Maid; Take off Your Headscarf!

Shaheen Aali*
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


Our house was on the corner of a street end of which reached the train tracks. My father said: Memorize the home’s address so that you don't get lost. Our house was in Darvazeh Ghar[1] neighborhood, Tehran.

I woke up in the morning with my mother's caress. My dad, who was sitting by the table, asked: Is my cute daughter awake? Nightingale of my house. Let me see your beautiful eyes.

My mother kissed my face and said: wake up my dear Shaheen. Have a breakfast. I heated milk for you to eat with oily bread. Stand up. Wash your hands and face.

We used to buy drinking water from a carter and store it in big buckets, but we had to use water from the pond for washing. The well and the pond were in a corner of the yard. The house had many rooms. When we opened the door of the room, it got cold quickly. We always used Korsi at the end of autumn. At night, our house was lit by the light of an oil lamp or a petromax.

I said: the water is cold. I’m freezing.

My father said: Mrs. Shamsi, bring lukewarm water to wash her hands and face.

I didn't like to go to school at all. I did not like school. I closed my eyes and said: I will get up now. it's early.

I finally got up. I went to the yard and washed my face with frozen water of the pond. I ate breakfast. My mother combed and braided my hair. He put a small scarf on my hair and tied it under my throat, and said: “Go with the neighbor's guys. don't go alone.”

I went out from the wooden door of the yard which was very large and one of its wings was always open. I crossed the street. The neighbor's house was a little far from ours. Their yard was dusty like our yard. I went toward the room. I heard a voice and slowly pulled away. My mother had told me that it is not a good thing to eavesdrop. I was ashamed of my action for a moment. Then I went forward and knocked on the door and said loudly: Mehri. Mehri, don’t you come.

The door became open and Mehri said: My sister doesn’t come.

Mehri's sister, Tahereh, was crying and said: I don't go to school because I don't have a pencil.

Mehri was from an Azerbaijani family and they had immigrated. His grandparents had stayed in Russia; Mr. Barat, Mehri's father, played the violin and of course was unemployed most of the time.

I said loudly: I have a pencil, come and get it.

Mina, the daughter of their neighbor, auntie Nesa, saw me and said: Mehri and Tahereh are ready.

They put on their shoes and we started walking. On Ghafari Street[2], we passed the Haj Asghar building, which was a warehouse for foreign goods, and across from it was Haj Nowrozi's hardware store. We passed through the broken wall of Haj Ibrahim’s garden and picked purple ivies and wild tulips. I found a ladybug and showed it to the guys.

Mina was the daughter of another neighbor and in fifth grade at school. We were in the third grade. Mina also came with us.

He shouted loudly: “Run, now the school bell is ringing.”

We ran out of the Haj Ibrahim’s garden and reached Arab Crossroads[3]. A shop, the public bath, and the high wall of the blanket weaving mill were in front of us. After crossing the dusty land, we cautiously crossed the street. Sometimes, we saw a car, a handcart and a packhorse, or a group of camels. We heard the sound of the school bell in a far distance, and we ran with Mehri, Tahereh and Mina, and said: for God’s sake, don't close the school door.

The door was half open. We passed through the door one by one with all the effort. Suddenly, someone hit my head and my eyes fell on the headmistress. He touched his black hair and said angrily: Take off your headscarf. Maid, all of our backwardness is for this!!!

I touched my head, there was a lump on my head and it was so painful, and while there was a lump in my throat, I said: The weather is cold.

My schoolmates were standing in a line and the headmistress hit them with a ruler to take off their headscarves.

Zahedi School[4] was in Bagh-e Azari neighborhood. Every day, Azam and Sarah performed the morning ritual.

At first, Azam went toward the flag and pulled the rope, the iron pulley turned and raised the flag.

Then she said: I swear to this holy flag.

We also repeated, the flag swayed with the wind, its three colors, green, white and red, were beautiful, and a lion sitting in the middle of it.

Azam said: I will defend my country until my last breath.

The school guys repeated loudly.

He said: “If there is no Iran, it is better for me to die, there would not be anybody in this countryside.”

The students answered loudly. After that it was the turn to pray.

Sarah stood on the stairs of the entrance to the classroom and said loudly: Oh God! You have given us eyes, ears and tongue; We thank you.

The guys repeated Sarah's prayer aloud.

Sarah continued: oh God! You gave us parents, we thank you.

Everyone repeated the same sentence loudly. The last line of the prayer was related to the Pahlavi dynasty. Azam was looking at the paper so as not to misread. He said loudly: oh God! Shahanshah (King of kings) Ariamehr and Shahbanu (Empress) Farah...

When it arrived here, the guy voices echoed. Suddenly the headmistress hit face of Shahrzad, whose father was a policeman, with a ruler. It led two parallel lines on her lips and it reddened. He screamed and started crying. One of the guys who was in the queue said: “May God break your hand [metaphorically, damn you].” We all told yourself: headmistress, may God break your hand.

We always made sure that the headmistress would not be in wait for us. Because we didn't like to pray for Shah and Farah, and if the headmistress was behind us, we would have been beaten.

This was done as a matter of routine in Zahedi School, and scarves and Chador began to ban. On the way to school, my ears would freeze, I had Rhinorrhea. I would endure it in order not to get beaten for a headscarf. I did not like school. I did not like Shah and Farah. When I told about the school to my grandmother, she said: We are Muslims. We pray with hijab, don't we? Hijab is obligatory. Cruelty does not last and the king (Mohammadreza) will be also displaced like his father. But don’t say this anywhere. I know your lips are sealed.


* Shaheen Aali was born in 1959 and has a MA in Persian Language and Literature.


[1] Darvazeh (gate) Ghar is one of the old gates of Tehran, which is called Shahid Harandi Neighborhood today.

[2] Ghaffari Street is located behind the South Terminal of Tehran.

[3] Chaharrah Arab Neighborhood is in front of Besat Park in the south of Tehran.

[4] Zahedi School in Bagh-e Azari Neighborhood, located in the south of Tehran.

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