids and watches them. For each child she leaves a glass of ice water beside the bed and a handful of jasmine under the pillow. She counts the kids and calls their names to make sure that everybody is there.

I love the sounds of nighttime; the faraway frogs, the nearby crickets, the persistent buzz of winged insects in my ears. Before falling asleep, I count the stars and gaze at the clouds, which are shaped like people. One of them resembles Aziz Aqa. Way up there, he calls my name and makes a face. My cousins whisper and my grandmother lashes their feet with a long twig, without moving from her bed. My youngest uncle snores, which makes the stray dogs in the vacant lot howl. Bibi Jan talks in her sleep and Tuba Khanom scratches herself all night. One of the kids keeps cutting the cheese. My grandmother jumps up angrily and wants to know who is doing it. Everybody pretends to be asleep. Nobody utters a word.

Sleep overtakes all eyes as a sweet-scented breeze wafts by and the stars glitter in the sky. Some nights it rains and my grandmother covers our beds with a long, wide piece of plastic which she keeps close at hand. My cousins and I cling to each other beneath that huge tarp like ants under the earth and listen to the raindrops falling one by one.

I have been a prisoner in my room since I got sick. Everything frightens me. Fear, like an invisible man, is everywhere. Sometimes in the afternoon, when all the grown-ups are taking a nap, he comes into my room to visit me. Sometimes he stands at the window or he hides himself under my mother's skirt. This morning I saw him in the mirror and it seemed he was making fun of me. I know it is fear that makes me cough. My mother doesn't believe in Dr. Kawsari anymore. She throws away his prescriptions. My uncle, who is a doctor, comes to stay at our place every night. He has made an arrangement with my mother to administer my daily injection. Today, it is his turn and the next day it will be my mother's turn. My father believes that European doctors are brilliant. They can cure a patient with the first prescription even if he is seriously ill. Aunt Azar looks at me with her sad eyes. She kisses me as though she will never see me again. Hasan Aqa has an old post card with a picture of a fat blond woman dressed in velvet and lace. He believes that this woman is the Queen of Paris. She is wicked and does not believe in the Koran and the Prophet Mohammad. Hasan Aqa is worried about my mother and me. He begs my grandmother to pray for us every day and night so that we won't be harmed by the impious Queen. My mother is happy and busily packs our suitcases. I am sure that there is fear in Paris, too, and it will follow us around wherever we go. My grandmother is constantly saying her prayers and blowing on my face. Every day, when the sun goes down, Tuba Khanom feeds me a glass of cooked liver extract. All kinds of amulets and charms are tied to my neck and feet and, under my pillow, there are small pieces of folded papers with prayers and spells written on them.

I still think about school. I think about the afternoons around four o'clock when school gets out and the bus comes out of the distance to take me home, and like a half-forgotten dream, before it reaches me, it sinks in a cloud of white. Before going to bed, I still say to myself: "I won't get on the bus unless it is Aziz Aqa's bus." We have made this promise and we will keep it until doomsday. I swear and when I swear, I close my eyes and hold my breath, and my heart beats like a drum. I am sure that Aziz Aqa will hear the pounding of my heart and respond to it.

We are supposed to leave for Paris in three days. My grandmother, who is sitting by the window, is making necklaces and bracelets for me out of jasmine blossoms. Everyone is so sad. Even Tuba Khanom, who is always dancing about and snapping her fingers, is very sad. Her eyes are tearful and she wipes her nose with her sleeve.

Someone is knocking. I say to myself: "This must be a new doctor or one of my aunts coming to visit me." These days everyone is knocking at our door, wanting to visit with us.

Hasan Aqa comes in and stands by the door. He is stupefied and stares at my mother. He wants to say something, but he doesn't have the courage. He is scared and has started hiccupping as he always does when he gets scared. He points at someone or something outside, but he is unable to speak. My mother is irritated and impatient. She gets up and follows Hasan Aqa into the hallway. I hear my mother's voice asking, "Who?"

I can't hear Hasan Aqa's answer. I can only hear my mother's voice getting louder and louder. Siren-like, it makes everyone nervous. My grandmother gets up and closes the window. She pulls the blanket up to my chin. I hear my mother's voice again, saying, "The bus driver?"

My heart convulsing, I try to rise up and sit in bed. Hasan Aqa is bleating, just like a sheep about to be slaughtered.

My mother's voice rings in my ears: "Who? What? Which bus?"

Poor Hasan Aqa is scared half to death and stammering. I hear my mother shouting. She wants to know how a worthless bus driver dares to come to her house to visit her daughter. She orders Hasan Aqa to tell him if he shows up again, they'll break his legs.

I throw the blanket aside. In my bare feet, I jump out of bed and run toward the hallway. I am in my thin nightgown. Tuba Khanom tries to stop me, but I push her and bite her hand. My mother is astonished by my behavior. She orders me to go back to bed. I pay no attention to her threats and run down the hallway to my father's office. I go inside the room and lock the door. There is a window facing the street. I draw the curtain, and jump on the chair. Now I can see the poor, meek Aziz Aqa standing in the middle of the street like a shy, defenseless child. He doesn't know what to do. He is holding a small bag in his hand. His disheveled hair is neatly combed and his shirt is buttoned up to the collar. He doesn't want anyone to see the tattoo on his chest. I open the window and call his name. He looks around, but he doesn't see me. He decides to go. I call out again more loudly and wave my hand. He turns around and looks up to see me. His face is still kind. Tears are pouring from my eyes and I am saying words that are incomprehensible even to me. Aziz Aqa greets me by nodding his head. God knows how happy he is. He comes closer to me and stops. He looks around to make sure that nobody is there; he looks at the front door. He is holding the bag in his hand tightly. He comes closer again. Now he is standing by the window and I can smell that same odor again. I bend over to grab the bag, but I can't reach it. I would like to touch his tattoo. I'd like to frighten my mother, Tuba Khanom, and Aunt Azar by showing Aziz Aqa and his tattoo to them. Aziz Aqa is happier than I am. He holds his face up and laughs at me. With this laughter, something strange happens: he opens his lips so wide that I can't see his nose and eyes. His mouth is like a dark cave. I am scared and my heart is beating faster. I am hot and the sweat is flowing profusely from my body. I'd like to throw myself into this dark cave which is full of unbelievable sounds and odors. I stretch my body as far as I can. I bend forward. Now Aziz Aqa's mouth is under my face and, between his dark blue lips, I can see his gold filling, shining like Aladdin's lamp. I know that this magic lamp will give me everything I wish. I close my eyes and make a wish. I wish I could get well again, I wish my coughing would stop and I wish my fear would go away.

We arrived in Paris and stayed at the Hotel Wagram. Three days after our arrival, a French doctor came to visit me. He wrote a detailed prescription. I was feeling much better and my coughing had stopped. Nobody knew about my secret and the magic lamp. My mother thought it was because of the French doctor that I was recovering so quickly. But I knew who and what had cured me. Every night, in the darkness of the room under the bed sheet, I touched the imaginary Aladdin's lamp and said my old prayer.

We stayed in Paris for more than six months. We stayed there until I got completely well and my mother did all her shopping and my father visited all the animals in the Paris zoo. After we returned to Tehran, my parents changed my school. The new school was very close to our house; I could walk there. But every time I walked to school, my eyes searched for Aziz Aqa's bus.

Years went by. I had become a respectable young woman. The old buses were replaced by new cabs with young drivers. The vacant lots around our house filled up with houses, small and large. The neighborhood kids had all moved away. My cousins went to the United States, and I was supposed to go to Europe to pursue my studies. My mother's chauffeur used to take me everywhere I wanted to go and I hardly ever took a bus. I was bewitched and bewildered by my youth and the bright future spread out before me. Every moment of my life something new was happening and I, too, changed, along with these events. But the passage of time, my mother's wrinkles, Hasan Aqa's grey hair, my father's death, my marriage, my divorce, the Revolution, leaving my country and living abroad - none of them made me forget about my old friend. I was still loyal to him. Every time I was sad or faced a problem in my life, I could see his miraculous mouth in the back of my mind among my childhood memories, suddenly appearing with its gold filling shining like the morning star in the darkness of night.

I can see bus no. 70 turning at the intersection and slowly approaching us. I hear a childish voice saying: "I won't get on the bus unless it is Aziz Aqa's bus." My daughter wants to get on the bus before me. She waves her hand to the bus driver. Her eyes are full of playful thoughts and secrets. Perhaps she, too, has a secret, a secret that she doesn't want to tell me, just as I didn't want to tell my secret to my mother, Hasan Aqa, or even the poplar trees in the back of the garden.

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