Sunday, 20 June 2010
By Jila Baniyaghoob
It was exactly one year ago, on such an evening, that they rang our neighbor’s doorbell and said: ‘We’re your neighbor’s relatives. Their doorbell’s broken. Please open the door for us.’
And our neighbor opened the door for them, not knowing that they were not our relatives, but our detainers. It’s always like this. They always use such a technique to arrest you.
Long after my release from prison, our neighbor was embarrassed to see me, because she had opened the door to those who arrested me and Bahman. But why should our neighbor be embarrassed? I told her it was those who had lied and deceived her who had to be embarrassed.
It was exactly on such a night that Bahman came home earlier than me and gone to bed, exhausted and having beaten up with batons.‘Jila,’ he said, after I had arrived, ‘please bring me a cup of hot tea and, if possible, the hot water bottle also so I can put it on the beaten and bruised parts of my body.’
I put the tea on and minutes later poured Bahman a large mug of tea. But he had not yet had time to drink the tea when our doorbell rang and, in spite of the exhaustion, Bahman jumped up. Those days and nights most of us journalists knew that when the doorbell rings, there’s no one behind the door other than ‘Them’! ‘They’ who would come with bulk arrest warrants covering hundreds of people.
There was three of ‘them’! Three others were standing outside, in the alley, maybe to make sure we would not run away! One of the three men in the apartment was polite. The other two looked as if they had invaded the home of two of their old enemies. They did not know us at all, but they thought they knew us very well. They would call us ‘mercenaries of foreigners’.
‘You call yourselves journalists,’ one of them said to me, ‘but why don’t you write about the miseries of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq? Why don’t you write about Gaza?’
I really did not want to reply. What was the point of having a conversation with him? With someone who had already judged me and was calling me a ‘mercenary of the foreigners’? But I do not know how I was unable to remain patient and said: ‘Please don’t pass judgment on someone so easily without knowing them. I have written both about the miseries of our own people and, as it happens, about the miseries of the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza. I have travelled to Iraq and Afghanistan several times and have written about them.’
‘You? You?’, both he and his colleague said, smirking. ‘But you’re pro-American.’
I wanted to ask them how they had reached such a conclusion, but Bahman said: ‘Jila, please don’t go on.’
He was right. Why should I discuss anything with them?
I merely said: ‘So far as I know, you are only authorized to search this apartment and take us away, not to interrogate us.’
It was exactly on such a night that they turned our entire apartment upside down. They rummaged through everything, presumably to find evidence of our connection with foreigners. They took away dozens of English language instruction CDs; dozens of books and magazines that were openly on sale in bookshops across Iran; and dozens of albums of family pictures. They took away our computers. Finally, they took me and Bahman away.
One of them was rummaging through the kitchen. Bahman was standing next to him and, patient as ever, was helping him in his search.
‘Bahman, darling,’ I said, ‘could you please bring me a cup of tea?’
Bahman poured a cup of tea and brought it to me.
A month later, during an interrogation session, the senior interrogator said to me: ‘Yesterday, I met he operational guys and was very upset by what they told me. They described for me how you had humiliated Bahman in front of their eyes.’
‘Me? How?’ I asked, totally surprised.
‘Is it true,’ he asked, ‘that you asked Bahman to serve you tea?’
‘Yes, it is,’ I said.
‘You insulted Bahman just like that, in front of others?’ he asked.
It was at the time that I realized what separated me and you, Mr Interrogator.
‘You mean you never serve your wife tea?’ I asked.
‘No,’ you said. ‘My wife respects me too much.’
‘But,’ I said, ‘sometimes Bahman serves me tea, and sometimes I serve him. That’s all, Mr Interrogator. Maybe that’s the core difference between us. Maybe it’s because of this simple fact that you and I cannot understand each other.’
Exactly one year ago, on such an evening, Intelligence Ministry agents put me and Bahman in a car and took us away to Evin prison. I never thought that a year later, I would be writing about that evening, with my dear Bahman still in Evin.
Translated by Hossein Shahidi