White Torture

By Farnoosh Moshiri

 terrifying unfolding of a nightmare! She is finally here, a place she has imagined for years and this is the chair she has been tied to in the darkest bottoms of her nights. The kerchief they have used as blindfold smells of stale sweat—her face is to a wall, her back to an iron door.

With each breath she takes in the pungent odor of someone’s greasy sweat. She would tear off the filthy cloth if she could—no matter the consequences—but her arms are pulled behind her back and her wrists are handcuffed to the metal rod of the chair. Her shoulder blades burn, her muscles pulsate, and million needles run in her arms’ veins. But the overwhelming odor of sweat is worse than the pain.

She knows she is alone in this room and there is a faucet somewhere near, because she can hear the dripping sound—drip, drip, drip. Nonstop. She has to think about something else, space out, travel somewhere in her mind. There are a few places she can escape to, only if this odor and the continuous dripping of the water doesn’t torment her. And yet, this is not torture.

Torture will begin after the interrogation, not before. This is the white one—no beating, no whipping or hanging, no burning the skin with cigarettes, no sexual assault. Only waiting. Waiting in a damp, empty room, listening to the water dripping next to her ear and inhaling someone’s body odor—someone who has eaten plenty of fat and onions and has sweated out grease.

If she could space out she would go to the woods, or to her childhood pool, where she swam like a fish in cold clean water. Remembering the places of refuge takes a few minutes and she doesn’t smell or hear anything. So it’s not impossible. She can find a way out. She’ll shut down her senses and won’t think about the reason of her arrest.

This is what the woman told her when she brought her here and handcuffed her to the chair. She said, “Sit here, old whore, and think about the reason of your arrest.” But it’s a while now that she is here—more than two hours and she hasn’t even once thought about the reason of her arrest. How can she? With the dirty kerchief and this dripping faucet? She counts—five seconds between each drop—one … two … three … four … five—drip. One ….

They may leave her here for many more hours and let her wet herself. She has heard stories about such humiliations. They give the prisoner plenty of liquids, then deny her bathroom and when she wets herself they insult her and punish her like a bad child. She may wet herself if they don’t show up in another hour. The female guard gave her a glass of water before leaving her alone. The water was warm and didn’t look clear, but she was thirsty and drank it greedily.

Normally, outside, in the real world, she uses the bathroom every hour. Ever since her menopause her bladder has become overactive. In the Ministry, where she works in the basement office, she has access to a private bathroom. Every hour she stops counting the money, locks the door so that no one could enter, and uses the bathroom. This office is in the heart of the earth, in the second level basement of the Ministry and her job is simple and mechanical, but very sensitive. She counts stacks of money all day, divides them, rubber bands them and locks them in a safe. She works alone and her only companion is a little transistor radio. Of course she is not allowed to listen to music, even if there is any. She listens to the news or the poetry program with a background of lamenting songs, chanted by male singers . When the sermons begin, she turns off the radio.

Now she stops herself from thinking about her job. This is what they want her to do—to think about the reason of her arrest. She has to escape to her childhood pool, or that patch of woods, where she entered one day and made herself lost.

They had gone to a picnic, she and her family. Her fiancé was drinking too much vodka again and she was upset. He was in fact her father’s coworker and drinking friend and her father wanted her to marry him because he liked him and was planning to start a business with him. He had some money. She was only eighteen and her fiancé was fifteen years older. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with unusually wide hands, his hair already graying. Her mother loved him too, cooked for him and pampered him. Sometimes, she thought her mother and father both wanted to marry him and they couldn’t, so they planned her marriage.

That day at the picnic, they were all eating, drinking, and playing cards. But M (her fiancé) was getting drunker by the moment. She knew that if he’d become too drunk he’d hurt her later. When they’d return home and her parents would go to their room and leave them alone on purpose, M would sneak into her bedroom and push himself on her. He’d drop her on the bed, face down, and force himself into her body. He wanted her to remain virgin for the wedding night, so he hurt her this way. If she cried (which she often did into the pillow—from pain and humiliation) he slapped her with his big hand and said that they were engaged and she belonged to him.

Now he was getting drunk again and she knew the consequences. So she walked out of the picnic area and went straight into the woods. The woods were thick and mysterious and surrounded a clearing. She remembers—how strangely vivid after all these years—that the moment she found herself among the tall pines and oaks she felt light-weighted. She began to walk in a pathway covered with dried leafs and pine needles, and soon the pathway ended and she was lost. She was too far into the thick woods and excited about being lost. She sat on a tree trunk, gazed around and listened to the birds and the repeating hum of a river on the other side of the trees. She took in the hot scent of the pines and felt happy. Hours passed and now she heard people yelling her name. She let them call her and didn’t move. But finally when darkness fell she began to worry. What if they’d call the police? What if they would release dogs to find her? So, shaky and reluctant she called back and let them find her.

That night on the way back, cramped in his father’s car, they were all sour with her. She had ruined their picnic. No one talked to her and M was not drunk anymore. All the effort to find her had sobered him. When they reached home, he said he was tired and left. She slept peacefully that night and dreamed of the warm scent and the green glow of the ancient trees. Even when she went to school the next day this pleasant and mysterious feeling remained with her. She sat in biology class absent mindedly and felt the same peace that in that brief isolation had enveloped her. She knew that the memory of her escape would remain in her head and in future whenever she would find herself in trouble she would summon up the day that she had sat alone in the woods.

So she summons it up again and this way another hour passes. But no interrogator shows up and the white torture goes on. She can manage this if her bladder doesn’t distract her. But it’s full now and throbbing with pain. She thinks about the possibility of emptying herself, wetting her pants and the black chador they have dropped on her head like a big tent.

She can’t escape to the second place anymore. She is condemned to focus on her bladder—to squeeze and control it. She has a feeling that there is a window on her right side, and behind it darkness is falling. When they arrested her it was noon and she was about to take her lunch break. Usually she didn’t leave the office for lunch, because it was time consuming to lock up all the money and then come back and unlock them. So she ate at her desk. She pushed back the columns of money and opened her lunch bag. Three days a week she ate boloney sandwich and two days egg sandwich. Today it was her egg sandwich day. But before she took her first bite, the door opened and five men stepped in and aimed their machine guns a her. Her supervisor, Brother Talebi stood behind them, his face chalk white from fear. He mumbled something to the men, “She’s a veteran, Brothers. She’s been working for the Ministry for twenty-five years!” But they didn’t want to listen to him and he was too scared to say anything more. The plain suit agents handcuffed her and prodded her out and up the steps. They marched her through the narrow hallways of the Ministry, where clerks stood at the doors of their offices, watching.

That was noon and she missed her lunch; this morning, having been late for work, she had missed her breakfast too and all she had eaten last night was bread and cheese and watermelon. But she is not worried about eating. They’ll feed her if they want her to stay coherent and answer to their questions. It’s her bladder that worries her. Even the sweaty kerchief and the dripping faucet have become more tolerable. Now she feels that this very minute she’ll release herself and sit in her urine, relieved. If she convinces herself to do so, then she can space out again and go to the second resort on her list.

Footsteps outside—click, click, click—as if the heels are made of iron. She holds her breath and tenses her muscles like an animal in ambush. Are they coming to interrogate her? While she has to pee? Or are they going to take her to the bathroom first? Are these the footsteps of the same woman who brought her here? But soon the sound of the iron heels fades and a heavy silence falls.

Drip—one … two … three … four … five …. Drip—. The white torture goes on.

She tries to release herself now and urinate in her pants. But she cannot. There are two conflicting forces inside her body—the pressure of her bladder and a force commanding her not to release her urine. This battle torments her and for the first time she begins to cry. Tears well up and make a pool under the kerchief and soon the tight blindfold absorbs the water. Now the smelly cloth is wet and it stinks even more, because her tears mix with the sweat that has been absorbed in the material. She vomits bile that runs over her chin and soils the front of her uniform. Now she cries loud and infantile. She sobs and doesn’t care if they’ll punish her for making noise. Let them hear, she thinks. She bawls the way she did when her mother-in law pulled her baby out of her arms and took him away—forever.

This was thirty years ago, when the Revolution happened. She and M had married a year before that and she had a baby boy now—Ramin. She was only twenty, but had matured beyond her age. She no longer escaped into the woods; she confronted M whenever he treated her roughly. They fought all the time, because she didn’t want to be slapped and thrown on the bed. If he touched her when he was drunk, she fought with her fists and nails. The uprising of the people against the monarchy had something to do with her new courage. She saw men and women demanding their rights and she demanded hers. So they fought and threw ugly words and tight fists at each other.  One day, he grabbed the baby to take him to his mother’s house. She ran, blocked the door with her body, and tried to pull the baby out of his arms. The baby was not hurt, but felt the tension and shrieked. He shrieked so hard that his face became purple. M was alarmed and gave up the fight.

Finally, one day he packed his things, left her, and didn’t say anything about the baby. The divorce papers came after a month and when she went to the court the judge took her child away from her. He said she was not fit to be a mother, because she was violent toward the baby and she was not fit to be a wife, because she resisted intercourse with her husband. They gave Ramin’s custody to M’s family. He was nine months old, his pretty head with a puff of blond hair lay on her shoulder, his mouth touched her neck in a perpetual kiss. M’s mother, an aging bitter woman in black veil, a pitiful monster who had been abused and crushed by her own husband for forty years, snatched the baby out of her embrace and rushed out of the court.

She remembers that she stopped seeing her own family. She cursed them for what they had done to her. She cursed her father for marrying her off against her will, to a drunk much older than herself and she cursed her mother for her stupidity and passivity—for not protecting her. The only one in the family she still felt close to was her younger sister. She told her, “Don’t let them run your life! Go to college. Disobey!” And she did. When their father brought up the subject of marriage, her sister said she was planning to study; she asserted herself. Their father didn’t insist, because he didn’t have a candidate in mind. The Revolution had damaged his business and he was thinking about selling everything and leaving the country. So Mitra passed the entry exams of the university and began a college student’s life.  How happy she felt for her little sister and how envious at the same time. She was young too, only twenty-one, but already divorced, and had a baby who was not hers anymore. She had no chance to pass the entry exams of the universities. Thousands of younger students were competing and besides, she had no money.

She decided never to ask help from her family. Damn them, she kept saying. She’d survive without them. She found a clerical job and went to night classes and studied typing and accounting. She had become a bitter women, a frowning, hard working woman, obsessed with the routines of her tedious job. Often she stayed over time and worked without extra pay. Her supervisors noticed her hard work, but never promoted her to the managerial level. Instead, they sent her to the money counting room, a low level job, but sensitive and high security. She was trustworthy, after all. Now it was more than twenty-five years that she counted, stacked, and rubber-banded paper money and locked them in the safe and at the end of the day handed the key to her boss, Brother Talebi.

She never married, although she had countless suitors in the Ministry and the middle class neighborhood in the far west of the city, where she had bought a condominium. She rejected them all.  She couldn’t even imagine sharing her bed with a man, even if he would be kind and caressing. She had no need for men’s caresses.

And she never saw her son again. After losing the custody, she had been allowed to once a week, two hours visit, but after three or four visits, when the baby cried and she wept and the mother-in law pulled the child away, she preferred not to torment herself and the baby. She stopped going.

During the many years, she heard from friends of friends that her son had grown into a fine man, but he had a different name now. The religious grandparents had named him after a martyred Imam and he was no longer Ramin. And she had heard that her son was also a religious hardliner—a fanatic, a bearded fundamentalist. She ignored all the rumors. All she wanted to remember was his tight embrace, the scent of milk and pudding on his soft body, and his little lips on her neck when he was nine months old.

Although she had worked for the Islamic regime since it had established itself, she had no solid faith and no religious sentiment. Her family had been secular and she had not been brought up as a practicing Moslem. But she was cautious and followed all the rules that the government imposed on women. She needed her job, so she showed up in the mass prayers, wore her dark scarf and uniform to work every day, and never used make up or nail polish. She didn’t even pluck her thick eyebrows. Every evening, when she took off her scarf to brush her gray hair in front of the old, dull mirror, she looked at herself with awe and sighed. A life had passed. A life that she had not lived.

She thinks about all this while crying silently. No one has heard her bawling. No one has even passed the corridor. Now the battle inside her body is resolved and she begins to release her urine. First a few drops and then the whole warm water.

A long time after she wets herself, when her pants, her uniform, and the black chador under her are cold and sticky, she submerges herself in the pure, blue waters of the swimming pool that was just a street away from their house when she was a little girl. She and Mitra wore their skates and rolled all the way to the pool. They shed themselves from their shorts and T. shirts and showered hastily. She dived into the cold water, but her sister sat on the edge of the shallow side of the pool and touched the water with the tip of her toe. It took her half an hour to finally go inside.

No one minded if they stayed the whole long summer days at the public pool. Her parents were both working and they were grateful that this clean and safe neighborhood pool was there. Now that she thinks back, she had never been so free and strong as she’d been between the ages of nine and thirteen. When she entered high school, her father bought another house and moved them to a neighborhood where no pool was nearby. She never swam again.

Now she remembers the red swimsuit she wore every summer and how it had paled in the sun. At the end it was pinkish, had lost its elasticity, and was too tight for her. She remembers her graceful breast strokes, her back strokes while she gazed at the blue sky and took it in like food or pure water, and her powerful leg kicks—like a smooth-moving motor boat. The grown up swimmers encouraged her to join the team, but she never did. She spent most of her time with Mitra, who was scared of deep waters. She was a weak child who preferred to sit in the sun, shivering with a large towel wrapped around her, watching her big sister diving from the four meter platform like a professional. There was a young man from the Persian Gulf area, Abadan or Ahvaz, who was so dark that he looked like a negro; his name was Jamaal. Jamaal was a champion diver and taught her to open her arms in the air and close them before piercing the water, legs stretched and attached like the tail of a shark.  This position was called “Angel.” She performed “Angel” as good as Jamaal.

The sheer freedom of opening her arms in the air like a seagull, the joy of emerging from under the water to find people clapping for her, the picnic with her sister on the grass at the poolside, the cold cutlet sandwich and potato chips they ate and washed it down with a bottle of cold Pepsi, the pleasant fatigue after the exercise, at the end of a long summer day—those were the best times of her life.

It must be midnight, because it’s cold and she is shivering the way Mitra did sitting at the edge of the pool.  Poor girl, so fragile, so weak, and yet so brave. How did she do it? How did she gather her courage to do such an impossible thing? Her little sister, away from home, in the heart of the night, in a strange place called Arizona. If it hadn’t been for Mitra, she wouldn’t be here now.

Her teeth clatter. She can’t control her jaws. She must be careful not to bite her tongue. Clatter, clatter, and drip, drip, drip. The faucet will leak forever and her pants will never dry in this cold room. She listens. Someone far away, maybe at the very end of the long corridor, screams, asking for help. “Help!” she hears more clearly now, “Someone help me!”

It’s a woman. They arrested so many of them last week in the demonstration—young girls with green scarves and green wristbands, beautiful girls, lively and fresh like saplings. She watched them that day. She and a few colleagues from the Ministry stood in the balcony and watched the green tides of people passing by, shouting dangerous slogans. Death to this authority or that, asking for a “Human Republic” not an “Islamic” one. Looking at a young girl, leading the crowd, she remembered Mitra.

In the second year of college, Mitra became involved with a leftist organization and soon was arrested and taken to the horrible Evin, a place from which girls didn’t come out whole. This was when M had taken her baby away and she was so miserable that she couldn’t think about her sister. But when two years later Mitra was released, they met. She remembers their visit in the second floor of an ice-cream shop, a place they went as high school students, ate cream puffs and ice-cream, and chatted and giggled with high school boys, who sat at the next table. Now a wall had separated the men’s café from the women’s.

That cold winter day, Mitra looked emaciated and her large black eyes had no luster. She didn’t volunteer to say anything about herself, instead, she asked her about the divorce and her baby. She told Mitra about the court’s decision and the way M’s mother had pulled Ramin out of her arms. Now she laid her head on the sticky table and wept for a long time.

Instead of consoling her, Mitra said, “I saw women who were tortured in front of their babies.” She had a flat voice that chilled her to the bone.

“So you mean—I have to be grateful?”

“Your baby is safe and well fed. His grandparents love him.”

“But I’m his mother!” She shouted at her sister. She was infuriated.

“Once in prison, a baby starved and died. There was another one who had fever and they didn’t cure him. She died too.”

“Stop it, will you?”

She had to stop her. Mitra had become like a robot with the mechanical voice of a computer.

After a long silence, during which the ice-cream melted and the sisters crept into themselves, they talked again, this time, briefly and reluctantly. Mitra said that their father was arranging for all of them to leave the country and she should go with them. Suspecting that her family had sent Mitra to urge her to join them, she shook her head.

“They owe me an apology. Both of them,” she told Mitra. “And even if they apologize, I won’t go anywhere with them. They ruined my life.”

“You can start a new life in a new country,” Mitra said without excitement. Had she memorized this meaningless cliché?

“Tell them I don’t want to see them or hear from them, okay? You go—save yourself.”

“If I stay, they may arrest me again. The interrogator told me, ‘My business with you is not finished.’”

“Then go. Escape. I’ll remain here. I have a job. They pay me well.”

This was the last time she saw her. Three months later, her father, mother and Mitra went on a tour of India, left the group of tourists, and sought asylum in the American Embassy in New Delhi. Mitra sent her a card with the picture of Taj Mahal, saying that they’ll soon travel to America.  This was her first and last card. A year later, she killed herself in a place called Arizona.

When from the balcony of the Ministry she and her colleagues watched the massive march of the people, she saw a tall, skinny girl, with pale face and large eyes holding two fingers up in the air, shouting, Freedom. It was her, Mitra. But how could she come back from death? She was dead for so long and buried in Arizona. If alive, she would be forty-nine now—an aging woman like herself.

Someone, a young employee who had just been hired to maintain the computers stood behind her. He told to someone else, “Are they brave, or stupid?” His friend in a hushed voice said, “They won’t get anywhere. The government will crush them.” The computer man said, “Have you seen what they’re doing to money?” His friend said, “No. What?” The young man said in a whisper, “They’re writing slogans on paper money.” His friend said, “Hush, they’ll hear you—and stop recording. They may check our mobiles.”

When she heard the news of Mitra’s suicide from her aunt, she thought about their last visit in that ice-cream shop and she wished she had been less selfish and hadn’t cried for her own misery. She wished she had let her sister talk. What had they done to her in Evin that she had killed herself on the other side of the world?

This was when she began to think about interrogation and torture obsessively. She talked to people who had been released, read forbidden newspapers, and went to the cemetery every Friday to visit with the mothers of the executed political prisoners. She gathered information like someone who was planning to write a book. She had three bulletin boards on the walls of her kitchen covered with newspaper clips, emails, and interviews she had found on the internet. With all the details she had gathered, her imagination had become richer and she could see horrible scenes in her sleep and wakefulness. She saw Mitra in the interrogation room and saw herself sitting next to her. She woke up in the middle of the night and asked herself, Would she have killed herself if she had not been raped? She thought about rape—her sister’s rape and herself, by M and by many interrogators of her nightmares.

Years and years of living alone, aging alone, counting money all day and walking home with a small bag of groceries, unveiling her head in front of a mirror, gazing at her gray hair with awe and wonder, years and years of contemplating horrors of a torture chamber, years of a strange life that she felt didn’t belong to her, had confused her. Her sister’s memory, their swimming years, their high school years, their little girlhood life together, her imprisonment and torture, their last bitter visit, and her suicide, all had driven her to the edge of madness. Madness it must have been, otherwise who would do what she had done?

And then she heard from her aunt, the only relative she had contact with, that her father had died and her mother was alive in Arizona. What was the old woman doing there alone? She asked herself, but felt no compassion. When she was eighteen, she had told her that M had been hurting her; she had pleaded her mother not to let him into her room, but she had not listened to her. The woman had made her a wedding gown, had painted her face and nails, and had sent her to M’s house to be raped continuously and for ever. No, she had no compassion and no kind words left for that old woman. Let her rot in Arizona.

Dawn breaks. Night has vanished. She knows it somehow. Because something behind the window stirs. It must be the morning breeze sweeping dried leafs or pieces of paper. She can smell the dawn. The woman who had been screaming last night has been removed, or has passed out. She hasn’t heard a sound for hours. They have forgotten her. But would it be possible to forget her? If she was only a demonstrator, maybe—an innocent girl with a leaflet, a minor offender, someone with a touch of make up or a wrong dress. What she has done is grave and unforgivable. She knows that the interrogator will call her, “The Corrupter of the Earth and the Enemy of God.” And the penalty for “fighting with God” is execution.

She speculates what he will say to her. She has researched enough, heard enough, read enough, to know what they will say and how they will begin the torture. They will want to know who she works for—which organization or group? And they will not believe her when she will say she has done this alone, without anyone’s order. It was her idea and she has been under no one’s influence—she has done this because of a girl who resembled her sister. She will say her sister has killed herself and the interrogator will say that he knows very well. Her sister was a whore who ran away and she deserved such a shameful death. He will insult her sister to hurt her more. He’ll slap her and insist, “Who are you working for?”

She knows the process. He will slap her first, then bare her back and whip her with cable. She will repeat that she has been working alone and no one has influenced her. She will say that she never listens to the foreign radios and she has no satellite dish. She will talk about her job—how faithfully, how dutifully she has been counting money for quarter of a century, how the Ministry has awarded her the best employee of the year, but never promoted her—because she is a woman. She will cry now, after the whipping, and plead for forgiveness. The devil has deceived her, she will say. To please him she will use his language, “The devil.”  She did it on impulse, because she felt the pain of her sister’s death. There was no previous plan at all. She swears to God. Now the interrogator will smack her mouth. He’ll say that he knows that she is not a believer, so she must not utter the name of God. No matter how much she pleads, the man won’t believe her, because he knows well that she is not one of them and can never become. She is rotten to the core. Now he spits onto her face and calls her “The Corruptor of the Earth and the Enemy of God.”

Time passes. Water drips. Her urine dries on her and the smelly blindfold also dries. There are no more tears. “Think about the reason of your arrest!” the female guard had said. She has done and the white torture goes on.

If she hadn’t gone to the balcony with everyone else last week, if she hadn’t watched the demonstration, if she hadn’t seen this one girl who was a replica of Mitra when she had been in college, if her young coworkers standing behind her hadn’t talked to each other, if she had gone inside one minute earlier and hadn’t seen the men on motorcycles attacking the demonstrators, she would have never done what she did. Never. It would not even occur to her. Because she was not a political person. She did not vote last week and did not care who ruled the country. She was too pessimistic to believe that another leader would restore justice. Her life was shaped and destroyed by despots and it was almost over now. She had no one left to live for—why would she care? Why would she vote? But when Mitra came back to life, like a green sapling in the massive jungle of people, she felt confused. Then the men on motorcycles attacked the girls. The young man standing behind her said, “Look! They’re beating up the girls!” His friend said, “Let’s go in, they’re releasing tear gas.” And it was at this moment that she saw Mitra on the ground, a pool of blood under her head, her eyes open, watching the sky. They killed her again. They killed her sister for the second time. She mumbled something incoherently and rushed into her basement room and locked the door.

This was when she touched the money the way she had not touched before. The dozens of stacks that had been in her care every day for so many years were going to be altered today. She took a black marker and on each bill wrote “Death to the Dictator” and this took her hours. From shock, grief, and fatigue, she got carried away and began to draw fangs and droplets of blood hanging from the Supreme Leader’s beard. She drew devil’s horns on the head of the Father of the Revolution. She wrote, “Free the Political Prisoners” on some bills and crossed the word “Islamic” on others and wrote “Human,” instead. She left a few bills untouched on the top, rubber-banded the stacks, and locked them in the safe. At dusk, through the ruins of the streets, she went home with a taxi, and watched the half burnt bicycles and motorcycles in the deserted sidewalks. She saw the armed militia standing guard, to arrest the passers-by. She didn’t sleep that night. Five in the morning, she called her old aunt, woke her up, and said, “If anything happens to me move to my apartment and if the guards come, tell them you live here. The mortgage is paid, don’t let them confiscate this house. Get a lawyer if you need to.”  She gave her the name of a lawyer she knew and before the old, bewildered woman could say anything she hung up and went to work. She began writing and drawing on the bills all day. This was the last day of the week and at the end of the day two security guards took the stacks of money out of the safe, carried them out in metal boxes, and loaded them in a special windowless van. The money traveled to several cities, to the branches of the Ministry. Many employees would be paid with these bills and it would soon be circulated. When the guards arrested her yesterday, it was exactly a week after the day of the demonstration.

Are her arms dead? Does she have arms at all? It’s a while that the tickling sensation is gone. The water keeps dripping and she feels the warm sun on her right cheek. She falls asleep, head bent into her chest. She has remembered what she has done and she can sleep now.

When she opens her eyes, she has no blindfold. The woman is behind her and she can smell the sour odor of her chador—dust and pollen and something metallic like old menstrual blood. She is unlocking the handcuff. Now her arms fall on her sides like lifeless twigs. She raises her head and finds him sitting at a desk, at the end of the room. When did they come in? They have crept in like thieves when she was asleep. They have slithered from under the door. The woman leaves the room and she is alone with the man at the desk. He is young and his profile is lit by a ray of sun that stretches in a diagonal column. On the desk in front of him he has piles of bank notes. She knows that these are some of the bills she has written on. She knows what will follow—she has lived with this scene for years, in her dreams and wakefulness. She has imagined her little sister and herself, here in this chair. Now she is ready for the black torture that soon—if she is lucky, or much later, if she is unfortunate—will lead her to death. But the man is taking his time. He doesn’t even turn his head to look at her. He lights a cigarette and inhales the smoke. He blows loops in the air that float in the column of light and she watches them dissolving, losing shape and dissipating. For a long time he blows loops, until the cigarette reaches it’s butt. She glances at the desk. There is no ashtray. Her heart leaps into her dry throat. She knows his next move. The man rises and walks toward her. Tall and wide and imposing, his enormous body blocks the column of light and towers over her. Now with his big hand he pulls the chador off her head. With this the scarf under the chador slips off too and her long gray hair falls around her face. With one limp hand she pulls the hair back and clears the left side of her neck. Now in a calm voice that surprises herself she commands her interrogator, “Here, son! Kill your cigarette on my neck. Right here! This is where you kissed when you were a baby.”

She holds her bare neck and waits. In a long moment that extends to eternity, the white torture goes on.


Iranian-born writer Farnoosh Moshiri has published plays, short stories, and translations in Iranian literary magazines before the 1979 revolution and in anthologies published outside Iran in the 1980s. In 1983, she fled her country after a massive arrest of secular intellectuals, feminists, and political activists. She lived in refugee camps of Afghanistan and India for four years before emigrating to the U.S. in 1987. Her novels and collections include At the Wall of Almighty (Interlink 1999), The Bathhouse (Black Heron Press 2001, Beacon Press, 2002); The Crazy Dervish and the Pomegranate Tree (Black Heron Press 2004), and Against Gravity (Penguin, 2006). Among other awards and fellowships, she is the recipient of Florida’ Review’s creative non-fiction award, Barthelme Memorial Award, Barbara Deming Award: A grant to feminist writers whose work speaks of peace and social justice; two consecutive Black Heron Awards for Social Fiction, and Valiente Award from Voices Breaking Boundaries. Her third novel, Against Gravity, was chosen by Barnes and Noble for Discover New Writers Series and by Borders Books in January Original Voices selection. She has taught literature, playwriting, and creative writing in Universities of Tehran, Kabul, Houston, and Syracuse. Her new novel is due in 2012.

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