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Pillow Dancer/Mina Siegel

Friday 22 April 2011, by admin

Feminist School:Mina Zand Siegel has degrees in Medieval Art History, Philosophy and Literature. She has taught in the City University of New York and New York University in philosophy and religion . At present, she is a writer, blogger, translator, and a cultural activist living in New York City.

She has been involved in the English division of the site Feminist School as a translator. She also runs an English language blog http://iranwrites.blogspot.com which is devoted to the Iranian culture and politics.

Pillow Dancer is from a collection of stories about Iranian-Americans. Now a community of few millions, the Iranian American community is in debt to Iranian women who traveled to the United States as students in the 50s, 6os and 70s as the cornerstones of this community. They were pioneer women who walked unprepared into a life dramatically different from that of their mothers and their previous generations. They were expected to achieve excellence without fail and meet the hazards of the unknown triumphantly. Heaven knows how relentless they walked into the path they did not know and how wonderfully they lived with love and wisdom. May we all cherish their memories.
(previously one of her stories, The Bird" translated by Farhad Davoudi, has been published in Cafe Feminist.)

...

The aroma of coffee has filled the entire floor of the Law Offices. Tess looks at the clock showing 3:00 pm and looks at her watch as well, as if to make sure they are synchronized; then, goes to the kitchen, opens the shelf and takes out a large cappuccino cup, a saucer, and a polished silver teaspoon which are next to whole packs of paper cups and plastic utensils there, and places them on the counter. She opens a box of La Chocolate very carefully, picks one piece and places it next to the cup in the saucer. She looks at her watch again, comes out of the kitchen, tries to ignore Steve Wiseman who is coming out of his office across the hall and walks towards the kitchen.
— Can I have a drop of that coffee? He points to the small cappuccino machine next to a big automatic drip coffee maker with a large pot of coffee.

— Later on, if any left. Tess responds, without turning her head or any apology in her tone, as she walks towards her work station in the middle of hall. While positioning herself behind her desk, she looks to see that the door has opened, and a petit size woman with a pale skin, dark hair with strikes of gray here and there, walks in. She looks a little distracted.

— Hi Neda, you are late, what kept you so long? Tess says. She looks relieved.

— Oh, don’t ask. The case ahead of me was delayed, the translator was late. I agreed to wait a little. Did my husband call?

— No, but your son called, and asked you to call him.

Neda walks towards the back of the hall, behind the Tess’s desk where there is a plaque next to the door reads: Neda Milani, Attorney at Law, Immigration Services.

She takes off her coat and hangs it over a rustic coat rack behind the door, walks towards a large painted kitchen table which seems functioning as a desk, picks up the phone and hurriedly dials a number.

— Hi Payam Joon, are you all right? Tess told me you called.

— You are not coming tomorrow?

— Why not?.... Oh! I thought we are going to be together for the Mehregan.

— Alright then, it is alright with me.

— Yes, your father would be disappointed but make sure you come for the Thanksgiving at least, you know how he is.

— Send my love to Sandy. Enjoy the concert.

She hangs up. She sits behind her table, throws her head back and closes her eyes.

Tess walks in with a cup of coffee in her hand and place it next to Neda on the table.

— Thank you very much Tess.

— What is up? Anything wrong? Tess asks.

— Oh, Payam is not coming this weekend. Sandy’s mother has a fundraising concert and they want to attend it. Well, these young people! That is life. Neda sounds tiered and disappointed.

— It is so nice of your son to respect the family affairs. You have raised him well.

— We did our best, though I think he takes after his father. My husband has been very respectful of my family, and he was like that towards his own late mother. Talking about him, it is strange that he has not called. Probably he is out of town to an auction. Maybe someone has found a good, antique Persian carpet somewhere in Pennsylvania! All, twenty of them, are standing in line to get in, or to out bid each others. These men and their hobbies, and their occupation! They all are like children.

— I think it is because they cannot handle the reality of life as good as we do. We are more practical, they just want to refuge into fantasy. I do not know how they do it! Such a sac religion!

Neda shakes her head and whispers, “I guess so.â€

Tess leaves the room and closes the door behind her. Neda, relieved, picks up her coffee and goes towards the window and looks outside. She has felt a chill in her spine when Tess used the word sac religion, “sac religion†she thought to herself repeatedly.

She does not want her fantasies come into clash with Tess’ religious sentiment. Tess is Jamaican, a devoted Seventh Day Adventists who shuns at any ornaments and decorations that not only don’t add to the beauty of the world but put a blemish on it. Her regard and dedication to Neda is, partially, due to Neda’s simplicity and pious appearance, and partly due to her reserved personality.

She plays a CD and lies down on a bench near the window. Sky is crisp and clear, spotless blue. She tries to read her detective novel “Black Tower’ by P.D. James but the music is interfering, it carries her to the far land of ‘Persia’, to a hazy blue sky with an intense perfume of orange blossom. She does not resist, nor does she comply; sluggishly she lets her mind moves from one to the other. Her heart beat sounds differently but harmoniously with the orchestra. What would Tess think if she would hear her heart beat, if she sees her dancing, her dream like movements over the steamy surface of a lake Hamoon in old Persia, just in the search of a seed, a holy seed of Hushidar to carry in her womb? A telephone ring brings her to herself. She has forgotten to switch the phone to the answering mode.

“A’ha! That is him.†She thought.

— Neda Milliani speaking

— Where are you?

— Where is that?

— New Hampshire?

— So you will get home in the morning….

— Hundred years old? I wish you could pay for it with hundred years old currency as well.

— Oh, I do not intend to be funny, Please do not spend that much money on these stuffs.

— Well, best of luck. Do they let you bid on it or there is a gang of them ahead of you as usual?

— Please do not accumulate if you do not have a client for it. Who wants these rotten carpets except us?

— What?

— Oh, please! Don’t buy it just to challenge others, let them have it if they want it so badly.

— Ok, see you then.

She hangs up. “Competition, competition!†She just mumbles while switches the phone to the answering mode. She feels better; she can go home a little early and be by herself.

She wants to read her detective story but the music drags her to the lake Hamoon again; well let’s dance until I get tiered, until my grandmother comes, with her squeaky voice ordering:

— â€œEnough Neda! It is not very becoming of our family to have a daughter dancing over the lake and throwing her legs up, and twisting her belly and breast this way and that way.â€

— â€œBut Grandma, this is ballet, not belly dancing, it is ……
“Ok, balesh dancing (pillow dancing), it is even worse, dancing with the balesh! Very suggestive too! What difference does it make, you still showing your legs to the people, dancing is dancing with balesh or without balesh.â€

A faint smile appears on her face; her childhood dream became a joke here and there, every body laughed at her ballet dancing fantasy when her grandmother misheard it as “balesh dancing†. She learned very early in her life that there is a thick wall between the reality and what she is twined with, fantasy. She knew dancing would never happen, not in real life; it belonged to the other side of that thick wall, to a dark lonely place when no one could be around to see it, to the dark and hazy world of her late night dreams or late afternoon daydreams when everyone was taking a siesta. She was only six years old.

Jahan, however, never laughed at her. Indeed when they married and moved to his house, where he lived with his mother, a house too big to cuddle her dreams and fantasies, he built a gazebo in the further reaches of their garden with a small plaque reading “dream nest†hanging on top of the door. He never put step there.

Neda looks at the bird cage in the corner which is filled with small plants and the small old plaque in Persian reads “dream nest†hanging at its door.

She misses him, she misses his smell, she misses his gentleness, she misses his soft voice, and she misses his soft look. Is it love though? Yes, it is a soft love. It is a smooth love, it is just like her dancing, like her heart beat, it just moves with rhythm and harmony, it is so perfect, no turbulence, nothing like Anna Karenina, or Mme Bovary, not like Lady Bert Ashley. How did they mange to be like that? No, she can’t be like them, not like any of those passionate romantic women in the books, she never felt that way, not toward her husband not anyone else, she can not afford the pain, embarrassment, and disgrace, not for love, and not for anything else.

When she was twelve, she saw a movie, Gi Gi; that was her dream life. All she needed was a Maurice Chevalier to help her to fulfill that dream. Eight years later, Jahan arrived on her second year of college, seventeen years her senior, to fulfill those dreams, but two months later, he married her himself. He was a residing judge then, without any young barrister to compete with.

But this morning in the court she did not miss him when she was in the elevator with that handsome, tall, youngish, blond man with dark eyeglasses. She was thinking what would happen if there is a blackout and she would be trapped in the elevator with this man. “It was just a thought, it just came, I did not mean it, it just came, I was trying to get used to the darkness, it would be dark and neither of us would see each other; and not knowing what would happen to us, we were afraid, so we sought each others hands to hold just in the case,…. just in case of what? They would come to rescue us of course, why of course? It would take a long time to check all these elevators, I tried just to imagine….â€

— don’t you want to get off? It is nineteen Floor. Ms?

— Oh, yes, nineteen, yes, I should go, I was just thinking. Thanks.

“Nineteen Floor already and no blackout? So cruel, no blackout, I was just getting used to it, and no blackout….â€

She glances at the blue sky turning gray, drinks her coffee. She goes back to lake Hamoon.

— â€œOh here he is, with his long hair and long white tunic. It seems someone found the seed already and grew it well. Here he is, let’s ask him to dance, oh yes, it is better, yes.â€

— â€œMr. Hushidar would you like to dance with me.â€

— â€œ No? You don’t know how to dance? Don’t worry I’ll teach you. It is very easy, just look, try to go on your toes, just like the angels.â€

— â€œYou are an angel yourself? Oh, I did not know that, nice to meet you, I’m Neda Milani, attorney at law, immigration services.â€

— â€œYes I fantasize a lot. How do you know?â€

— â€œYou know everything? that is ----- well sir why are you wandering around here on the lake?â€

— â€œLooking for the lost souls? Here in this isolated place? Did you ever meet one?†hum! very diplomatic.

— â€œNo, I’m not a lost soul, I am just here to dance, no harm, just dancing, and you are an angel and there is nothing wrong with holding an angel in my arms and even kissing him.â€

— â€œOh, you do not know how to kiss? So strange! What do you know? It is like this. Come a little closer and just hold me and put your lips over mine and do what I do, Ok, just like that. Was not that easy?â€

— â€œFeels good? Yes I know.â€

— â€œWhat? You are late? Ok, nice meeting you, I hope I see you again and I will teach you more about dancing.â€

— â€œNo it is not such a useful thing, nothing will happen if you do not dance, but you know, if you do, you will notice that things are more colorful, do you know the colors?â€

— â€œYes? Wow! Thanks Heaven, I doubt if Tess knows the colors, Yes, Tess our secretary, she thinks everything is sac religion, you remind me of her, but it seems you are a bit more alive. At least you do not think kissing is sac religion; that is very good.â€

— â€œOk good- bye Mr. Hushidar.â€

— â€œYes, what does Mr. mean? It is just a title to indicate a respect, I will tell you all about it next time, please go, you might be late.â€

Such a lonely naïve man! I hope he would never leave this lake, the man don’t not even know how to kiss! But he knows that he is late, late for what? There is nothing here to be late for. Strange soul indeed!
She moves her head to the pillow next to her and lets her book drops on her chest with her hands tight over it.

But the man in elevator, I’m sure he knew all about kissing and did not appear to be late. What was he thinking then? Did he think about the blackout too? Who was he? A judge? A lawyer?

She opens her eyes and looks out, “it must be around five now. I wish Tess would leave at five instead of six, why should she leave so late, I wish I could tell her that Mr. Hushidar who is also an angel thinks that being late is sac religion, yes I will tell her to leave early, she should not be late, I should just tell her about not being late and leave Mr. Hushidar out of it. I wonder what she thinks about angel who dances, and kisses! Who knows what she thinks! Probably sac religion!â€

— â€œOh, yes sir you are here? Very welcome to my office, is that anything I can do for you?â€

— â€œYes, it is true we met in the elevator today. But you reminded me to leave the elevator at Nineteen Floor without any apology. I was just thinking.â€

— â€œWhat about? –(Tthanks Heaven, he is no angel to know my thoughts)— Just about my client who is about to get deported.â€
— â€œWhy? He has over extended his visa and his passport is not original and has worked illegally.â€

— â€œNo he is not a political refuge; he is just an Afghan refugee driving cab. I hope you are not here to find out more about him since I’m his attorney and should not reveal further information.â€

— â€œ Thanks a lot, you just came here to tell me that my hands are pretty? That is very nice of you, you yourself look very handsome. Why don’t you come and have a seat next to me,â€

— â€œYes, you can take my hands too, oh yes, you can lie down next to me too. Oh, placing your hand under my pullover? Well, why not. Ah, that is very nice, it feels good. Yes, I like it very much when you are touching my belly, yes and a kiss too? OK, and another? OK, and then what?

— â€œMore kisses? And then what? You like touching my belly? I like it too. But this morning in the elevator you looked not even interested in me or my hands or anything; you did not even wait for blackout, you showed me the way out, it was not nice at all.â€

— â€œYes, I am an attorney, my name is Neda Milany.â€

— â€œNo, it has nothing to do with Milan in Italy; it is a village in Turkish speaking part of Iran.â€

— â€œYes, I’m married, and I love my husband, Jahan, he is very nice man, he is an ex- judge and loves me very much, and is antique dealer now. Yes, antique carpets, and there is absolutely nothing wrong to ride in an elevator with a man. I was just riding on elevator and …… what about you? What are you doing? Let me guess, you are an ex- judge with a dark sunglass who is riding on elevator with a woman who is an attorney.â€

— â€œNo? You are not ex- judge?
Too bad! My husband is an ex- judge and we met in a law firm where I was doing my case study. I just asked him for a case to study. He said: “What type of story you likeâ€

— â€œRomantic.†I said.

— â€œWell, I’m afraid you are in a wrong place. You better go to Italy or France. There, people commit crime for romance; here they do it out of zeal or ignorance. Read this! This is the only romantic case I know of. Dr. Shahrokh was present at the court when this trial was going on. He was a law student, just like you, then at Sorbonne.â€

Then, he handed me a file titled Hedie La Mare.

— â€œDo you know of any romantic case like Hedie La Mare?â€

— â€œNo? You do not know who Hedie La Mare is? That is very strange. Oh, I know, because you did not study at Sorbonne, and you are not a judge either, you are just a man with dark sunglass riding in elevator, right? Yes? And waiting for blackout? What does your grandmother think?â€

— â€œYou don’t know? I don’t think she would approve of it. My grandmother won’t; she does not approve of dancing either. She thinks it is not becoming of our family. I don’t think riding in elevator is more becoming than dancing, for a man or a woman. I think you should go and find a becoming job for yourself, like mine, an attorney at law. My grand mother is not alive and my mother, rest in peace, is dead now. But my father is very proud of me. He is very proud that his daughter is an attorney in New York City and files immigration forms for all the refugees who flee to the States after all CIA coups, or a civil war or genocide. It is a very becoming job, though I do not like it. I wanted to become criminal Lawyer like Dr. Shahrokh, to investigate the murder cases, but you know, English is not my native language and I thought I can not defend my clients well; that is why I become immigration lawyer.â€

— â€œNo, for this, one does not need that much of the language, one just fills the forms. But I’m sure you can become a criminal lawyer, or an immigration lawyer, just like me.â€

— â€œNo, not really, no more. I did not know who you are; I should not have let you in the first place. No, I really mean it, and you better go. I didn’t mean it that way, I don’t know what happened, No I never let a man in the elevator who is not an ex-judge and is not married to me to come and lie down next to me to kiss me and touches my belly. No I really don’t know, you do not even know Heddie La Mar, you just ride in elevator, just ride in elevator, I was just thinking about blackout. Why? Oh, I know, because of your dark eyeglass. Yes, yes, because of your dark eyeglass. I tried to imagine how you see me through the darkness of your eyeglasses; that is why. I hope you believe me. Now just leave and close the door behind you and make sure Tess won’t see you, and make sure she would never find out that we were together alone in elevator either. Please do not tell her about the blackout.â€

— â€œI beg you pardon? It did not happen? Oh, yes it did not happen, there was no black out, yes, I forgot! Anyhow, do not tell her. Just leave and get yourself a becoming job and never again ride in elevator with an Iranian woman who is attorney at law, immigration services, who is married and have two sons and…….â€

She opens her eyes, her office is dark. She gets up and goes towards door, opens it and notices no one is there and Tess is gone. She feels sad; she wants to cry and run after him.

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