Rules of Exile

by Jacquelyn Spangler

Appears in Other Voices #37

Never Give Money till You Cross the Border: Hasan, 1975

Ask Hasan, Azad’s best friend, if he left in the day or at night. He’ll say, “The day. What do you take me for?” Then ask him if he walked or ran.

Hasan knelt in a herd of sheep and crawled across the border into Azarbaijan. A friend like Ali Obnoxious would ask about the sheep shit, laughing until he’s wiping tears.

“I had gloves, man,” Hasan would say. “You’re getting on my nerve.”

Ali ran at night. A political defection before the fall of the Shah, his was punishable by death. A Kurdish guide led him to a strip along the Turkish border, an empty riverbed where guards at the top of the valley shot without aim through the night. “Just run. Don’t think,” the Kurd told him. As he ran, Ali heard the guards’ laughter and the sound of bullets stitching past his ears.


You Are Seldom Who You Think You Are: Azad, 1976

Azad was born in Bushehr, a southern province in Iran where people are darker than the Aryans up north. Folks in Bushehr sing, “Give me a white girl I’ll throw her away.” Azad isn’t black black; he darkens in the sun to the shade of a ripe olive. He is sabzeh: green.

Writing for his eighth year Social Science exams, the boy got an itch he couldn’t bear. Asked to argue who was stronger, China or Iran, Azad said China was a true world power. If everyone in China peed at the same time, they would drown the entire world. Azad knew better—everyone did. But if he couldn’t be in the street playing soccer, he wanted to tell the truth. Just once. When asked to summarize the history of Reza Shah’s dynasty, Azad started with the king’s childhood as a stablehand: how people called him Saddle Bags—Palani—instead of the royal Pahlavi; how his specialty was combing burrs from horse’s tails.

Azad’s parents were called into the school and shown the paper. The superintendent wondered where he got his ideas. She hoped they did not reflect talk he had heard at home. Perhaps he was heading down a difficult path. Did they want their son to languish in a filthy prison? Wasn’t he better off elsewhere?

Azad didn’t want to leave his grandfather, the soccer team, his pet quail. But by the end of the month, he was living with his aunt in Sacramento, California and walking to Kit Carson Jr. High where the sound of English filled his ears like gravel. When the Chicano kids circled him in the parking lot, such angry children he’d never known. “Fight,” they shouted, and a fist knocked him off his feet. When the white kids pushed him into his locker and said, “What are you? Are you white or black?” he knew enough English to tell them, “I am green.”

After that, they called him Martian Kid. By the time the Shah fled Iran, he’d become Sand Nigger.


Avoid Bestiality: Ayatollah Gilani, 1979

A good Muslim avoids bestiality, the Ayatollah Gilani told his weekly viewers on Iran’s State Channel 7 The Gili Show. Bestiality, he said, is filthy and unnatural, the lowest sin next to murder in the eyes of God. “If, however, a good Muslim finds himself in intimate contact with an animal,” the Ayatollah advised, “prayer and charity may save his soul. The sinner should donate one sheep to the mosque to help the mullah feed the poor.

“A good Muslim must avoid not only animals,” Gilani continued, a finger raised to the camera. “A man must not have sexual relations with any person other than his wife. Extramarital contiguity is unforgivable. Suggested punishments vary: some mullahs recommend a good public flogging; others call for traditional death by stoning.

“Now.” The Ayatollah scratched his beard. He flipped a page of the Koran. “Is unintentional physical contact a sin? If a good Muslim is upstairs in the shower, for example, and his mother’s sister stands directly one floor below; and if without warning, an earthquake rocks the house so violently that the bathroom floor collapses and the man falls onto his aunt, has he sinned in the eyes of God? Moreover, if as he falls, the good Muslim penetrates the aunt, and through this act she becomes pregnant, is the child a bastard and therefore shamed by God? A delicious theological question,” said the spiritual leader, “which will be explained after a break for station identification.”


Your Head Will Play with Your Tail: Azad, 1980

Howe Avenue was not a terrible place, despite the freshmen sulking behind their cigarettes, despite the students tromping the sidewalks with their Doc Martins and their durable senses of self. In Iran, two of Azad’s cousins had become beseige, holy warriors, fighting at Satan’s threshold on the border of Iraq. Enraptured crowds gathered at Khomeini’s official residence, the Ayatollah waving from his balcony, his hand a wand rising above the cries, casting spells. In the U.S., Azad had applied for every kitchen and cleaning job from Tahoe to Davis. After months of applications he was still unemployed. He drank hot water for tea and skipped meals like every month was Ramadan. When he could not afford his second semester’s tuition at UC Sacramento, he fell out of status with Immigration. The notice of his deportation hearing came swiftly as an earthquake, as unexpected as the students he saw on Nightline, shouting at the embassy in Tehran, “Death to America. Death to the Shah. Death to Jimmy Carter.”

A block off Howe, Bud Noyse, Notary Public, opened his front door to Azad. In his dining room office, he pushed a cat from a chair. The house had the formal smell of Azad’s grandfather’s house, the blunt fragrance of pencil lead and bread, old books and dusty rugs. As Bud sat behind a desk and studied Azad’s passport, Azad’s throat grew thick with nostalgia for the sweet scent of his grandfather’s French cologne.

“I-ran,” Bud said, pronouncing the word as if it were a subject and a verb. “Your crazy Ayatuhlla’s got me paying eighty-nine cents for a gallon of gas. What’s the matter with you people?”

“I pay eighty-nine cents, too,” Azad said.

According to his lawyer, at the hearing the judge would confiscate Azad’s Iranian passport, order him deported, then grant an appeal under Immigration law that he would deny at the next hearing, where they would return Azad’s passport and board him on a plane back to Iran. The notarized copy served as temporary I.D. Four weeks, Azad thought, six tops, before he joined his cousins at the front.

From the desk drawer, Bud lifted the seal of California, the size and shape of a large garlic press. As he embossed the copy of the passport, the sound of birds transported Azad to his grandfather at dusk watering the house, cooling the yard and bringing together the smell of wood and damp dirt. Starting from the bottom, he’d work his way up, spraying into the living room as he hosed the windows. Day after day, his grandmother shouted, “Put on your glasses. You’re missing the flowers.”

“I hope I don’t see another one of these,” Bud said, handing Azad his passport. “If you all hate America so bad, what are you doing here in the first place?”

When Azad was a boy, he asked his grandfather why, when the earth rotated, people on the other side didn’t fall off. His grandfather said, “They fall off all the time.”

“I don’t hate anyone,” Azad told the notary who dropped, in the boy’s mind, from the spinning earth.

“Why don’t you take your passport and your notarized copy and go home.”

If he could, Azad would have condensed for Bud the last few years of Iran’s transformation—the executions of Shah’s lynch men, the torture of dissidents, the migration of zealous mullahs to the government, the collapse of universities, the freeze on travel, the enforcement of the veil, the abolition of art, music, dance, backgammon, soccer.

“I’ll think about it,” Azad said.

Outside, a shiny Sacramento patrol car nosed past Bud’s house like a white sedan of SAVAK, Shah’s secret police. A student with a backpack strolled toward campus. Azad followed her down the quiet sidewalk to the crowds on Howe, the students intent on their espressos and frozen yogurts a reminder of how little would change were he transported to the Iraqi border, his body martyred for God.


You Can’t Ride a Camel Underground: Roberto Del Franco, 1980

Hasan kept the forgery equipment in a cardboard box in his closet: an IBM ball with fonts that matched the California birth certificate Ali Obnoxious borrowed from his sister-in-law; inkpads and removable alphabet stamps; envelopes and UC Sacramento letterhead. College transcripts, mostly, Hasan forged for his friends and his friend’s friends—Iranians and South Americans, a few med students from Taipei—to prove high grades and receive money from back home. Years later, when Azad thought of his friend during their college years in Sacramento, he remembered Hasan as always digging in the box, searching for the right colored ink, for the date stamp or for a missing rubber letter.

Hasan could duplicate anything on paper, but a birth certificate was a new project all together. The job had been easy enough, he told Azad, nodding toward the TV where Ted Koepple announced Day 352 of America Held Hostage. He’d matched the paper against Ali’s sister’s-in-law, practiced a few signatures, and at the courthouse, found the name of a baby born roughly the year of Azad’s birth who’d died before he was issued a Social Security number.

“Roberto Del Franco?” Azad asked, trying out his new name.

“Cheer up. Chicks love Italians.”

The TV was the devil, switching from one inconceivable scene to the next, from a group of students outside the embassy burning Uncle Sam in effigy, to a team of soldiers digging a trench against a backdrop of blazing oil refineries. The camera zoomed in on a dazed soldier, fifteen or sixteen years old. White gauze wrapped around his head, a can of apples lay absently in his hands. Azad watched the footage as though it were a home movie, the red stain spreading on the wrapped forehead his blood; the old man fastening a gas mask over the boy’s face his own gray-haired grandfather.

At the commercial, he examined his new birth certificate, its gold border and the forged signature of Attending Doctor. With the fake birth certificate, Azad could apply for a Social Security number. With a Social Security number, he could obtain a California driver’s license. With these two I.D.’s, no one would question his citizenship; he would slip through the deportation noose, past the clutches of the army in Iran. He felt the possibilities, like gas from an open can, grow larger than the container itself; escape loomed so certainly, he didn’t hear Hasan say there was a problem.

Azad flicked his hand like a man bargaining at the bazaar. “Immigration to my big belly,” he told his friend.

Hasan said, “The mullahs to my left ball.”

Azad rubbed his thumb over the seal of California embossed in the lower corner of the birth certificate of Ali’s sister-in-law. “You forgot the seal,” he told Hasan.

“That, my friend, is the problem.”


The Tongue Can No Man Tame: Ali Obnoxious, 1980

“Did you hear about the Iranian guy who goes to his citizenship interview, sure that since his English is poor they’ll send him back to Iran? When the Immigration officer says, ‘Make a sentence using the word socks,’ the Iranian guy says, ‘Let me tinking, let me tinking. Dis contry sucks.’ The officer gives him a second chance and tells the guy, ‘Try using it in a sentence with the word walking.’ So the Iranian says, ‘Let me tinking, let me tinking. Dis vucking contry sucks.’”


You Have Seen the Camel; You Have Not Seen the Camel: Azad, 1980

The heat of an Indian summer had clamped down, and from the sidewalk, Azad could hear the emptiness of October: the creak of trees, a distant lawn mower, the rusty-hinged cry of a grackle, the slow tires of a U.S. postal truck easing down Bud’s street. No living soul was in sight. Azad wished for the seal, but he hadn’t planned to break in.

From campus, he had crossed the Guy West bridge and stopped at the diner on Fair Oaks and Howe to apply for a job. The owner, a solitary cook, waved at the vacant tables and said that he was out of applications. “You can leave your name and number on a napkin,” he’d told Azad, who knew by the cook’s clean apron that it would hit the trash as soon as he left. On a remote chance—a prayer—he did it anyway, wrote his information and slid the napkin over the counter.

When the mail truck had cleared the street, Azad checked to see if Bud was home. He rang the bell, waited while the cat threw itself against the front window. He knocked on the door and pushed the window frame to see if it was open. A wiry guy like Azad could slide in, snatch the seal, walk through the house and out the back where Bud’s yard led to the crowds on Howe. Before anyone noticed, he could be half way to campus, an answer to his troubles shoved beneath his T-shirt.

But the window was locked.

Azad hadn’t planned to break in. But the cook’s gnarled disinterest, the sheet of sweat he moved in, and a surge of hunger pumped him with adrenaline. It funneled through him and took him to the future, to when he already held the seal, already passed through the house and left the neighborhood, hit the bridge, a UC Sacramento student crossing the American River to campus. Not the usual breaking and entering suspect.

Hardly aware of his hands, Azad lifted a large stone and smashed the window. The broken glass on the sill seemed a small consideration as he slid into Bud’s living room, alert more to the blood spurting from his wrist than to the pain of the cut. He was conscious of his sweat and of his heart, a steady thud so strong in his ears it sealed him in its banging. From a stack of Noyse Notary letterhead, he held a stray sheet to his wrist and stepped toward the desk.

But the drawer was locked.

In his worst fears, a patrol car wound through the neighborhood, or the mailman returned to deliver a misplaced envelope. Four minutes, Azad figured, before someone passed the house with its smashed window. As if handed to him, a letter opener the heft of a small dagger stood out on Bud’s desk. Azad wedged its tip between the desk and the drawer. Forcing the blade, he pictured a wall of policemen storming the front steps, his body thrown to the floor. He shoved his weight against the hold and pried the lock like he was cracking ribs. He did not want to end this way—his blood on the broken glass, a boot on his back, his face on the floor of Bud’s front room.

If the drawer were a man, he would kill him. With this intent, the wood split, the drawer opened, and the seal lay inside. He pressed a fresh sheet of letterhead to his wrist and tucked the seal into his shorts. He felt his body calm and leave him cool, the way an afternoon settles from a storm. Across the living room, a large mirror hung above the mantle. In it, Azad saw his dark eyes and his prominent Persian brow. And he saw what Bud had seen, too: a foreigner from the land of sand and camels, oil and caviar, rock throwing and hostage taking, an eye for an eye, a hand for a stolen loaf of bread. Azad left through the kitchen door as Bud did, perhaps, when he hung shirts on the line. He cut through Bud’s trees and onto Howe Avenue where he lost himself among the students cruising the shops, the seal tucked into the waistband of his shorts, warming against his skin.

When he saw the police lights, he tossed the bloody letterhead over a hedge of evergreens. The patrol car headed toward him, its siren a shriek. Azad walked as slowly as was humanly possible. I am not guilty, he thought. I am a skinny UC Sacramento student. “Dirt on your head!” he cursed like his grandfather as he stared into the glare of the oncoming car. “Poison of snake!” he said, and the cops wailed past.


A Year That Is Good Is Apparent by Its Spring: Roberto Del Franco, 1984

The night Roberto Del Franco graduated from college, Azad’s date snuck him into an apartment complex pool. For the first time, he had a girlfriend who took off her clothes. Her skin was halva brown and her smile set a thunderstorm flashing through his heart. Roberto Del Franco had received a fellowship to study chemistry at Berkley. For the summer, he had taken a job as a printer’s assistant. He made the money and Azad spent it.

The graduates left their jeans and T-shirts on the low dive and sank into the deep end. The pool lights shimmered orange, and before the cops showed, they floated on their backs, sealed in water above their ears. Azad was aware of his body’s outline, its displacement of the water, its silent suspension. When he turned, his girlfriend’s nipples broke the surface of the water. Weightless in the dark, he believed as he hadn’t in the eight years since leaving Iran that he was exactly where he was supposed to be.


You Have Eaten a Honey Dew, You Must Deal with the Tremors:

Ali Obnoxious, 1990

“You lightweights always crying about Iran. I’ll tell you about the guy who wanted to go back home.

“After the Revolution, my neighbor leaves Tehran for Germany with his wife and their baby daughter. In Dresden, he gets a good job with the city designing sewers. He gets a salary, health insurance, a pension. They’re so happy, they throw away their passports and buy a house. But after five years, he can’t take it anymore. ‘What kind of racist country is this?’ he says. ‘I want to see my buddies again. I want to talk Farsi.’ So he gives up everything to go home. His house. His legal residency. His wife, who stays put, keeps the kid.

“He returns to Iran and works. He makes good money. He sends a bunch of it to Germany. He lives like a bachelor, hanging out with friends, drinking, thinking this is the life.

“But after a while, my brother notices our neighbor hanging out with the wrong guys, doing a bunch of drugs, looking like the King of Death. So he goes to him. He says, ‘Dude, you’re in some trouble. We need to talk.’ My neighbor is all happy to see my brother, opens the door wide, says, ‘Yes, talk, but come smoke this opium with me first.’ So they have a good time.

“Eventually, my neighbor’s face goes red as a pomegranate, and he starts to cry. He says what a big mistake he’s made. He can’t take it in Iran, anymore. There’s no life like before. There’s no future. He misses his wife. Hasn’t seen his kid in a year. So he figures a way.

“Since he has no German passport, he goes to Russia first. He’s there for his daughter’s seventh birthday, for the New Year, long enough to get a fake Russian passport, to learn enough of the language to fool Immigration and slip back into Germany as a Russian citizen. Three months after he arrives, all he has to do is get on the plane, which he does, and sleep till Dresden.

“You know the rest, right? It’s too good to be true. Sometimes you’re on the saddle. Sometimes the saddle’s on you. It’s like the old timers in Sacramento, singing the Shah’s anthem at the Iranian New Year. No matter what you have, you yearn for what’s been taken.

“The guy who sits next to him on the plane strikes up a conversation. My neighbor speaks his Russian words, but they aren’t the right ones. The guy asks where he’s from. My neighbor says he’s from St. Petersburg. The guy says in what republic is St. Petersburg? Maybe my neighbor panicked. Maybe he got so close it wasn’t his wife and kid he wanted after all. Either way, my neighbor can’t cough up the answer. He fakes a stomachache, says it’s sleep he needs, but the guy doesn’t buy it. Before they’re off the ground, his seat partner asks to see his papers, and he shows my neighbor his badge. He’s a federal detective, the FSB. Poor bastard’s back in Tehran before his wife and kid realize he never made the flight.”


You Can Break the Monster’s Dick: Azad 1992

The girl at the bar went ga-ga over Azad. She stopped at the corner table where Hasan and Ali Obnoxious plied him with vodka. She said, “Salamati!” with the guys, toasting shots to Azad’s new job as chemist at Sacramento Plastics, where rumors were right that Personnel required no proof of U.S. citizenship. They toasted farewell to Roberto Del Franco and to the return of a unified Azad Shapur. The girl asked questions and hung on Azad’s answers: he had come to the States when he was thirteen; for a Green Card, he would give both eyes so he could travel to Iran and back. He told her his name meant freedom. After the Revolution, thousands of baby Azads were born. She listened to Azad like he was buttered rum, like she could drink his voice. At one point, Azad looked up and saw that Hasan and Ali were listening, looking at him like he was a carpet they had made with their own hands. Like he was their fountain of youth. Azad himself could not entirely fathom his own success. They have a saying for it back home. He was so happy, he had a wedding in his butt.


The Well Digger Is Always at the Bottom of the Well: Azad, 1998

Every couple of weeks, Azad rode his Schwinn down the bike path, past the pond the city called a lake, to the tennis courts his boss paid big bucks to use.

At the rack by the courts, he locked his bike and walked a foot trail that followed a brook into a deserted woods. At the end of the trail, he took twenty steps to his right. Under a large, oblong stone, he dug six inches. The earth gave way easily, as he had been digging in this spot since he had married, over a year ago. When the leather pouch appeared, his own edges wore away, and he was overcome with an ecstatic feeling like the one he recognized in his mother’s voice when he called back home.

Inside the pouch, Azad had wrapped a handful of test tubes, and in each tube, he had sealed half a dozen joints. He selected one, reburied the stash, then sat on the oblong stone and smoked it to the end. As the weed hit his blood, he thought about his wife, whom he both loved and hated for abolishing dope in the house. He thought about his experiments at the plant that would earn him a promotion. He thought of Ali Obnoxious who suddenly preferred the nickname Ali Isfahan. Before long, he wasn’t thinking at all, but breathing the thoughts. They floated in his blood, and feeling them made him happy. When he closed his eyes, he was in Tehran, at Park-e-Laaleh, Tulip Park, where no tulips grew. He crossed Shah Street, now the Avenue of Revolution; he rested in Elizabeth Square now Jihad Square, though everyone called it Square of Fatemi. After only a few hits of the joint, there was no here and there, no then and now. In the woods behind the exclusive tennis courts, Azad was a boy and a man, a father and a son, dead and alive. He was transported to the crowds on Pahlavi Boulevard, once as royal as the Shah himself. But the Revolutionary guard had renamed the boulevard Mossadegh, and when Mossadegh fell out of favor with the mullahs, Pahlavi had changed again to Vali-Asr. Like a prayer, the dream moved through his gut: a ride in a cab, Azad naming the streets for the driver. “Take me to Pah-Mos-Vali-” The cabby’s Turkish accent was clear as the clean water that lined the footpath. “Dear man,” he said, “you want to go to Pahlavi. I will take you there.”


You Can Go through the Eye of a Needle, but You Can’t Enter the

City Gates: Azad, 2001

At the Federal Building, Azad made his way into the heart of the Immigration offices and waited in a pale room, an American flag in the corner dragging on the floor.

An Immigration officer, a tall man with dime-sized moles on his forehead and his cheek, appeared in the waiting room. He approached a Chinese couple and asked for their INS letter. There was a shuffling of papers. Desperate smiles from the Chinese man.

“How can we interview you with no invitation?” the Immigration officer asked. He seemed insulted that they would arrive without it. “All right, go home. We’ll notify you in six months.”

When the officer left, the two rose from their chairs, the woman bringing her hand to her face as though to touch a tooth ache.

Mole returned with a clipboard and called Azad’s name.

After he studied the INS invitation, he led Azad to an office at the end of several winding halls. “You sit in that chair and I sit in this one,” he informed Azad, who took one of two chairs opposite Mole’s. Mole rubbed his temples, breathed loudly, said, “Mr. Shapur, this is not musical chairs. I said I sit in this one and you sit in that one. We have fifteen minutes to complete the interview and time flies.” He forced a smile, said, “O.K.?”

Azad moved to the appointed chair, waited.

Mole sat behind his desk and opened a manila folder. He skimmed several documents, moved a pencil from the top of the page to the bottom as he read. “You’ve lived at 1445 Julliard Drive from August first, 1997 to present. Correct?”


“Are you married?”


“Any children?”


“No?” Mole flipped through papers, looked across the desk to give Azad a chance to change his mind.

“You know something that I don’t?” Azad asked.

Mole shielded the paper as he scribbled notes. “Let’s move on, shall we? Are deportation proceedings pending against you, or have you ever been deported, or ordered deported, or have you ever applied for suspension of deportation?”


Mole looked up from his folder.

“I was ordered deported in 1980. It’s in your records.”

“I know what’s in my records. I merely want to check your word against your application for those who make the final decision. Do you understand that?”

“I was just saying—”

“I know you were just saying, but we have many questions to respond to and limited time. We have fifteen minutes, and we’ve already used up two.”

“I’ve been here for twenty-five years. How can we cover that in fifteen minutes?”

“I understand that life is complex, Mr. Shapur. But believe me. Others have been here for as long as you. And they have not been deported. Look.” He set down his pencil, leaned back in his swivel chair. “This is not an adversarial relationship. I simply pass the information on to those who make the final decision. You could say I am your advocate. Is that clear?”

Azad nodded.

“Very good. Now we have twelve minutes. Why do you want a Green Card, Mr. Shapur?”

“Because I want to become legal, “ Azad said. “And because I want to travel. If I leave the country, your people won’t let me back in.”

“Of course. Have you ever been arrested?”

“In New York City. Public intoxication. Iran beat the U.S. two to one, World Cup, ’98.”

“Do you have the release papers from your arrest?”

Mole took the papers Azad handed over the desk. “These are not the papers we need,” he said. “You’ll have to go back to the Police Department where the arrest was recorded and ask for ‘certified court dispositions.’”

“But these are official—”

Mole’s pencil hit the folder like a dart. “Mr. Shapur, I’ve been doing this job for twenty-seven years. I know the correct papers when I see them. You need to return to the Police Department and ask for the proper documents.”

Azad searched his pockets for a pen, which made Mole raise his voice. “There’s no need for you to take notes. I’m writing it as we speak.”

“Thank you.”

“Look. I am not the one who was arrested.”

He paused, as though this fact deserved precious seconds to ponder. “Any other arrests?”


“Think hard, Mr. Shapur.” Mole leaned again in the chair. Flipped through Azad’s file. “We have a long record on you.”

Azad did as he was told. He said, “I’m not trying to be deceitful. I honestly can’t recall.”

“I am your advocate. Is that clear to you? Listen. There’s one thing you need to know about this country. If you tell the truth, you will be forgiven for just about anything. Now think back. It’s been awhile. Seventeen years.”

“Seventeen years ago I was twenty-one.”

“This isn’t a math test.” He sighed. He seemed on the verge of combustion. “Does ‘criminal trespassing’ ring a bell?”

For a moment, Azad thought about his murderous attack on Bud Noyse’s desk. He believed that Mole and the F.B.I. had traced the evidence. And then he remembered: June, his graduation night; swimming under the orange lights; Roberto Del Franco at home with his new bachelor’s degree; Azad naked in the pool; the first signs of trouble the beam of a flashlight, the click of heels on concrete.

“Did you know there is a warrant out for your arrest?”

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Warrant went out in 1985. Court costs for your trespassing arrest were never paid. $125, outstanding since ’84. You’re lucky the Sacramento Police Department doesn’t charge interest.”

“I don’t feel so lucky,” Azad said.

Mole appeared genuinely sympathetic. He closed the folder, let the color drain from his face.

“Have you ever been a habitual drunkard, Mr. Shapur?”


“Ever advocated or practiced polygamy?”


“Been a prostitute or procured anyone for prostitution?”

“I don’t have a prayer, do I?”

Mole let out a long breath.

“You have an expression in your country and we have a few in mine.” He closed his folder with the answers he would send to the people above him. “You have a snowball’s chance in hell, Mr. Shapur.”

Mole returned his pencil to its holder, said, “You’ve got some things to straighten out. Thirty days to get your paper work in. I can give you an extension if you’d like.”

“Please,” Azad said, his voice tired, he thought, as the old Iranians in Sacramento reminiscing about their lives before the Revolution.

“You can always choose not to apply, in which case, we can not deny your application and you will not have to wait five years to reapply. On the other hand, we can deny the removal of your application, in which case the five-year wait applies.”

“I see,” Azad said, taking the documents from Mole.

As the two men stood to leave, Mole extended his hand to Azad, bent his head in a gesture of congeniality.

“Ours is not an adversarial relationship, Mr. Shapur. I just pass things along.”

“I understand,” Azad said. “You are my advocate.”

Mole slid Azad’s papers into a drawer. He selected a new folder from a stack on his desk and followed Azad out of his office. Azad understood that though he walked a step or two in front of the Immigration officer; if Mole saw him at all, he saw only the outline of a man. Turning the first corner, Azad’s limbs grew light as though his muscle and bone had transformed to air. What’s another five years? he asked himself, the click of Mole’s heels following him through the maze of halls. It’s just legal residence, he thought, turning into another corridor, making his way back through time: through his marriage and his job, through graduate school and the rented apartments. He felt a certain weightlessness, a transparency that carried him through high school, through the war and the Revolution, through Kit Carson Jr. High. And then, like water under the sun, Azad Shapur vanished from the Federal Building and stood once more in Iran, a boy with a soccer ball wet from his grandfather’s garden hose, lifted off his feet and kissing the old man’s sweet smelling cheeks.