He sat there reading his book. My grandmother would keep saying something like, “Lousy bastards!” or “Ungrateful kids!” and I would laugh under my breath as I let out the smoke toward the window. My grandmother would always say something. I needed some concentration. I needed to focus to do work. I wanted to read for hours on end like back in the day and have it be silent all throughout. Almost nobody in that house had ever respected the silence of a book reader. “Ungrateful kids,” she said while bending down into the fridge. “I have to make three kinds of food every day just to keep them quiet. They’re grown men for crying out loud.”
“Are you sure about that?” he said, looking up from his book for the first time since he’d started reading. I couldn’t help but let out a laugh. “Are you sure about that?”
“Well, seriously, they shouldn’t be so picky.”
“You’re the one who raised them.”
“I never raised such ungrateful children.”
“She raised a bunch of bums,” he muttered, looking at me all of a sudden.
I laughed out loud and said, “Yeah, you’re right.”
“What? What did you say?”
“I said: you raised a bunch of bums!”
I laughed again and my grandmother just shook her head and let out a sigh. His eyes fell back into his book and I put out my cigarette and wiped a few pieces of ash off the counter. “You really should quit that crap! All of you should quit. I’ll make you quit before I die, if I have to. You’re just like your uncles. Why couldn’t either of you be more like your father?”
“When is everyone else coming?”
“At around one,” she said, taking the ashtray away from me.
“I’m starting to get hungry.”
“I told you to eat breakfast, didn’t I? Nobody listens around here. You don’t eat breakfast but you sit there and smoke. Your father doesn’t smoke. You shouldn’t either.”
“Don’t listen to her. She’s raised a bunch of bums. Can you guess how long she’s been saying the same things?”
“Since she stopped smoking?” I said and began to laugh out loud.
“I never smoked! I’ve been telling people to stop ever since everyone started to become a drug addict or an alcoholic. Nobody listens. You look at the neighbor’s children and what do you see? Elegance, class, faith…and each one has a degree in something. You look at these kids and…what can I say? It’s a good thing their old man is gone and doesn’t get to see them.”
“Give it a break,” I said. My father chuckled as his eyes fell gently back into the pages of his book.
“You need to learn some manners. All of you need to learn some manners! I will teach you some manners, before I die, if I have to…”
I got up without saying anything and walked to the room where I’d left my suitcase. ‘Only one more day,’ I thought. Lying there on the bed I could hear him turning the pages in his book, and I could hear her setting the table for lunch. Soon enough my uncles would arrive, along with my mother, who would hurriedly strip herself of her hijab, walking from one end of the room to the other, fanning herself, and in her own frantically adorable way, filling us in on her shopping adventure; the traffic and summer heat of Tehran, the pollution and the prices. One of them would most definitely complain about the air conditioner being off. My eldest uncle would be the one who turned it on.
“They turn it up as high as they can,” my grandmother would say, “Nobody cares. My bones are weak; I can’t sleep in a freezer. Nobody cares…”
Here now, glued to the monitor, occasionally glancing over at my cup of coffee getting cold, trying to recollect and gather pieces of that day from twelve thousand kilometers away, give or take, I find myself at a loss. Perhaps she was right. Nobody cares. We have always been lonely, in our comforts and in our pains. We all wanted something; our own things, and all the while we pretended to need each other. Nobody did care, but one day we would. Here now, glued to the monitor, scattered embers of my father’s words come floating and find me from twelve thousand kilometers away, give or take…
“To be needed is the greatest happiness I have known. To know that people need your knowledge, that your being and not being makes a difference to your surroundings…One must be a source of impact.”
Pages in some book are always turning, regardless of those who never seem to respect the silence of a book reader.