Girl Behind the Window

      When she peered out the window, everything was so different
from where she grew up. The street below was overrun with the
crowd. Tons of young people were gathered in small circles,
passionately arguing.  Some held signs, waving them furiously,
heads moved back and forth and hands cut the air like knives.
She’d never seen people that excited before—what could have
made so many people so angry? She wondered.

      She could not read Farsi but recognized the curved letters
with dots in their bellies like pregnant women with triplets. Letters
with mouths half open, hungry enough to swallow the silent
characters sitting quietly next to them and the sharp blades of
some like the sickles peasants used to harvest. She’d seen these
characters in books her father read.

      The warning from the National Security Center on the radio
this morning echoed in her head, “Any gathering of three or more
persons on streets is prohibited and illegal. Perpetrators will be
arrested.” She could not estimate the number of buses required
to haul all these sudden criminals to jail. If people back in America
took to the streets as passionately as these, at least obesity
wouldn’t be an issue. She grinned at her own thought.

      She sipped the hot Darjeeling tea BeeBee, the grandmother
she’d only met yesterday prepared for her. The young woman
wasn’t sure if her weakness and spacey head resulted from jet lag
or the crowd of cousins, aunts, and uncles vying for a glimpse of
her. On this, first trip to her motherland she was overwhelmed by
endless platters of delicious Persian cuisine and constant kisses
blanketing her cheeks and forehead. Her nostrils were burning
from Espand, the scented seed, grilled to protect her from the evil
eye.

      Suddenly, she was stunned by her mobile phone ringing out
the first few bars of “Yankee Doodle”. This was the first time it
rang in the three days since she left America. Enthusiastically,
she pushed the talk button. “Hello?”

       “Hello. My name is Peter Burton from Prudential Insurance. I
have great news for you and I promise my call wouldn’t take more
than a few minutes of your time. ”

      “How interesting, I’m thousands of miles away from home. I
can’t believe I’m receiving calls from the US. What can I do for
you?”

      “Yes, it’s amazing how connected we are in the world.”

      Outside, in the street a uniformed officer snatched the
pamphlets from a young man’s hands and threw them in a ditch.
His action agitated the crowd around him.

      “I am calling to offer you the best life insurance at the lowest
premium.”

      A second officer approached the same young man from
behind, tackled him violently and pounded him to the ground with
the butt of his gun.

      “All you pay is a few dollars a month and we insure your life
for $250,000.”

      The young man coiled in agony. An old woman stood a few
feet from the scene, watching with trembling hands clamped over
her mouth.
      “I need to ask you a few simple questions just to fill out the
forms.”  

      “Shoot.”

      A shot cracked the air. The crowd scattered in fear.

      “Are you between 18 and 25?”

      A line of soldiers flooded out of a military vehicle and took
positions on both sides of the street. Their helmets reflected the
sharp rays of light into her eyes.

      “Yes.”

      As a running woman tripped while escaping the chaos, her
scarf fell to the sidewalk. Now she’d broken the law by not wearing
her Hejab in public. She knelt to retrieve it, but an explosion
convinced her otherwise.  She ran leaving her scarf and her right
shoe behind to disappear under the feet of others.

      “Are you currently a full time student?”

      “Any demonstration is considered a threat to national security
and perpetrators will be severely punished.” The words echoed in
her ears.

      “Yes.”

      The armed military personnel surrounded two young
demonstrators. As others rushed to their rescue, soldiers shoved
them away. A military Jeep approached the circle and officers
wrestled two men and a woman in their early twenties into the
vehicle.
      “You don’t smoke, do you?”

      “No.” She nervously shifted her glance to her sweating palms
and wished she had a cigarette now.

      Another Jeep plowed through the crowd. Soldiers leaped out
taking positions on the sides of the street; their guns aimed at
demonstrators.  

      “By not smoking, you have done yourself two favors. First
you haven’t shortened your life. Second, you’ve drastically
reduced your premium.”

      She squinted through the window and noticed a soldier on
the roof across the street aiming. Down in the street, a young
woman, one who looked quite like herself, was wandering around
confused, lost in the crowd. She could hear her heart pounding.   
More shots echoed across the buildings. People scattered. Some
crowded into a sandwich shop, a few rushed into a bakery. Others
ducked behind cars. Apparently, everyone else knew what to do
in a chaotic situation, but the young girls. Neither the girl in the
street nor the one behind the window knew what to do, or even
where she was. They didn’t understand the chaos, strangers lost
in the pandemonium.

Another shot was fired.

       “You are in prime of your life.”

      She collapsed. Everything turned gray except the growing
red spot on the front of her dress.

      “Congratulations! You are qualified for the lowest cost life
insurance.”

      The young girl touched her heart; she was drenched in blood.