Before the lunar eclipse
Iran is a country full of paradoxes. While the state has enacted some of the strictest laws in the world when it comes to same-sex relationships, sex change for homosexuals has become a thriving industry encouraged by the regime itself. In this way, they can claim that homosexuality doesn’t exist. In this short story, the author Ramesh Safavi takes us to an Iran that the regime tries to hide.
When she was refusing to tell him her name, Mohammad said:
“Ok, I’ll call you Redhead Megara, and you can call me by any name you like.”
The redhead girl asked: “Who is Megara?”
Mohammad replied: “She is Hercules' wife from Greek mythology.”
The girl chuckled. Hercules was an unsuitable name for such a frail boy, Mohammad was better.
He hurriedly finished his task and went to the workshop’s restroom to wash his oil-stained body. For the past month he was concentrating more on poems and melodies than on his tough work at the garage. Ever since meeting Megara he was sweating much more at the dance club. He has also touched up his scrappy Renault so it would not embarrass him like the first time they met, when it suddenly stopped working.
Tonight, after a month of knowing each other, Megara is coming over to his house. He put red cushions on his only furniture, a grey sofa, and walked back to look at it from a distance.
His taste in decoration made his house seem more like it belonged to a romantic poet than to a man who was spending long hours at a car workshop, covered in grease.
He got undressed and showed off his muscles in the mirror. He sported a tattoo of a redhead on his arm, which wasn’t of Megara, but that of his first lost love, Leila. Apparently, only redheads were destined for him. The past was a bitter past. What’s important is the present. He also doesn’t care to know about Megara's past.
While driving through the snow-covered Mehrabad Street he stopped thinking about the street’s aberrant reputation, which looked even more woeful in snow. There was nothing special about this street, except for identical apartments and filthy workshops. Fortunately, both his house and work were on the same street. The street which, in his mind, only took miserable travellers to the airport, filling their minds with this last hopeless image of the ill-fated and desolate poor. The last image for anyone who desired to leave, which he had also considered a thousand times before meeting Megara. Before succumbing to Megara.
When he saw Megara on the side of the snowy road he pulled over and stared at her from a distance. He was staggered by the resemblances between her and Leila. Leila was liable to wear lively makeup and a tight coat. The whiff of her perfume would be filled with spicy fragrances, such as sandalwood, cinnamon, cardamom, and an infinite mix of sweet viscosity. As though summoning you, she could seduce and kill you in the same instance, and then she would simply disappear without a memorable trace. Just like a mirage. He was inexperienced when it came to talking to girls.
“Excuse me, lady. Can I take a moment of your time?”
The redhead turned, looked down at the young man that barely met her shoulders, and said:
“Look, I charge 50 thousands Touman. If you don’t have it, bye!”
“OK. Would you like to go to a café with me and get something to eat?”
The redhead threw her eye-brows up condescendingly and said:
“Okay. What’s in it for me?”
“I'll give you your money right now. We’ll just go and talk.”
She smiled and said:
“Are you a film producer, a journalist? I don’t have the patience to dig up my past.”
“Neither. I just miss having someone to talk to.”
She would not find a more harmless offer on such a cold night, Megara thought to herself.
They sat until morning in a cafeteria at the airport and talked about poems and movies and laughed.
Mohammad was the first person to not treat her like a prostitute. He asked:
“Can we see each other again?”
They met ten more times, over the next month, at the airport cafeteria.
Just like Mohammad was seeking the shelter of love, she was waiting for a glimpse of hope in finding a shelter to live. Mohammad, like the perfect gentleman, would give her a gift every time he saw her. He held her hand elegantly and lightly sprayed a new perfume on her wrist – rhododendron, jasmine, and freesia. Just like a goddess of today.
Megara was enchanted by Mohammad’s attentiveness. How could he create astonishing romantic illusions out of ordinary things? Mohammad’s room was lit by candles, creating a dreamy scene for a young girl and guy to drink wine together. Megara would recite a part of a poem and Mohammad had to come up with the subsequent matching verse.
“In his eyes, sin was laughing. On his face, moonlight was smiling.”
Mohammad immediately followed suit:
“In the folds of those silent lips, innocent fire was igniting.”
Drunk with Shiraz wine, she placed her head on Mohammad’s shoulder and started to groove to the song “Lady in Red”. What sorrow if the world ended this very moment.
Lustrous with yearning desire she began to passionately kiss Mohammad while taking off his clothes. Mohammad, flustered and burning with passion, was shivering with the emotions of Megara’s kiss. He took her long red dress off. Before the redhead could have a chance to overcome him, he stretched her out on his bed and began embracing her fine pale skin and fondling her beautiful breasts. With his trembling hands he unzipped his pants. When the girl heard Mohammad’s heart beating ever faster and saw his unusual shivering, she reached over to turn on the bedside lamp, saw that Mohammad had turned chalk white and stood naked, not with a penis but a dildo in his hand.
She shouted in panic:
“Oh my God. What is this? You don’t have a penis?”
Mohammad was speechless.
The girl grabbed the dildo and laughed out loud while beating Mohammad on the head with it.
“Oh my, Hercules.”
Filled with rage, she stood up, threw the dildo aside, and got dressed. When she noticed it was too late at night to leave, she returned to the bed and shut her eyes. Mohammad said:
“I wanted to tell you, but I was afraid to lose you.”
With the first rays of the morning sun, she calmly tiptoed over to put her clothes on. When she peeked over at Mohammad and saw his eyes were shut, she began opening his drawers and searching for his money.
Mohammad, who hadn’t slept a single second that night, looked over at her and said:
“I keep all my money in the third drawer. Take all you want.”
The shocked redhead quickly turned and looked over at him. She sat back on the bed and loudly burst into tears and cried. She had to return to those dark streets again, she thought. No love, no family, no end result. What a wicked destiny.
“Once upon a time, there were two girls, named Leila and Marziyeh. Leila had red hair just like you, like a blazing fire. They were studying together at high school. In a world where no one loved anyone, those two were in love with each other, secret lovers. Marziyeh, more or less, acted like a man and was very loyal. Both of their families were so religious that to even talk about love between two girls was a great sin. One day, when they had retreated to the privay of a room, Leila's brother walked in to find them lying in bed together naked. He attacked and began to beat the two girls when Marziyeh managed to escape. Leila, in the nights thereafter, hung herself in her room. And Marziyeh's family, because of this disgrace, moved from Qum to Tehran where no one knew them.
“After a year full of tension and struggle, her family offered two options: either marry a man or take advantage of a religious verdict issued by Ayatullah Khomeini and have sex reassignment surgery to become a man. Marziyeh didn’t have a problem with her gender, but as soon as she thought of the possibility of marrying a tall hairy man, she opted for the sex change. Marziyeh, now this misled “Mohammad”, can neither be a complete man nor return to what she once was.”
The redhead got up, wiped away her tears and walked out without saying a word.
Mohammad was driving along Mehrabad Street as always. The same snowy and desolate street leading to the airport. Infested thoughts once again murmured in his head about leaving. Leaving the homeland that strangles him. Before it’s too late. Before the lunar eclipse.