Writings / Fiction


Mehri Yalfani

It was a dream, and did not mean a thing
-Sylvia Plath

The line seemed stretched to nowhere, vanished in a heavy fog. People of different ages; men, women, young, and old, plus a few children were in the line. Farid, a tall man in his early twenties, with a well-built body but a pale complexion, deep brown eyes, shadowed with curiosity and anxiety, looking around, especially at people lined up in front of him and behind him. His black T-shirt had a sketch of a white skull on the chest which attracted the eyes. His thought wandered around; it must certainly be a fantastic land, otherwise so many people wouldn’t line up in front of its embassy to get a visa and leave this land. He hadn’t given himself a chance to utter words, but a man ahead of Farid in the line, as if he had heard what Farid had in his mind, said, “Young fellow, tell me what kinds of dreams and fantasies are you spinning about that land? There’s no such a land that you have in your mind.”

He was a man about sixty, pepper-salt hair and his forehead stretched to the middle of his skull because of baldness. He looked smart, with his grey coat, dark pants and a striped yellow and red tie, which certainly was from decades ago. Having tie wasn’t welcoming any more. He was well-shaved with a delicate perfume of after-shave cologne. He had a half-smoked cigarette between his fingers. Behind Farid was a chubby, medium height woman. It wasn’t possible to say how old she was with her attire, covering her hair, and her body. She had exhausted, sad, grey eyes and her cheeks were dominated by her tiny nose and her small mouth. The woman also heard what was in Farid’s mind, even though he hadn’t uttered the words.

“What did he mean?" Farid asked himself, confused, “Wasn’t there a real land?"

The woman cleared her voice, touched her scarf, an involuntary gesture, and said, “If there’s such a land, it’s inaccessible. You can’t get there even in your dreams.”

A young, tall, skinny woman with two big, black eyes burning with wishes and anxiety and a little girl in her arms, sucking a lollipop, asked, “What land you’re talking about?”

“The land which all of us are waiting to get visa,” Farid said, “Had you been in that land?”

The tall woman said, “Have I? Yes, I had. I’d been there in my dreams.” And she waited to see the reactions of the people around him. Everybody looked at her with suspicion.

“There’s a fantastic land,” she continued, “with white-skinned people" (the woman had a white complexion), "with blue eyes" (the woman didn’t have blue eyes), "and blond hair" (the woman’s hair was under her scarf – invisible). "There’s freedom in that land, I mean, people are free. When I say free, I mean it, they’re really free. I mean they can wear what they like, and talk and laugh, yes, laugh, they can laugh. Here, laughter is an offense.” With tears in her eyes, she turned her back to Farid and others, who were staring at her.

The middle-aged man, standing ahead of Farid, said, “All of these are dreams, and fantasies. That lady is just dreaming about that land. If such a land exists, it would be a place like here.”

A girl ahead of the man said, “Sir, are you deceiving a child? Me, and many like me who are going to get a visa for that land, have studied and researched about there. We’re not taking a risk. The earth is so big. There are many countries on the earth, but we chose there, because we know it is an ideal land for the young people.”

She looked childish with her colourful scarf and her short, light-brown hair visible on her forehead. Two, feverish brown eyes glittered in her round face with her shiny skin.

“But that lady hasn’t been in the land,” the middle-aged man said, “she just makes a fantastic portrait of it and describes it for many young people like you, to enthrall you, to mislead you, to drag you to somewhere which doesn’t exist and if it exists, it’s not such thing that she is talking about.”

“What kind of place is it there?” Farid asked, innocently.

The middle-aged man touched his hair, crushed the cigarette’s butt under his feet, looked at the end of the line—lost in fog and smog, and said, “There is no such land. How can I explain…”

The short woman interrupted the man, saying, “What do you mean, there’s no such land? Is it possible a country which has an embassy right here in front of us wouldn’t exist? That land is inaccessible, but it exists. My son and daughter have been living there for years. They sent me invitation and if I get visa…” She quieted, sighed, her eyes saddened and continued, “This is the third time I get invitation from them, but the embassy won’t give me visa.”

“Why?” Asked Farid.

The woman eyed Farid, her eyes full of frustration, “How do I know? I’m not the ambassador of that country. I don’t know anything about it.”

The middle-aged man said, “I know.”

The young girl said, “You know everything, but your words are unacceptable and it’s not logical. Have you really been there?”

The middle-aged man, proud of himself, paused for a while as if he wanted to measure his impression on others. Farid told himself, I’d better not to listen to these people. They make me puzzled. I’ll have to research about there, read books written about there and collect information. These people’s information is simply their point of view, which shouldn’t be important, and some of them don’t have any view and can’t see even the front of their feet.

The short chubby woman addressed the middle-aged man saying, “How did you get a visa? Do you know why they won’t give me a visa?”

“There might be many reasons,” the middle-aged man said, “I’ve been there and had some friends over there. I know the language of those people. When I was there I could communicate with them. It’s very important that one knows the language of the people.”

The man hadn’t finished, when a woman around thirty-five, interrupted him saying “Sir, speak for yourself. Over there you can get jobs done and get information about many things without knowing the language.” She was a tall, grave woman with a big body—covered from head to toe in a black chador. Her black gloves caught the eyes—strange in that warm day. “I have been there twice. But you, sir, obviously you haven’t been there at all.”

Farid said loudly, so his voice would reach the woman, dressed in black.

“This gentleman says there doesn’t exist but states he knows the language of that land. What about you? Have you really been there or you too are saying that there’s no such land?”

The woman dressed in black, said, “For sure I was there. This is the third time I’m going there. That land exists, it really exists. I wish it didn’t exist. It is the land of blasphemy and makes you lost, especially young people. It leads them to hell.”

The young girl, the woman with a child in her arms, and Farid said all together, “What we’ve heard about that land is exactly different. We’ve heard over there young people are free to dress as they like, be friends with anyone they want, go out, dance and be happy.”

The woman dressed in black shook her hand in the air with hatred and said, “Yes, all those are blasphemy; going with friends, dancing and be happy. Look at our own beloved country; with all these rules and laws, with flogging, imprisoning, heavy fines, and still they can’t prevent debauchery. Boys and girls talk to each other in public, go to restaurant, cinema or date before marriage. Over there… Oh, God forbid, it’s real blasphemy.”

The young girl said, “What’s the problem? If you don’t like it, you call it a blasphemy, but we are young, we want to enjoy our lives.”

The woman stared at her as if she saw a dirty bug, made a face of hatred and almost yelled, “You…” And then, as if she was talking to herself, she continued, “Over there is a real hell.”

The short chubby woman said, “They say over there is too cold. But hell isn’t cold.” And laughed quietly, as if she had said a joke.

Farid ignored the woman’s irony and addressed the heavy woman dressed in black, “So, why do you go there?”

The woman dressed in black, proud of herself, said confidently, “I have to. My husband is studying theology in the university over there. He got a scholarship from the government and it is eight years he’s been there. He tells me to come and stay with him, but I’ve been there twice and couldn’t stay more than a few months. My children might go astray, if I had stayed longer.”

Farid turned his back to her and whispered into the young girl’s ear, “Studying theology in the land of blasphemy!” Both laughed quietly. They could imagine what kind of woman she was and what values she was defending. The woman with a child in her arms smothered tears and listened carefully. She started to speak as if talking to her reflection in the mirror or some invisible people, “If they give me a visa, I won’t wait for one single hour. I’ve sold all my properties and traded for dollars.” She lowered her voice, so as not to reach the woman dressed in black, and continued, “I’ve divorced from my husband. He had a master degree in law, but still he gave himself the right to beat me. I’ve heard over there is the land for single women. And if they have children, they can get visa easily.” She turned to the middle-aged man and asked, “Good Sir, you’re saying you were there, do you have more information about that land?”

The woman dressed in black had her back to them, but she heard what the woman with a child in her arms said. She turned to her, held her arm firmly and turned her toward herself and yelled at her crudely, “Yes, that place is exactly for you; women like you, a divorced, free woman. Over there, you’ll be a complete …….. “

All who heard her knew the word she didn’t say. Some looked at her with disgust, and some turned their backs to her and ignored her. The slender tall woman with a child in her arms stepped back from the woman dressed in black, her eyes filled with hatred and tears, her voice coarsened. She addressed her, “You bitch, do you really understand what are you talking about?”

“Of course I do. You haven’t been there, and you don’t know, over there blasphemy is everywhere and makes a real whore of you.”

“Miss, you’re too pessimistic and rude.” The young girl said, with a clear anger and hatred in her voice, “Your point of view is as black as your dress. Your imagination about the whole world is black. Over there is the land of freedom, joy and life. And you say…”

The woman dressed in black turned her back to them. The woman with the child in her arms, said with a low voice not reach the woman dressed in black, “You see, I’m fleeing from these people. The people, who have always a rope ready to hang you without any conviction. I prefer to live in a desert or in a cave and raise my daughter.”

The young girl said, “But I want to live among people, among people of my age. I want to go somewhere and have many friends. I’d like to dance. Do you remember the day of the football game? That day I danced so much that my whole body ached. Yes, I’d like to dance until I die.”

Farid looked at her with sympathy and love, and said, “Me too, I danced a lot that day.”
The middle-aged man noticed the sapling of love sprouting between Farid and the young girl. He said, “Well, you can dance in your homes. No one has taken your home away from you.”

The young girl looked at the man like a wise person gazing at an idiot and said, “Dancing lonely at home by yourself doesn’t mean anything. Dance is a group hobby, making relationships. It’s like talking together. After all, we don’t have freedom in our own houses, either.”

The short chubby woman interrupted her, “So, you want to go there, simply to dance?”
The girl’s cheeks turned crimson, excited and surprised, she said, “What’s the matter with that? Is dancing a sin over there too?”

The woman dressed in black, meddled again, screamed at the girl, “Obviously, it’s a sin. Dancing is a sin. Don’t you know that?”

The young girl raised her voice too and said angrily, “No one asked for your opinion. You’d better stay where you are.”

The middle-aged man said, “Cut it out. Be quiet please. Do you want them to send us away and waste our day, waiting here for nothing?" He turned to the young girl, and advised her, “Don’t argue with that woman. And listen to me, over there isn’t a place for dancing. If there exists, it exists for work. And if they give a visa to a young, pretty, intelligent girl like you, that I’m sure they will, they’ll give it for your strength and your labour, not for your dancing. Their own people can dance, and dance very well, so, all of us, people from this side of the ocean would be astounded, dumbfounded, watching their dance. If you can go there, you’ll forget about dancing.”

The young girl let the middle-aged man finish his talking and then said, “I won’t forget about dancing. I danced even in the jail. I was flogged but didn’t forget dancing. Do you want me to dance for you right here, in the line?”

The woman with a baby in her arms said, “Have you lost your wits or you want to go to jail again?’

Farid said, “I don’t believe you have such courage.”

The middle-aged man said, “Miss is joking. It’s good to have a sense of humor. It’s very good not to forget irony in difficult times. But I can’t believe you would dare dance.”

The young girl started to dance among the wide-astonished eyes and tongues locked with surprise. Her dance lasted a few minutes. Even the woman dressed in black saw the young girl, dancing and her tongue froze in her mouth. The young girl eyed at the audience, one by one, as if she was saying, “Do you believe me?”

The middle-aged man finally breathed easily and said, “You should leave this land. Here, you’ll sacrifice your life for your dancing.”

“Now, tell me about there,” The young girl said, pleased and excited. “What kind of place is there?”

The middle-aged man said, “I told you, there’s no such land and it doesn’t exist.”

“Don’t listen to this gentleman,” Farid whispered to the young girl, “if there doesn’t exist, then we neither don’t exist. This line doesn’t exist, either.” He pointed to the line and said, “Look. These people….”

But there were no people. The line had disappeared into smog, fog and shadow.

About The Author


Mehri Yalfani was born in Hamadan, Iran and now lives in Canada. She has been published internationally in Farsi and English. She has two collection of stories and the novel Afsaneh’s Moon (Toronto: McGilligan, 2002) in English and four novels in the Farsi language. She appears in a Women Press and TSAR anthology of stories and Poems. Yafani is currently working on a novel, My Grandma’s Name Is Iran.

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