“Are you gonna burn any more wood?”
I think I was staring into the wind. I could hear him talking, I knew his look all too well, bouncing back and gliding forth, from the fire and up to me; ever worried, gazing at me, as I gazed into the wind. I’m not sure why I didn’t answer. For the better part of that night I’d chosen silence, and now, swallowed up by the blackness all around, I truly sat empty. Why?
“It’s almost one,” he said, casting his light gracefully over our camp. From the corner of my eye, in the blackness, I saw him yawn, sitting hunched over, his flashlight pointed at the tent, waiting for me to say something, to acknowledge the fire, or his yawn, or the two sleepy tents in our camp…Waiting for me to say something, anything. At least that’s how it seemed, but what do I know? I was staring into the wind and said nothing.
Mehdi and Jon, both asleep, carried on their own conversation, in snores and sleepy sighs. Mehdi in his own two person tent, and Jon in the other, monstrous structure of a tent, curled and twisted into comfort in his sleeping bag, to his left, a half-eaten can of pringles spilling on the floor, by his head, a glowing red carton of Du Mauriers, so inviting. I had noticed it all when I’d poked in there earlier to fish out my bottle of tequila. I had already surveyed the inside of the tent briefly, drawing swift and precise lines with my flashlight, trying not to disturb Jon, and even though I was down to my last four cigarettes and Jon had put his full carton so close to his face that he was practically snoring into them, keeping them warm, and safe and sound, I was still very much relieved that he wasn’t clutching them in his sleep, caged in between his legs or to his chest, as he lay in a defensive fetal position, if there is such a thing, while snoring to mark his territory.
I was smiling by the time I snapped out of it and I turned over to Sam, but he’d already gotten up and was walking to the tent. It was almost one, and I was already zoning out and drifting off in a dangerous way. I dropped my head and fished once more for my bottle of tequila, down by my foot, and without a thought, I called out to Sam, in a failed attempt to whisper, “Not gonna burn any more wood.”
“Shut up,” he said as he laughed and disappeared into the tent.
I took a sip of tequila, held the open bottle, took another sip, held it in my mouth, letting it burn through my tongue, the blue agave becoming me. Next thing I knew, the bottle was closed and back on the cold earth, I was standing, hunched over the fire like a junky-fire junky-reaching into the bag of firewood in search of the thickest log. Once I’d found it and put it on the fire and had also gotten a few splinters to prick at in the dark, I sat back down and told myself that I wasn’t going to burn any more wood. “This baby will burn for a while.”
The wind was picking up, angering the treetops, or so it seemed, and it didn’t take long for my fears to surface. Wind can sound like anything; in the blackness all around, in the surrounding bush, there could’ve been anything, and this was frightening, but I was in a peculiar mood, I guess…Like a masochist who presses down on every bruise, who seeks asylum inside his aches, I faced the dark, staring into the wind, extracting the adrenaline out of my fears and getting high, trying to blow the rest of it up to the angry treetops. I was in a peculiar mood, and peculiar moods often demand sleeplessness and so, I lit a smoke and reached once more for my warm blue agave, resting on the cold earth.
It was supposed to be a two month trip, back in the august of 2009. My mother was crying, as was her routine in airports, with goodbyes. I remember shaking my father’s hand and now that four years have passed, I’m positive that he knew I wasn’t going to come back. He knew, but said nothing. Maybe he was in a peculiar mood. Maybe knowing things made him silent. In the end, a few tears and a heart whispering, “Good luck,” summed it all up and I ran away. Yes; I ran from Iran… And now, engulfed by the blackness in the bush, at the mercy of the angry treetops, I felt to have no choice but to retrace my steps. The blackness demanded it; the floodgates propped open and I might have even smiled excitedly, preparing to look back, to bring back times and remember laughs, but there was no beginning or end to these thoughts. Out in the blackness, they all fused together, melting into one, turning about and leaping in time. Hard to follow, but I may have been smiling, for this revolving chunk of moments gone, my memories of every corner where I’d laid my head, had no fear, and it made me less afraid, and this was good.
“You have to eat more fruit! You don’t understand how important it is!” I feel like she would repeat this sentence a few times and I’d look at her and see her cutting an apple and peeling an orange and filling a plate with every fruit out in the market, saying, “My son, I love you so SO much, now please, eat it all.”
I was standing on a crowded bus, posing as an artist or amateur photographer perhaps, with my Canon Rebel camera hanging from my neck. I pointed the lens at the face of an Asian woman sitting in front of me, completely asleep, on the crowded bus, and I clicked away, as discretely as possible of course, but I didn’t really care, never really have. She looked so peaceful and I distinctly remember thinking then, “She looks like a great mom.”
Seeing it in the blackness and hearing my thoughts once again, kind of gave me the creeps, and so I closed my eyes and disgusted, I reached for my smokes. I lit one with my eyes closed still and only slightly opened them as I exhaled my first drag and returned slowly back to the pitch. The treetops weren’t as angry any more and I only had two cigarettes left.
“So what’s your novel about?”
“What’s it called?”
“Nazar Crossing,” I said.
“What’s it about?”
“The name refers to a famous intersection near my home Isfahan,” I replied, clearing my throat and squirming into an upright position. “It’s changed,” I said suddenly. Suddenly nervous. I leaned forward. I thought I had a glass of water, but nothing there on the coffee table.
“So,” he said, his eyebrows forming into a horizontal question mark, “the intersection has changed.”
“No, my novel; the idea!”
Then, I lost myself apparently, wondering whether I’d lost Iran. Memory tends to grow dull if not used, much like a knife.I wish I could have just told him to fix his damn eyebrows and let us move on, but I couldn’t even look at him. Even in that vast blackness where I sat looking back, I knew with a jagged certainty that this conversation would go on forever. That voice…Some voice would always go on to ask me about that novel. Maybe it’s the characters that I once knew…
“I will surely lose my mind,” I said, taking in a few deep breaths, as deep as I could, while I reached to the ground, feeling around blindly for my blue agave, blue agave for my blackness. I decided to have a bigger shot this time, smoke a cigarette as slowly as I could and try not to think. That was actually my only decision. “Don’t think.”
I got up and stretched my back and cracked my neck, all in an attempt to not think, but then poems came to mind, and the dark hadn’t changed one bit, and my fears were still very much alive, lurking in the bush, and so I thought, “Poetry, why not?” And I began reciting poems I’d written, some long ago, in different lands, with what seemed to be different blood flowing through my veins; poems of my scattered life, poems that remained, despite the drugs and my frantic flights.
“When he sits down, he knows. When he gets up, he forgets. ‘Got to keep moving,’ is what he thinks. In and out he strives and struggles back and forth. Never constant are his eyes, never seeking the stillness lost, he hovers into hallucinations. The day begs of him to read, the night takes the form of a bottle or a woman, and much later on he falls asleep inside his ashtray. Moving on, hand in hand with habit, weakened by the rivers on his window, faces drift along and smiles are thrown at him from time to time, and his country remains the place that he carries in his bag, and ‘Got to keep moving,’ is what he thinks.”
“You’ve reached a whole new level of garbage with that poem. Too sentimental.”
“I wrote it a long time ago.”
“I mean, ‘Weakened by the rivers on his window,’ come on, man!”
“What do you know?” I grunted.
“This is hobo poetry, hobo thoughts. No worries; you have the heart of a hobo my friend.”
And so I recited another one, whispering circles around the fire. I recited poem after poem, but he didn’t say anything anymore. I even waited for him to say something, anything else, but I guess I was done talking to myself. Exhausted, I dropped myself back on the chair facing the fire and let out a sigh. I was surely losing my mind.
“Starting to get cold,” I said and added with confidence, “But I have faith my skin will handle it. I’ve made it here after all. I’m not gonna burn any more wood,” I sighed, and then a yawn and shiver passed, while some wings flapped overhead, too dark to see, but ever so rhythmic, my blackness and I. “I don’t have much,” I continued, “but I’ve made it here, you’ve seen. I have some papers, a few good stories, and more than that, I probably owe the world many apologies. I’m not sure who you are to me, but in this blackness I’ll believe in you. For the first time I’ll let someone know that I was never really a hateful person, mostly just sorrowful. It was all just some sort of sorrow that I turned to hate out of boredom, that’s all.”
I lit my final cigarette and threw the empty pack in the fire pit. That’s when I heard a “click” and Mehdi’s tent suddenly lit up from the inside and he coughed and I watched his shadow as he bounced around and got out from inside his sleeping bag. I was suddenly summoned into a heavy silence, biting down on my tongue, wondering whether I’d been talking out loud this whole time. I couldn’t remember for the life of me. I looked away and tried to hold my breath. I couldn’t have looked away for more than five seconds, but when I turned back to his lit up tent, I distinctly made out the outline of a bear on the gravel road, a few meters behind Mehdi. “Jesus Christ!” I burst out, jolting upwards and dropping my flashlight and kicking the bottle over.
“YO!” Mehdi exclaimed, “Who the fuck is there, man!”
“Mehdi! Mehdi,” I said, my voice cracking every which way, as I grabbed my light and pointed it out at the gravel road. I managed to light up the bear’s ass, as it had walked diagonally off the gravel road and onto our campsite, and was passing on the front end of our van and disappearing from my sight.
“Who the fuck is there, yo!” he shouted again and was beginning to unzip the door to his tent.
“Mehdi, it’s me,” I whispered and yelled at the same time, “There’s a bear on our site! There’s a…”
“Fuck this shit,” he said, zipping the door closed once more. “I really have to piss, man!”
He turned off his light as if to give the bear no indication that someone was home, and I heard a few more whispers from inside his tent that I chose to ignore, mainly him telling me to get in the tent, to not be stupid. I walked instead with calculated steps over to the front of the van, casting the light and surveying the ground and my surroundings with care, my heartbeat filling the inside of my head, reverberating in my bones, pulsating out of my eyes. The bear had gone into the bush and toward the water. I tried repeatedly to penetrate through the trees with my flashlight, for any sign, any movement, listening for any sound. “You’re a silent stepper, aren’t ya black bear?” I said and added in a tone of complete innocence, as if calling forth a frightened kitten, “Come on bear, come on; pss psst pssst… How come you’re not as interested in me as I am in you?” I stood there for a long time, or so it seemed, thinking that maybe I should try and find another path to the water and catch him there. Then came the massive splash and the sound of rippling waves, and I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of that bear’s ass in the water. “Great time for a swim,” I chuckled and raising my hand to my mouth I noticed that I’d dropped my cigarette, my final cigarette. I retraced my steps, as calculated as before, my heartbeat still echoing through me. I found my smoke, still burning, and dawn wasn’t far. There was only a few drags left. Needless to say, I smoked it to the filter, no longer thinking about my conversations with myself, or with God.