Hopes, dreams and fears in text messages from Tehran

Sima Ayan

November 15

24 of Aban 1401, all video clips of today begin with the date

The strikes begin in earnest
Shops in many neighborhoods, many shopping centers shut down
Most significantly the great bazaar of Tehran
Internet is not down yet so we watch shuttered shops all over the country
Day time things are pretty normal in my neighborhood, central city
Evening I venture out
Turn south toward Valiasr Square
People singly and in groups pouring into Valiasr street
Pairs holding hands
So many wearing masks, thanks to Covid ample supply
Not that it’s effective against tear gas or even for concealing identity
They arm to the teeth we wear N95 masks
Just an attempt at armor, something, anything
Shops now shuttered, dark, deserted
Eerie site but strangely gratifying
People walk decisively, fast, silent
Go uptown, go downtown, different people advise
No sloganeering just walking, tense, silent, not making much eye contact, brisk
But many many people, pouring on both sides of the street
I’m alone, many are alone
Many women alone
I stop to listen to one woman asking about tear gas
We talk and start walking together
We’re at the square and decide to turn around and walk north
Another woman walking alone joins us, then another
People taking sure steps but aimlessly, up and down the street, silent, bumping into each other
Keep moving, my new friends advise, let’s not be sitting ducks
A sudden lick of green laser light sweeps over us
What was that, what to make of it?
We look at each other and keep going
We walk until tired, then sit down in a well lit spot at a half-open outdoor cafe without ordering
Somehow we get talking about our personal lives
There’s four of us, funny enough in our sixties, fifties, forties, thirties
Three divorced one unmarried
All sick of the special unhappiness of women
It’s good to be together though we don’t even know each other’s first names
We turn around and go south again
We lose one friend and pick up another woman walking alone, very young in her twenties
Towards the Square we start getting a dull headache, then our eyes start burning
Tear gas
We turn into Keshavarz blvd
We start coughing
Let’s walk two by two
Crowds of people just walking
Quiet, just walking, and very unhappy
Our little group separates among the crowd and waits up for each other
We are so glad to be together
I’m walking with the twenty-something
We carry cigarettes to ward off tear gas
There’s a puddle of something red on the pavement and two red palm prints
My young friend fingers the red liquid and sniffs it to see if it’s blood
She can’t decide
We walk by clusters of riot police
Crossing the street walking by them they remind me of something
Teenage mutant ninja turtles, I remember
Camo outfits, headbands, swinging weapons, but with chest plates instead of shells on their back
We walk by snickering
Worse than them, we walk by vans of gasht-e ershad
Hadn’t seen these guys for a while
White vans, black-veiled female and male guards sitting inside in darkness
Morality police
We don’t look at them but they watch us:
Four women without headscarf carrying unlit cigarettes
We keep walking, like everyone else, just walking
Our youngest friend says she was apprehended early on back almost two months ago
One night of interrogation and she was let go, her phone confiscated
Same happened to our other friend back in Aban 1398
This is the anniversary of the 98 uprising when hundreds if not over a thousand were killed
I’d like to hear more but we have to keep moving, no time to chat
Turn back toward the Square
More riot police
We sit down and watch them
The difference between them and TMNT’s?
A lot of these guys have pot bellies
Not to fat shame anyone but what kind of riot police is so out of shape?
The ripped ones are perhaps shipped to Baluchistan and Kurdistan, to face off with the kickass warriors of those regions
Or they’re just running out of personnel
Overweight or not these guys are armed with guns and tasers not ninja swords and nunchucks
They’ve borrowed masks and helmets from Shredder
We sit down at the curb, talking to others taking a break from walking
Mostly women
My young friend is chided, you shouldn’t have touched that blood on the sidewalk, you might get AIDS
She gets scared, examines her finger for scratches
Don’t worry it wasn’t blood, it was too red, blood darkens fast
It is a bizarre thing sitting on the curb looking at bustling riot police
They always appear oh so busy with important stuff
Tear gas has worn off, we carefully return our unlit cigarettes to the pack
Random people stop to chat but there’s not much to say
That’s why people walk without talking, what’s there to say that hasn’t been said before?
What’s there that someone knows that we all don’t?
And what we don’t know we all don’t know, we know that
Lots and lots of young women walk by without headscarf, without fear
A picture was recently circulated of a mullah and a women waiting in some line without their respective head gear
One head covering shed in fear and the other in courage, the caption reads
There recently has been a spate of flicking off mullahs’ turbans on the street
Clips of it all over the internet, so funny
And now these wanna be ninja turtles and Halloween shredders
And unending streams of people just walking
We leave the square
I live here, one of our group says at an apartment complex, if you’re ever in trouble around here give my name at the gate and come inside
Who knows if we ever meet again but we spent a reassuring evening together
And oh, by the way, we received so much love from young women walking by
As usual
And I got the best compliment: you’re so ba hal– cool
Azadi azadi a-za-di, we hear in the distance before splitting up
It was nice to part with that word, the last word: Freedom.