Trouble in Tehran
Negar and I are inside a Tehran cafe. She says her English isn’t great. But it’s good enough.
Her eyes unrealistically blue; not like the sea, but an Avatar’s skin. Contact lenses. She’s doing her master’s and teaches Persian to speakers of other languages.
I try finding out what she likes to do in her spare time. Nothing except sleep. Boring.
My iced latte and her virgin mojito take almost 15 minutes for some reason. Older men are smoking, but the strong air conditioning neutralises the fumes.
After my suggestion of going to the park, Negar says we should take a taxi.
“Why?” I ask. “It’s just up the road.” Google Maps is open on her phone.
“It looks near, but it’s further than it seems.”
I press the walking directions icon in the app. “Are you serious? It’s only 400 metres, seven minutes away. Let’s walk. Don’t be lazy.”
Holding hands at Laleh Park we pass people sitting on shady benches, cats curling up in the dirt, and trimmed hedges lining a water feature. We sit under a big tree. My hand is on her waist. We’re making out. My hand, circling beneath her shirt, finds her breast and hardening nipple which I pull. We take a break.
“I’d like to lie down,” she says.
“Yes, a little. But it’s not good for women to lie down here.”
I lie on the grass next to her anyway, my hand feeling her thigh over her jeans while she sits. Her hand slides under my pants and starts rubbing me. A man walks past, dressed in some kind of maintenance uniform. Shit. Negar moves her hand to herself as the man turns his head back and says something in Persian.
“He says there’s police around.”
Through the winding path, we move towards the bathrooms. After I’m finished, I wait for Negar outside the women’s. She exits and we walk to the front of the men’s.
“Let’s go in together.”
“Are you sure? I think there are cameras.”
“I’ve looked already. No cameras.”
Six cubicles line one edge, and another five run across. We enter the larger cubicle designed for special needs. We lock the door. Our hands all over each other. Mint residue from her drink on my tongue. Pants below our knees. My left fingers inside her. Right hand covering her mouth when she moans.
“You have protection?”
I put on a condom, guide her hips to turn and face the wall, she arches her back and I enter her from behind.
Five minutes in, there’s a sound. Someone opens a bathroom door, one at the end. It’s not someone using the toilet. Objects bump each other lightly. It’s a cleaner for sure. He’s mopping the floor now while Negar’s getting wetter and wetter. We’re fucking more quietly. Slower. With each movement, I pull her hips closer and I stay deep. Kissing her neck, while wondering how we’re supposed to get out of here unseen, I see the tension in her squeezed lips, trapping the expression she wants to release. The condom is full after pulling out. Carefully tying a knot without a sound, I wrap it in a tissue while Negar pulls up her jeans and adjusts her hijab.
The man is in the second cubicle. If we wait, he’s not gonna leave before us. He’ll try to open our door sooner or later. On my phone I type, “I’ll head out first and walk out to the right-hand side. You follow after.”
I walk out and see the man mopping the cubicle floor, but he doesn’t look up at me. In the park I wait. 30 long seconds. A minute. Too anxious to sit still. Pacing around. Two more damn minutes. What’s going on?
She’s out. Looking tense, facing the ground, she sees my waving. When she reaches me she’s in tears and sits at a bench.
“What happened? What kept you?”
“The two men wouldn’t let me out.”
“Two? What do you mean? I only saw one and he didn’t see me.”
She begins to reply but still sobs.
“Let’s get out of this place first,” I continue. “Tell me on the way.”
Passing palm trees and pink-flowered shrubs, she’s calmed down somewhat. “They asked what I’m doing in here. I said I thought it was the women’s bathroom and made a mistake. Man said he saw you, knew you’re not my boyfriend and why am I doing this with you. He said he should call the police.”
I grab her hand and walk faster. “Then what did you say?”
“I started crying and admitted and promised not to do it again.”
“Did they take your name or anything?”
“They said they should. But they let me go.”
At the metro station, we go the same direction. Negar joins me in the mixed-sex carriage rather than the women-only one.
“This was dangerous,” she says.
“Yeah, I know. A bit too dangerous.”
Before reaching her stop, I ask what would’ve happened if they called the police.
“We would’ve been locked up for a night or two.”
Surrounded by passengers, I’m overly cautious not to even touch her arm or anything. Just in case.
“Here’s my stop.”
We shake hands like business partners after a buffet lunch. Disembarking, she turns back around after a few steps, my mind wondering what she’s thinking now, will think tonight, and in a year, and five years, her half-grin recedes behind the flock between us, and as the train speeds along, onboard I ignore a merchant who tries selling me mobile chargers and powerbanks, yelling his sales speech in Persian with the English words Android and powerbank in the middle, but while my gaze holds through a window, there’s nothing in the middle of the bleak and static tunnel, just a void filled by unending shouts of dissonance layered with more empty space.
Photo by Omid Armin