When we arrived at Hyperstar, my friend suddenly acted like a tour guide and began to point to different stores and food courts explaining how the newly opened French international hypermarket chain, owned by an Arab real state developer functions.
United Colors of Benetton and Prada stores in Tehran! She asked if this mall resembles any thing like American shopping malls. “I swear to god, it does” I said with a desperate plea as if I knew she would not believe me. But she smiled and said, “I know! I believe you.”
The boutiques displaying designer dresses and leather hand bags made me proud. At first, I found it ironic to be proud of the display of materialism, but soon I was sure that I feel proud only because I could go back to America and tell every one that we have shopping malls in Iran too. Not only shopping malls, but also “American looking” ones.
A row of check-out counters separated the mall from the main department store called Hyperstar. The deli, an elaborate collection of different types of cheese seemed neglected, but the electronic section was crowded. Iranians are very keen on owning the latest mobile and electronic technology. For example, it is common to see people who have no use of internet access on mobile phones own a very intricate mobile device or at some instances even own two cell phones.
An older man who was opening a double door refrigerator to examine it, looked at me and said, “Khanoom, wants one of these. Our kitchen is half of the size of this. You see what I mean?” We both smiled and went our ways, but I thought about his wife who wanted a large, LG refrigerator with LCD monitor display. I imagined an older woman who wants to impress her friends or maybe wants to protect her aberoo–prestige–a very common Iranian concern.
I felt I was walking in Target in Tehran. Something I know many Iranians dream of having in their own hometown.
A couple were arguing over what brand olive oil to buy. She was arguing that the turkish brand is famous, but he was saying that the Iranian brand is on sale.
I found myself at the personal care and hygiene aisle staring at the tampons. I remembered when I was a child my father brought a box of tampon for my mother from Germany. She was disgusted by the thought of it and secretly gave them to our neighbor who had told her she wished there were tampons in Iran.
Lost in my thoughts, half way through our tour of the symbol of “modernism” in Tehran, and overwhelmed by the crowd, I looked over to ask my friend to leave. Suddenly, she noticed a crowd and ran toward it.
“Abtahi! Abtahi” she shouted to me.
At one glance, I saw an old man in a long navy-blue trench coat who was standing behind a shopping cart. A young woman draped in black chador was standing next to him. People were stopping him to point their mobile phones and cameras at him. they were greeting him. Men got close and shook his hand, women put their hands on thier chests and slightly bent down to bow down.
I slowly walked toward the dispersing crowd and found Abtahi smiling. He would shake hands with men or bow down to women with his hand on his chest. Occasionally, he uttered a word of two: “Thank you” “You are most kind,” but in general he stood quietly and smiled.
Mohammad Ali Abtahi was the former vice president during Mr. Khatami’s presidency. He, who was the first politician to blog out of office, later served as the advisor to Mr. Karroubi in 2009 presidential election. Followed by turmoil of the presidential election, he was (along others) imprisoned in June and made several videotaped confessions where in he claimed his accusations about fraud in election has been false and he tried to topple the government. The fifty-two year old Abtahi who was known for being a chubby, smiley clergy in the traditional turban and clergy dress, came out of the prison looking so old, frail, thin and bare from his clergy clothing.
My friend stopped in front of his shopping cart occupied with a box of Clinex and a small girl–I suppose his grandchild. Without any introduction, she said that she is so proud of him. Her sentence was not fully finished when she began to choke and shiver. Tears rolled down her eyes and she struggled to say Iranian people knew he was innocent.
I was standing behind her and nodding my head in respect. I looked at Abtahi’s wife. She was a beautiful middle aged woman. Her hair was fully covered. She wasn’t wearing any make up, but her face had a radiant beauty about it. Her hands holding the two ends of her chador were crossed on her chest. She wasn’t taking her eyes off of my friend. She was crying with her. My friend wiped her tears with the back of her hand and said “don’t worry about the confessions, if I were in your position, I would’ve even denied Allah.” The innocence in her claim made Abtahi and his wife laugh. A big smile appeared on their faces and they both thanked her.
“Mozahem Nemishim” we didn’t want to disturb them any longer so we let them go. My friend ran into the lady’s room to wash her face. She kept apologizing to me for not being able to control her tears.
I told her it was perfectly fine.
We had seen a real star and Hyperstar didn’t matter anymore. I quickly paid for a censored version of Newsweek Magazine which was missing four pages and the image of Hillary Clinton was stretched out somehow to cover her bare neck.
When we were navigating our way out in the parking lot I asked my friend what she thought of the little child.
“oh, was there one?”
“Do you think she knows what happened to her grandfather?”
“I thought she was his daughter,” my friend thought out loud.
The parking lot was designed just like any other parking lot in America; different levels connected by a spiral drive way, parking slots separated by white stripes and exist signs flashed from the ceilings.
“What did you think?” I asked again, but my friend was busy cursing a driver who was entering through the exit door “these people liyaghat e Hyperstar nadaran…”