Version read in Hekayat: Ahvaz timepiece or Chronicle of Belongings:
In the age when the rooster still told me the time,In my parents’ bedroom in Ahvaz,With windows looking into the courtyard of the ancient mulberry, beyond which was the arcade of grapevine, and the gardenfenced off from the neighbor’s identical house in the NewSide zone, courtesy of Sharekat Naft, National Oil Company.
There in that room, one day, my father stretched out on the bed, taught me to read time. It was very simple. The small hand and the big hand. Hours and minutes. So very simple. It took five minutes, and I knew how to tell time. To know what time it is.
40 years later. Time had passed. I had come back to my father’s room. His own room, where he remained alone, and did not leave. A wooden clock hangs on the wall facing his bed. He wears a watch, one of those digital ones from 1970s, that told time pm and am, the day of the week, and the date. He has worn it all this time. The heavy metal time-piece is held on his wrist, with a thin strap he has made from some industrial material into a perfectly functioning band. On his nightstand, a plastic modernist clock tells the time—In America. I wonder when he started keeping that time. There is no sign of his gold pocket -watch. That must have gone on to America with my mother.
Now, here, his digital watch is one day behind. It tells us it is yesterday. With a pin, he wants to fix time. He crosschecks his watch with the clocks and his little calendar also by his nightstand. His calendar lists Iranian, Islamic, Gregorian and Hebrew dates next to each other, as well as all public holidays.
“What day is the 27th of August?” I ask him.
“It is the National Day of Pharmacists,” my father says looking through his calendar, “and it is the day of Little Kippur, it is the 5th of Shahrivar, and it is the day the neighbor’s wife goes to America.”
“I am leaving too, dad, back to America, on the 28th.” ….
“The 28th is a Thursday,” he says, “that is the 6th of Shahrivar, oh wait! That is the Little Kipur day, But what time is it now?,” he strains still trying to adjust his watch. “Is it 9 pm?” The watch is giving him information that is incomprehensible.
“Today is Tuesday,” he declares. “It’s the 4th of Shahrivar, the time is 9.53 pm.” He has fixed it. looking at me sitting across his bed, he says “Your time, NYC time is 2 pm, But, here, we are 10 pm. You are 2 pm. That means, the two of us now are 10 pm.
And this is all true. And the magnificent truth is that I would not have been able to fix that watch, and did not believe that it was possible.
I have come to the Gulf to work in his time zone. But he is gone. He has bestowed me the growing grass and the zigzagging asphalt cutting through the desert.
“You are a new face on campus.” I hear “I saw you at tennis club”.
Mahnaz: “Oh I am terrible at tennis.”
“Where are you from?
Mahnaz: I am visiting from NY, but I was a child in Ahvaz, on the northern shore of the Gulf.
“You are Ahwwazi? I,… my teacher, no our next door neighbor is from Ahwwaz.”
Mahnaz: “Ahwwazi? Oh… Ahvazi”
I haven’t heard the word in decades. Could this Emirati girl be talking about my Ahvaz? The NewSide of my childhood? I look at her. How she moves. Music begins low volume.
Her gait. The traces of that unmistakable gravitas.
On the tennis court, we play doubles, Amal and I on the Same Side. She is the better half, with a strong confident swing. I, have never been so bad at anything. How young are they? Calculating age and gauging time as the ball comes my way, as I get to service line, base line, forehand, backhand, follow through, swing. I have to unlearn everything. Everything I know is wrong. letting my partner down. I shouldn’t have. I don’t really belong. Missing the ball, missing again, running out of heart… I am not of this time.
“How do you say thank you in Ahwazi?”
Isnt it kheili Mamnoon? I hear Amal say.
Me: Oh yes, Amal. It is kheili mamnoon.
With two generous names and gestures, she has fixed it. I can play again.
The Emirates edges into the Gulf towards the northern shore, towards Ahvaz of my childhood. Its very shape, a longing for the future of New Side, the residence of petroleum personnel of 1970s Ahvaz. Looking down from the north, across the gulf, into the mirror of glass buildings, I am not petrified. The kindness of each “how do you say?” awakens that heritage which our bodies alone endure and recall each time.