The Magic Carpet
It was through the back door of the courtyard that my brother and I left our house in Tehran for the last time. At that threshold, my father in what seemed to me to be one uninterrupted move, lifted a silk carpet from the living-room floor, folded it into a bundle and slipped it into my knapsack—the only luggage I was allowed to carry on the border crossing.
The move from my father surprised me then. It baffles me still thirty years later. My father loved his rugs. They were his most beloved possessions. We knew this because for a couple of years, since the Iran-Iraq war had began, my father would come home each night carrying and then unfolding meticulously and with exquisite pleasure yet another marvelous carpet. He had made a winning move, he believed, selling our other house in the Persian Gulf city of Ahvaz, right before the outbreak of the war. He had then convinced my mother that the best way of safeguarding the money was to invest them in carpets; in antique, rare, silken ones, with fantastic motifs. That particular one, with its shimmering saffron background gracing a multitude of golden and turquoise birds was the most prized in his collection. But, his move surprised me as it was out of character. My father never moved so fast, never pro-actively, and never to let go. This parting gift was his first.
There was no time to reflect upon this unexpected gesture. To accept or not to accept? Will this gift be a blessing or a curse? Can I take care of this bundle all the way to our destination? We had to move, as our smugglers with names I now have forgotten, had given us specific instructions to arrive at the airport of Zahedan, the provincial town bordering Pakistan: Never linger. Look devout. Bring only an overnight bag containing basic necessities, and a pocket Quran to serve the devout look. Carry no precious items. And do not say long goodbyes, lest you betray yourselves and that you are leaving the country– permanently.
Somehow, from that first night away from our house, sleeping in the muddy adobes of Zahedan, until the eve of the last leg of our journey –the flight leaving Geneva for Washington D.C. three months later– that carpet would care for itself. It would appear and disappear, hide and become conspicuous for the occasion. Each time I had to make a decision as to how to handle it in a split second, my instinct would be on the spot. Will they search the carryon bag, or the ones checked in at the Quetta airport? In Karachi hotel, should we leave the bag under the bed or take it to the restaurant with us? Should we lock in our bags in a safe or leave it in the room, in Istanbul? And in Tel Aviv, when we were greeted finally by a familiar face, my uncle, what marvelous smile he displayed when the carpet emerged brilliantly out of the dusty sack– Bravo Bravo, how did you manage to bring this all the way?
When we had our visas to United States later in Switzerland, we had also ran out of the 10 notes, each a thousand German Marks, the smugglers had agreed to pass for us. The first Genevan rug dealer that saw our carpet, fell in love and offered us, $7000. 3,500 for my brother and I each. I properly deposited mine at the White Flint branch of Chase Manhattan in Maryland upon arrival. There, safely deposited, it continued to work its magic. It was that which allowed me to dream concretely, and to savor possibilities within measure. It gave me a measure of security as well as adventure. That money, finally took me on a trip out of America to Europe as a college freshman, where I discovered adventures of a different type. Not moving towards a fixed destination, a home, but getting away already. The golden carpet contained and compressed for so many years, unfolded onto a life of exploration.
Looking at my father’s move at that particular moment of departure and separation. One instant at the threshold. One instant without a thought, a blink that sets in motion life to come. One instant’s move, inspired by an instinct so hidden, you didn’t know you had. One instant that makes up for a whole lifetime.