My uncle was a handsome man. Dark black eyes, olive-skin and thick black hair made him look like a classic Persian prince. He had a masculine twang that soothed the ears. He was charming with a lively laughter and an enchanting smile fixed on his face. He was a generous man known among family and friends for giving away any thing he owned from money in his pockets to clothes on his back. My uncle always had something to talk about. Whether it was the stories of his extravagant childhood or mischievous youth in Germany, he would tell the story with such energy that any one wanted to experience the fun of being expelled from every single school in town or illegally crossing the Turkish border. Being the only son born after five daughters, he got any thing he wanted; An European tour by car at the age of seven, an apartment in Tehran, a villa by the Caspian sea, a house in Isfahan, cars and and the best of every thing.
My uncle was the perfect bachelor, but he had one big problem–or at least that’s what his mother thought. His step mother–rather my grandmother’s co wife–had cast a spell on him. So his heart was shut to love and no suitable girl for a stable marriage could win his heart. So, any time he visited Iran, a council of jobless, nosy women would gather to find him a wife. Whether it was to drag him to a staged party for meeting a girl or to show up at his door with the excuse of my-friend-and-I-were-just-passing-by the business of finding him a wife never stopped.
In one of his trips to Iran, my grandmother had a fit which ended up with her passing out on the floor, crying out to her late husband reminding the dead man that his surname is soon to be vanished! Thus the word got around and a kind niece decided to save her old aunt and called for an ultimate remedy.
A hot July afternoon, my mother despite her disapproval, piled five ladies in her 1980 cream color Renault and drove off to unfamiliar neighborhoods of Isfahan. Squished between the passenger door and a chubby kind cousin, I watched my mother navigating her way through narrow old allies. She occasionally pressed her lips in anger and disbelief that these women are making her to drive to some spooky neighborhood so her brother lack of interest in a wife would be fixed.
When we found the address, she parked right outside the house. The kind niece who had gotten us there ordered us to walk quickly to not to attract any attention in the neighborhood. Behind a thick curtain hanged in front of the entrance door, a very small cement front yard was waiting for us. A narrow cement staircase took us to the basement. Furnished by a worn out red carpet and two rusted black chairs, the room was small and damp. A young woman in a loose white Mickey Mouse T-shirt that had turned yellow and a pair of floral pajamas was sitting cross-legged in front of another young woman draped in a black chador. Two pieces of copper that looked liked starched dice and a piece of paper were placed carefully between them.
“Just soak this do’a–prayer–in the tea-pot before you serve the the suitors,” the woman in chador repeated and asked “will this make him like me?” My grandmother’s friend who was accompanying us–also for the sake of her middle-aged unmarried daughter, jumped out of her seat and asked if she could have the same thing. The woman who seemed to have noticed us gave her an impatient look and reminded her that not every one could use the same amulet.
When it was my grandmother’s turn to sit in front of the do’a nevis, A little girl who was crying frantically walked in and climbed her mother’s lap. Every five minutes the woman would scream from the top of her lung for someone upstairs to come rescue the child, but there was no answer. She rolled the dice quickly, memorized the numbers and handed them to the child to calm her down.
She had not yet uttered any thing significant other than my uncle’s young age and the fact that his troubled mother is worried about him that some one in the room whispered the word, Havoo.
“Oh, yes!” “unfortunately, it’s true.” “yes, she has a havoo” filled up the damp, suffocating basement.
The woman’s face lid up. She declared that she also sees the same thing in the numbers; “oh, yes! co-wife” “It’s her spell.”
My grandmother exhaled deeply in relief, but soon snapped out of it and abruptly asked for the remedy.
“It’s the wind kind,” the woman answered. “He is so mischievous and restless, unwilling to settle down because your co-wife must have fastened the spell out side, in the wilderness on the way of the wind,” she went on and on without taking a break.
After half an hour among the stream of questions and attempts to quiet the child, she prescribed her remedies, collected her small fee and boosted up some spirits.
Now, many years later, my grandmother is gone, my mother has lost a battle to cancer, my uncle destroyed his beauty, his wife and children by drugs, the friend’s daughter is married to a rich man, the kind niece still talks about her efforts to find my uncle a nice wife and probably the poor accused co-wife is spending the last years of her life somewhere quietly. I can’t help but think that every single woman in that basement had a purpose.
My grandmother, her friend and her niece, in their own ways, had good intentions to bring happiness to some body’s life. Nonetheless, their way of looking at happiness was limited to a definition their culture had taught them. For my grandmother, loyalty was letting her husband’s name to live on. For her friend, a good fortune was defining her daughter’s status in the society through a husband. For the kind niece, happiness was participating in the benefit of helping some one for marriage. I was there because I was desperate for a story to write for my composition class: “How did you spend your summer?” But what about my mother?
At the time, I didn’t find anything exciting about the unventilated basement with bunch of women worried about somebody else’s marriage. But I wonder if my mother took me with her because she wanted me to despise the smell of stale food in the damp basement. I wonder if my mother wanted me to hear the deafening cries of the child or listen to the nonsense the woman was saying about sewing the anti-spell prayers to my uncle’s pillow cover. I wonder if my mother–beyond just serving the wishes of her mother, wanted me to learn to never take refuge in superstition.