Gypsy                                                                 

I was born in Ahvaz, a city in southern Iran. My family lived there
until I reached 9 years old. Those days we mocked anyone unlike
us, non-Moslems and people who spoke with different accents
were our best subjects. We took the most delight in scoffing those
who dressed differently.
We teased a sweet Jewish family a few doors away. And the Arabs!
We referred to them as Arab Pa patee or barefoot Arabs, and they
called non-Arabs Ajam, which meant ignorant.  We mocked our
own aunts and uncles; although they were our next-door neighbors
and their kids, our best friends. When we exhausted all outlets, we
shamelessly laughed at our father’s way of telling his well-worn
anecdotes or Uncle Ismael’s loud and frequent burps. The idea
was to have fun and it didn’t matter at whose expense. I personally
blame this outrageous attitude of ours on the lack of
entertainment. Television was introduced to our family a few years
later.

The most popular target of our laughter was the Gypsies. We were
told they kidnap children and drink their blood—we had also heard
the same tale about our Jewish neighbors. But the Gypsy stories
seemed more credible.  They were mysterious nomads. Although
we knew nothing about them, yet we were convinced they were all
thieves and murderers.

I remembered Gypsy women wandering in our neighborhood from
house to house, selling kitchen gadgets and pots and pans. Under
their colorful skirts, they wore more brightly colored puffy pants.
They draped themselves in tin bracelets, chokers, charms and tiny
bells—even around their legs. Their babies were strapped onto
their backs while older kids followed their mothers silently. As much
as I wanted to play with them, I was both forbidden and too scared
to do so.  Even at that young age, the Gypsies fascinated me.
They were people with no past and no future. I always believed
they were wandering ghosts, as I had never known where they
came from or where they were going to.

The only thing we knew for a fact was that Gypsy women were all
fortunetellers. One told my mother that everyone has a Hamzaad
or birthmate. The Hamzaad is everyone’s twin ghost, born at the
same time they are. When you meet your Hamzaad, you die. So
you must prevent your path from crossing that of your birthmate.  
She also told my mother that my brother’s Hamzaad was in water.
This ominous prediction ruined his childhood. From that day on, he
was forbidden from ever getting in the water.

At this time, my father knew the chief of police. Once he invited my
father to attend a Gypsy wedding and for some reason, my father
decided to take me with him. Since the Chief was a friend of the
Gypsy tribe’s leader, he personally assured us we’d have a safe
and enjoyable experience. I was so thrilled, yet terrified to see for
myself how these colorfully dressed specters lived.  

Once night, we rode in the police Jeep, with the Chief wearing his
uniform and gun and baton on his belt. We bumped along for two
hours through rocky terrain until we reached a remote hilly area. In
the middle of nowhere and in total darkness, the Jeep stopped.
The chief said we’d walk the rest of the way. I don’t remember how
far we hiked through the darkness, but suddenly the sky shone red
from hundreds of little fires. These flames arose from drums with
holes pierced in sides. I was dazzled by seeing so many Gypsies at
once, but I felt safe with my father and the chief of police by my
side.  The Gypsy women were dressed as colorfully as always. All
men carried shotguns. They fired sporadic shots into the dark sky
in celebration. In my country, citizens are not allowed to carry guns.
But Gypsies weren’t exactly citizens.
Girls danced to the music played by their fathers; simple musical
instruments made of gasoline containers with three strings tightly
stretched from top to bottom. I witnessed a shooting contest. A
rooster was held in place about a hundred yards away and men
aimed at his crown and shot.
One more thing I remember about that mystic night was that a
Gypsy woman read my palm. She told me my birthmate was in a
book.     
------------------------
More than twenty years later, I was a graduating student in the field
of Engineering at Kansas State University. At the beginning of the
final semester, students went through a graduation check. This
ensured that the graduating senior fulfilled all requirements to earn
a degree. I was informed I was short one humanity course and
without these three credits I would not graduate in spring.

In my financial situation, staying in school for one more semester
was not an option. However, I had already taken a full load of high-
level engineering courses while working many hours every day to
support my family. I did not have time to attend another class. I sat
with my advisor and told him of my dilemma, “Attending school for
another semester just to take a filler course?” I reasoned.

He listened compassionately and advised me to go to the Art or
English departments to see if there were courses that did not
require class attendance.  Desperate to find a way out of this
predicament, I talked to a few professors in the English Department.
Finally, I came across a softhearted professor who after hearing
my melodrama asked, “Can you write stories?”

“I’ll do anything to graduate this semester, sir.”
“There is an advanced creative writing course that does not
require class attendance. You must write a complete story by the
end of this semester. It must be original and creative, with a
minimum of 1300 words, typed double-spaced with no grammatical
errors.”

I registered for the damn class and returned my focus to the time-
consuming engineering courses. I shoved the thought of my writing
class to the back of my mind until a few weeks before the end of
the semester when I sat down and attempted to write.

I wrote several “stories” but discarded them all. They were too real.
They were pathetic accounts of my life. They would not have
fooled anyone. I could not have called them stories in my right
mind. I was too consumed with reality to afford fantasy.


To write creatively was one issue; to pay someone to type it for me
was a more challenging one.  It would’ve cost $20 just to get the
damn paper typed.  The only “creative” idea that crossed my mind
was to cheat. So I did—with no remorse.

One late afternoon I went to the fifth floor of the university library,
and headed directly to a nearly deserted, half-lit section dedicated
to out-of-print books. I was looking for books by unknown writers. I
could not jeopardize my future by being sloppy. I pored over a
number of books well into the middle of the night, all from obscure
writers, in search of a story that could rescue me.
I came across a book with no name on the cover, an anthology of
fictions by obscure writers. I read the entire book searching for a
story to call my own and finally found one.
To ensure my plagiarism would remain untraceable, I changed all
the characters and locations and maliciously adapted the story to
my life to fool the readers and make them believe it was really
mine. I then made copies of those pages and took it to the typist to
type my crime.

-----------------------------

I graduated that year. Those years seem long gone and now I feel
the burden of guilt for the crime I’ve committed. I don’t remember
the original story anymore or recall the characters. I don’t even
know how much I altered the plot to serve my purpose.

I respectfully urge all readers of this text to see if they have read
this story before and if they know who the writer was.