I arrive at Istanbul Airport. I open my Instagram; I see people on the streets, and I hear for the first time: “Zin, Zhian, Azadi”. In my dreams, I could see this image, but now it is real. I cry.. then I smile.
I am in the sky; my heart is heavy. The pretty girl sitting next to me talks about positive energies, yoga, and self-care. I close my eyes and wish to arrive to be done with this anxiety that is killing me. The three hours from Istanbul to Tehran take hours. I have my SIM card in my mouth, and I think if they arrest me, I will swallow it.
I arrive at my brother’s house. Two little kids are on the terrace waiting for me to arrive. They shout, “aunt is here, aunt is here!”. My heart is full.
I am in the village where I grew up. My father is here to sort out some issues on his farms. He is old and blind. His wife is there too. I had lost my internet two days ago. I suddenly wake up at 4 am and my internet works. I see the picture of a woman on a car bonnet, burning her headscarf while men clap for her. I smile… then I cry.
I lost my internet again. I find some books in the basement to keep myself busy. I am lying down where, 20 years back, I learned M, the girl who hadn’t gone home for two nights, was set on fire by her brother. Her mother testified that she did this to herself. I look at my father, old and blind, kind also. He asks why it is their business whether a girl has a hijab or not. Why did they kill this young, poor woman? I look at his face; he is sincere. Does he remember what he said 20 years ago when she learned about M? He said only a grave can hide such shame.
My internet goes again. I want to go back to the city to see, if not attend, the protests in person. But I remember I am here to spend these precious days with my father, to alleviate the guilt of leaving him for another year. I wake up again at 4am, and the internet is working. I see a song that had been released has gone viral and the singer has been arrested, while my internet was gone. I whisper, “Baraye Azadi… (For Freedom)”
It is the last day in my hometown, I go to the cemetery to visit my mom. It’s been a year. I cry hard, this time not only for my mom’s life wasted but for Sarina, for Nika, for Zhina, for M, for our neighbor’s daughter, whom I saw with a child’s hand to hand and another one in her belly. I cry hard; I tell my mom this is a goodbye; I might not come back.
I am in my brother’s office. We hear motorcycles passing by. I look out of the window. Young students run while the motorcycles pass by, shooting plastic bullets at their faces. I go out and start walking with my scarf on my shoulder. I am shaking, waiting for a bullet to come and take my eyes. When I hear a motorcycle approaching, I turn my head, like I used to when serial acid attacks were happening in town.
It has been two weeks now, I go home, and there are new “Women, Life and Freedom” tags on the wall in front of our house. There are tags everywhere in the city. They remove them, and we write again. There are people on the rooftops chanting, “Down with Khamenei.” My sister-in-law and I sit on the balcony and join the people chanting “Down with Khamenei.” My brother is sitting in the living room.
I changed my flight; I am leaving. The last thing to do is to see R. She is not at her place; her partner was arrested, so she hid at a friend’s place. My internet is not working again, so I text her with my friend’s phone. She asks me to send her a video so that she would make sure it is me. She sends me the address, and I go. Sh, who was arrested on the first day of the revolution, has just been released. He says “When I arrived home, I saw “Woman, Life Freedom” tags on the wall in front of my house. I started calling people to tell them about this.” I think while we were writing the tags, the ones in prison did not know whether there was a revolution happening, a revolution who themselves ignited its fire. Then I think of Zeynab who has been imprisoned for almost ten years now.
I am at the airport, where I used to be a student. The border officer looks at my passport and then looks at me. Her look; I want to say “yes, I’m coming back from war; I survived Gilead.” She asks one or two questions and I answer; she stamps my passport. I see the green grass, the clean air, and the kids running around… I burst into tears. I survived Gilead, but I left my people behind.