On the way back to the detention room, Mr. Farsi and I barely talked, but the coins and the keys ring in his pocket never stopped jingling, and it reminded me of the way Father used to walk, holding his key ring, playing with them aimlessly - but with fervor - so everyone knew he was nearby, or approaching. This rattling sound had always made me nervous even if I had nothing to hide or to worry about. But in Farsi’s case, I could only feel pity for this middle aged man who lived like half dead and feared his own shadow. 

The hallways grew dimmer until we reached our destination. Standing behind the door, I lowered my eyes to get ready for the blazing white light emanating from the fluorescent lamps of our cell. Mr. Farsi struggled to find the right key among so many, until the dramatic weeping of a woman stopped him. We looked at each other with surprise. The noise was coming from inside. Mr. Farsi opened the door anxiously and didn’t wait for me to go in first.

 The Colonel and the two veiled women were absent. Mina sat on the floor, exhausted, holding someone with long hair and shaking shoulders. The new girl hung to Mina like hanging onto her life and sobbed as if the world had ended.

Mr. Farsi approached them, looking at the stranger with worry, and I squatted beside Mina. “What happened?” he asked.

Mina rolled her eyes at the newcomer. She seemed afraid of saying a word to make things even worse.

Bobak tried to give us a quick, enthusiastic briefing. “Ms. Sahar is crying for his father,” he whispered. “They were arrested together, but now he’s nowhere to be found.”

The new girl stopped crying. “His pills,” she said. “You forgot to tell them about Baba’s pills.” Her voice broke and the wave of her emotions poured out of her swollen eyes directly on Mina’s sweater.

Bobak nodded hurriedly. “I forgot to mention that her father has heart problems,” he said. “Do you have any idea how we could find him, Mr. Farsi?”

Farsi shook his head. “I don’t have any time for this now,” he said, staring at Mina. “It’s your turn.” Mr. Farsi walked toward the door as Sahar wept louder.

Bobak leaned forward. “I’ll take care of her,” he said and the girl looked up at him briefly before hiding her face in his chest. Bobak couldn’t look more pleased as if this new girl was the prettiest girl he had ever approached.

Before leaving, Mina glanced back and waved at us, like a last goodbye.

 I looked around the room. “Where’s the Colonel? And those women?” I asked.

 “Two hours after you left, Farsi came back and took them to the judge,” Bobak said. He lowered his voice. “How did it go with the judge?”

I nodded. “He’s not a judge, but a nobody,” I said, and launched into telling everything as precisely as I could. I exaggerated my resistance to Turgey and understated the intensity of his reaction. I skipped the blind man and hid the trace of the chains on my wrists.

Bobak’s eyes shone with envy at my description of the hot sandwich I had. “I’m so hungry,” he said, licking his lips. His fat cheeks had already shrunk in one day.

The more time passed, the more Sahar’s crying sounded like a muffled whimper, but Bobak was still nervous. He looked at me powerlessly as soon as Sahar pushed him away, withdrew to a corner, and leaned back, hugging her knees.

I tried to act like Mina. “You should relax,” I said to her. “Maybe they haven’t kept your father.”

Sahar sniffled and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. Baba has a serious condition. It is crucial for him to take his pills on time,” she said.

“As for I know, all the Iranians are brought to this room after their arrest,” I said, glancing around. “And you can see that your father isn’t here. So please calm down.”

 Sahar looked at me thoughtfully. She wasn’t crying anymore. “I’m so hungry now,” she said, and tried to smile.

I smiled back. “Mehran Bey was supposed to send us food,” I said.

Sahar ran her fingers through her long messy hair, flinging the drooping curls off her face. She looked miserable, but still, after so much crying, her eyes shone with a rare shade between honey and green. She rose and dusted off her black pants. “I must look terrible,” she said, and walked toward the sink. She was tall and skinny, and her large red sweater said: I Love LA. She bent forward, held her hair back with one hand and splashed water over her face with the other.

Bobak seemed having forgotten his hunger.

An hour later, the guards came back with a few items from Mina’s list: a pack of Camel, six blankets, three chocolate bars made in China, two loaves of black bread, and a gallon of a green hot water, supposedly barley soup, with a few metallic cups.

 “Let’s eat,” Bobak said cheerfully, pouring himself a cup.

Sahar grabbed a fistful of olives and ate one or two, but her eyes got red again. “I’m hungry, but I really can’t eat,” she said, her lower lip trembling.

Not again, I thought.

Bobak shook his head and took a big bite from his bread, looking at Sahar with hunger.

Stirring in my chair, I watched how a new tantrum shook my new friend and wondered how old she was. Sahar looked like a movie star, but still behaved like a ten-year-old. She dropped to her knees, leaned against the wall and started a long crying. In the middle of her jag, I caught a few words, my fiancé, America and why.

Why was the forbidden word, I thought. There were no answers to her questions.

After dinner, we shared the Camels, even though none of us was a smoker. Sahar fell asleep in the middle of her worries over her father and her old fiancée waiting for her at LAX. Bobak covered her with a layer of blanket, and let her use his jacket as a pillow. Acting with affection and a sense of duty, he lay next to her, like her guardian angel. Wrapped in my own scratchy blanket which smelled like old prisoners, I sat on the floor and watched the smoke turning the air blue, and wondered why, like Sahar, I hadn’t told them everything about my past. Following the trail of anxious bugs toward a fluttering light, I drifted into a soothing unconsciousness, filled with pieces of my childhood.

(To be continued)