“Forest Fire,” a story by Manijeh Nasrabadi

Twilight, like a giant eraser, attacks the edges first. Cars, trees, people smudge and bleed into the encroaching darkness until they’re blurred beyond recognition, slip- ping from their solid forms. I squint into the distance, try to get my bearings as the light

fades across the winter countryside, the snow packed hard under our thin city-people shoes. A stranger and a cousin, I’m a contradiction walking down a snow-covered road, searching for a trail that will connect me to my father, to myself. My family and I have left Tehran behind for a special occasion, one they’ve celebrated every year stretching back for generations, only still a mystery to me.

I came here alone, on a one-way ticket, hoping to remedy a situation that had changed in my estimation from normal to dire. Growing up in the United States with my Iranian Zoroastrian father and Ashkenazi Jewish American mother, it seemed natu- ral that I should only speak English and only know her family, since they were also in the US. I never questioned the fact that I knew nothing about my father’s family, that I’d never seen their faces in photographs or heard their names; they were all faraway in Iran, a place that was as unpopular as it was inaccessible to me. After September 11, 2001, when Iran was included on the “Axis of Evil” and threatened with war by the US, I sud- denly felt the shame of my ignorance and the fear that my Iranian features would make me a target of hatred in the charged anti-Muslim atmosphere. Knowing nothing about Iran, how could I defend myself, my father, his family, against the demands for revenge?

Now, in the dead of winter 2004, I’m living with my relatives, who are among the fewer than 30,000 Zoroastrians remaining in Iran. Long before I was born, my father gave up practicing his religion and taught me almost nothing of its history or beliefs. I had to find the basic facts in books and on websites, as if I were a researcher with no personal ties to this faith. I read about the prophet, Zoroaster (ca. 550 BC), whose teachings became the official religion of the Persian Empire for over 2,500 years. Zoroastrians have survived waves of repression, forced conversion and expulsion ever since the seventh century AD and do not have equal rights with Muslims today in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Religious ceremonies always make me feel like an imposter, and this is a feeling I’m trying to shake altogether. With little more than a week in this country, in this family, my footsteps are tentative, each one resonating against the noisy questions in my own mind. Will I ever feel at home here? Is there space in this culture or in this household for me an atheist, a leftist, a single woman fast approaching 30? At any moment I might slip on a patch of ice and land hard on the unforgiving ground.

(Continue reading the rest of this story on page 182 of Love and Pomegranates)

About the Author

Manijeh Nasrabadi received her MFA from Hunter College in 2007 and is now a PhD student in American Studies at NYU. Her essays and articles have appeared in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Social Text online, About Face (Seal Press), Tehran Bureau, vidaweb.org, jadaliyya.org, and Callaloo.