When I look back at my childhood, I see a barefoot rowdy
rascal running after a ball. My main pastime, just like every
other boy in our neighborhood was to chase a striped plastic
ball we’d all chipped in to buy. That’s all we needed to have
fun. Our street was full of players of all ages, starting with little
ones like myself al the way to those with faces blanketed in
mustache and beard; we all shared the same passion.
At the beginning of each game, we had to go through a
painful selection process for two teams. This squabbling
started with a half-hour exchange of the most shameless words
in our vocabulary and ended by throwing a few punches and
kicks! After this ritual, non-selected players would’ve become
ticked-off spectators and forced to sit out. They sat on the
sidewalks, by the two endlessly parallel gutters filled with black
slime that marked our street like every other one in our
southern city and heckled the players.
We played football in the God’s oven. At noontime, the
asphalt melted into black chewed gum and stuck to the sole of
our bare feet. Not only we endured the scorching playground
but we risked our very lives by dodging passing cars. Every few
minutes the screeching sound of a car brake reminded us it
was time to run. Another driver must have hit the brake to
avoid an involuntary manslaughter. At this point the furious
driver darted out of his car and chased the same kid who’d just
avoided killing to take his life. Only God could save the poor
kid if the driver caught him.
This daily routine pretty much sums up the fun I had in the first
nine years of my life on the streets until we moved to Tehran,
Our new house was located in a quiet middle class
neighborhood, a dead-end alley called Kindness with no filthy
gutters with no roaming kids or hostile behavior. All I saw was
courteous neighbors greeting one another. Every morning, I
woke to a clean street with no beggars, no gypsy women
selling kitchen gadgets, and no kids wandering around
knocking on the doors looking for playmates. Soon I realized I
could not adjust to that sterile environment; the new
neighborhood was to make adjustments to accommodate me.
“We are now living among educated and cultured people,”
my father reminded me while twisting my ear, “children here
must have their parents’ permission to go out and must return
home before dark. It’s called discipline,” he continued.
Discipline, culture, obedience and permission were fancy
words I had difficulty to comprehend yet I had a hunch they
contradicted the very concept of fun.
In all fairness, our new neighborhood had a few
advantages. I could play with girls without their parents starting
bloodshed; that was surely a pleasant change in my life style.
To avoid losing our family respect in new neighborhood, my
mother didn’t let me go out without shoes anymore. In fact after
I was forced to wear shoes on streets I realized at age ten that
the soles of my feet were not created black by God.
Gradually, I acclimated myself with the new milieu and grew
fond of the greeting rituals of the cultured people in our new
My investigation revealed that almost every residence in
the neighborhood contained some kids. It took a few months
but I managed to gradually lure them out of their nests in the
afternoons to play football. By the following summer we had
eight to ten dedicated players every afternoon.
The generated noise however, disturbed the peace in the
neighborhood and disturbed the afternoon naps of some
neighbors. Our football games raised concern for an army
colonel, a retired judge, an ayatollah, a Persian rug merchant
and our own next-door Jewish neighbor. More than anyone
else we managed to upset Mr. Biok, a high-ranking oil company
executive who lived at the end of the alley, a well-dressed and
respectable man by all accounts.
I was impressed by the creases of his pants; I swear he could
cut a watermelon with those sharp edges. Mr. Biok was also my
greeting target practice, for whom I recited a series of “hello”,
“good morning”, “good afternoon” and “what a nice day?” all in
one sentence regardless of time of the day or the weather
condition. I enjoyed making fun of him in the most serious way
possible. It was obvious that he was suspicious of my intent in
offering insincere greetings yet he felt obligated to respond to
my greeting politely as he had no solid evidence to prove my
Concerned neighbors at one time or another spoke to my
parents and expressed their dismay with the ongoing chaos
and mentioning my name as the instigator. They held me
personally responsible for ruining their children’s disciplinary
practice and shattering the serenity of the neighborhood.
After the first summer in the neighborhood Mr. Biok identified
me as the agitator and prohibited his two beloved clean-cut
sons to come in contact with me. He had quarantined his
impressionable children despite the fact I respectfully greeted
him on the street on daily basis.
Playing football became more and more popular despite
the widespread opposition of neighbors. As the kids became
good friends, the parents became more adamant in opposition
to our afternoon fun. Every time our ball was kicked into a
neighbor’s house, it was thrown back ripped by a knife to show
Most often our footballs landed in Mr. Biok’s yard. Unlike
others however, he didn’t rip our footballs in pieces, he just
didn’t return them. His house was rightfully called the ball
cemetery. Kicking a ball into his yard meant end of the game
for the day and additional financial burden of purchasing a new
one the next. Our small daily allowances were too small to
afford a new ball everyday.
One day after another tragic loss, we all sat down with
gloomy faces by the ball cemetery and grieved the loss of
loved ones. We all realized this was not a sustainable
situation. One of the older kids proposed a resolution.
“Why don’t we ask Mr. Biok to return our balls? He seems
to be a reasonable man. Unlike others he has never shred our
footballs. Why not asking him?” he reasoned.
To this day, I don’t know why I volunteered for this task.
Maybe because of all those greetings I’d offered to Mr. Biok.
Maybe because I felt I was mature enough to communicate with
him man to man and resolve our issues like two civilized
individuals. At the age of eleven, I was convinced that Mr. Biok
would understand our passion for the game and return our
footballs, and maybe even let his sons play with us. I was
determined to extend a hand of friendship to a neighbor so
unknown and so distant to me.
With a self-confidence I didn’t know I had, I rang the
doorbell not once but twice under the admiring gaze of my
friends. A couple of minutes later, the door opened and I faced
our kind and gentle neighbor Mr. Biok. I was eager to show
how well adjusted I’d become and demonstrate my mastery of
the art of salutation and proper communications.
“Hello Mr. Biok. Good afternoon. How are you today sir?”
Mr. Biok stared into my sweaty face and responded, “What
do you want?”
“Sorry to disturb you sir, but is it possible for you to return
our balls? The ones we have kicked into your yard by
mistake? Of course, we are all sorry for your inconvenience,
sir. I know it’s your nap time.”
His eyes sparkled, as he took a deep breath and politely
“Wait here,” he said.
He went back inside leaving the door ajar. I took the
opportunity and glanced inside his yard and witnessed the
most beautiful scene I’d ever seen in my life. All of our missing
balls were neatly piled in an empty water basin in the center of
the yard. Once again I saw the red balls we’d lost, the yellow
ones with blue stripes and the solid ones. And best of all, my
own personal leather ball with the inner tube that my sister
brought me from India. It was sitting there anxiously waiting for
me to kick it around like football legend Pele. God knows how
many players I’d dribbled with that ball on a tight corner spot
the size of a handkerchief.
I was so mesmerized by the splendor of the sight that
totally forgot Mr. Biok until suddenly I sensed a pleasant draft
like a fan blowing at me. For a second I thought our nice
neighbor brought me a running fan to cool me off after the
game. Then I looked up only to face a fuming beast with a long
garden hose twirling over his head. The vengeful monster
frantically stormed toward me, claiming my life in his sweet
Turkish accent. I leaped like a scared rabbit and ran for my life
and the other kids followed my lead.
Mr. Biok could have easily reached the slower kids running
behind me and beat the hell out of them but he was not
satisfied by a simple retaliation, he was after blood, mine. He
was not interested in innocent victims; he was after the kingpin.
Yes, he was determined to clean the entire neighborhood by
eradicating the root cause.
My only chance of survival was to reach our house in the
middle of the alley but the faster I ran, the longer our street
seemed to become and the farther our house appeared to be.
The twirling garden hose was closing in on me like a roaring
helicopter. I could feel the lethal touches of it’s blades on my
back and wondering why me? Why should I always be the one
who pays? My short life flashed before my eyes as fast as I was
running from my immediate death.
As the tentacles of the demon were touching my back, I
feared what if our door was shot and when I reached our
house, I found out it was; so I coiled my body into a cannon ball
and smashed myself into the locked door desperately hoping
that there was a God and he had mercy on my soul. The door
miraculously flung open and I was thrown inside.
The raging monster stopped at our door as the neighbors
converged, circled around him and finally convinced him that
killing a kid, even it was me would not eliminate the love of kids
for football. The beast calmed down and transformed back into
Mr. Biok again.
After that horrific event, no one dared to show up in the
alley for a few weeks and the entire neighborhood plunged into
an eerie silence.
One gloomy afternoon, as we all lounged outside our homes a
vivacious rainbow of colorful balls showered our neighborhood
from the last house of the dead end alley.