I feel tricked. Sometimes it seems that you think you fell out of an elephant’s nose and that I’m just some old fool who happened to be there to catch you. Well, let me tell you—where you fell out of was my small-town dehati belly and that will never change, so kindly stop selling me so much wet wood*: Maman, we love you. Maman you’re welcome here. So you say . . . but the last time I visited, you were up to something wicked, using the telephone twice to talk to Tehranis and there was a bag packed on the bed. You’re hiding something. Sometimes I wish I could say this to you, out loud or in a letter if I could write, but you know, Bahar joon, I prefer talking to the sweeter version of you that lives inside my head. Let me tell you something else, the-sweet-Bahar-joon-inside-my-head: If you’re old enough to be somebody’s grandmother and you have no men in your house, no sons or husbands or brothers, every Hassan and Hossein thinks he can put a dupe’s hat on your head. Even your own daughter. And so here I am, hat on my head. Agha, I complain about this to the farmer who brings me chopped wood in the mornings, at least it hides the bald patch. He laughs at most things that I say, but sometimes he shakes his head and calls me mother, even though we’re the same age, and then I know I’ve said too much. Nobody wants to know your dirty business, how you feel about this or that, especially when they ask.
The house is too much, I think. I’m too old to be her caretaker, this big old mosque that leaks and hoots and cries all night long. Don’t worry, the cries aren’t ghosts. I checked using my mother’s old trick—a cheesecloth, a mirror, and a little rhyme. But in the end the cloth came out clean and ghost-free, so I went back to sleep. I never thought I’d get this old. And Maman doesn’t know what to do because, as you know, she never made it to my age. So every time I ask her, she shrugs and says eat a tangerine, which I do out of respect . . . though if you think about it, she’s not my elder anymore, is she? I will work this out later. I can’t ask you; you’re always looking for reasons to think I’m old or sick or insane. If you knew about the house, Bahar joon, I think you’d make me move. But I won’t trouble you—with your fine taste and good life in a city.
This house is a quirky old thing and we’re kindred spirits. This morning I washed the cracks in her walls, the places where reddish mud and spilled whey had caked and dried, and she groaned. Then I counted her bricks from the floor all the way up her slope, curving to her dome. I took a screwdriver to the loose ones, repositioning them with my homemade paste so they would fit tighter. I felt her settle in a bit lower, more comfortable, like a patient that has given her body up to be mended.
Sometimes as I dress, I confide in her. Are you crazy? Maman says. Stop talking to your house and go find out what your daughter is up to! You saw the suitcases. That Bahar is trouble. “Oh Maman joon, stop pecking at me,” I say. “It’s probably nothing.”
*The phrase is usually used in a slightly different manner in Persian. I have taken some liberties to suit my Iranian-American palate.