First Crime

              No one has ever been sentenced to a more
severe sentence called education as young as I was.

      “I don’t know how to punish him anymore, I ran out
of ideas, I tried everything,” my mother said to my father
one night as tears were running down her face.

Then my sentence was carried out. I was three years
old. The next morning I was trailing my father with a long
face to Mactab. Those days in Ahvaz, housewives who
had some education taught neighboring children under
school age for a small fee in their homes. The
curriculum included learning alphabets and listening to
the teacher reciting Quran.

       As I was schlepping behind my father, I knew
where I was going could not be a good place, my
freedom was to be taken away.  For a few hours a day I
was forced to do a mandatory hard labor called learning.

        When we arrived, Mrs. Badami my home teacher
opened the door.

“I’m not a baby sitter. Mactab is a learning institution. I
do not tolerate mischievous behavior in the class,” she
said to my father.

      “I agree with you one hundred percent. He’s a good
boy, I promise you.” My father left me in Mrs. Badami’s
custody and hurriedly fled. What a liar was my father.

      She ushered me to their living room where I met
other inmates, four kids my own age. I sat down on the
floor and quietly listened to our teacher reciting Quran
in Arabic; I could barely speak my own language. After
one hour of listening to the words of God in a language
incomprehensible to me, I politely asked permission to
use the lavatory. Permission was granted and I left the
room. Pee was bliss. I enjoyed every second of my
break and reluctantly returned to the class to do time
and endure the hard labor.

      Mrs. Badami opened a book and eloquently recited
from the first page.

“Father gave water. Mother gave bread.”

I recognized the pictures in the book. They were the
same parents who gave water and bread in my older
brother’s text book.  The one he always brought home
and loudly recited every night.  My brother was in first
grade and I was only three. Punishment did not fit the
crime.

      As unfair as this punishment seemed, honest to
God, I tried so hard to stay awake, be a good boy as
father promised and learn but my eyes were not under
my control. They kept rolling up and down and left and
right of the little strange room searching for distraction,
anything to divert my attention from hearing the
monotonous tone of our teacher. Suddenly I noticed an
unusual piece of garment hanging on the wall.

“What is that?”  I asked our teacher pointing to the
object.

      “It is my husband’s coat.” The teacher looked to
where I was pointing and replied.

      “Oh! It’s too bulky and heavy, I thought it was a
mule’s saddle,” I innocently commented.
       Kids giggled pointing their fingers at her husband’s
coat. Judging by the Mrs. Badami’s facial expression, I
knew I had done something wrong as usual, very
wrong.  I knew by experience that every time I made
others laugh, retribution was bound to follow; why I didn’
t know. I was to get punished, how severe remained to
be seen.

      Mrs. Badami took me to their kitchen.

“You’ll stay here all day until your mother picks you up.”

This mild reprimand filled my little soul with gratitude for
my very first educator.

      After a few minutes that my eyes adjusted to
darkness, I found myself in a very little space with
ceiling and walls blanketed by a thick black layer of
smoke generated from the kerosene cooker, a kitchen
filled with the tantalizing aroma of simmering vegetable
stew. As I sat there in solitary confinement for a period
of time that seemed like eternity anxiously waiting for my
sentence to be over, the delicious scent of stew
shattered my resistance to hunger. I was lifted by the
aroma of the heavenly cuisine and drawn toward the
boiling pot. Carefully, I nudged the pot’s led aside
burning my hand just to catch a glimpse of the paradise.
I inhaled the aromatic moisture and went back to the
corner wondering if my real punishment was to starve in
presence of food. I was now drooling all over my
growling stomach.  

       At that moment before the steaming pot, I solemnly
vowed to be a good kid and shut my mouse forever if
the torment ended immediately. I cried myself to sleep
and when I woke in sweat I was even hungrier. My wish
did not come true.   I had no idea how long I had been
sitting there but I could not see the light at the end of
this dark tunnel. The only way I could survive the famine
was to do the wrong thing.

This was the first time in my life that I conscientiously
made a difficult decision to the wrong thing.

      I lifted the lid and an enticing piece of meat shone
my insatiable eyes. Then I carefully plucked a delicious
piece of marbled lamb from the top and delicately raised
it up to the rim to let it cool and to admire its elegance.
Then I held my sinful beauty up in the air for a few
moments longer and opened my mouth to indulge in
ecstasy.         That day, I committed my first and most
delicious crime of my life. I gorged the entire piece at
once with a great deal of enjoyment and equal amount
of guilt.

Suddenly the door flung opened and Mrs. Badami
appeared in the frame. The green juice of the vegetable
stew was still running down my shirt, my fingers were all
greasy and the lid was off the pot.

       She plucked me off the ground like a filthy rat and
threw me out of the kitchen cursing me under her
breath. Fuming Mrs. Badami then twisted my ear and
dragged me all the way home in that embarrassing
condition. I tiptoed the entire way with my right ear
clutched in her left hand, the shameful heat in my ear I
never forget.

When my mother opened the door seeing me in that
condition I saw death in her eyes. This is how I was
expelled from Mactab; and how I began to hate school.