By Ali Amiri*
A little past 8 on a sunny winter day in Tehran’s downtown, I walked towards a young man, dressed in army pants and a blue sweater, slicing tomatoes behind a food cart. The cart was red and green with simplistic flowers drawn on the sides. To strike up a conversation, I asked what he sells.
“Potato and egg sandwich.”
It was still early and the maddening commotion of Jomhouri Street was an hour or so away. Rasekh, 21, who begins his work every day at 8 and works a 12 hour shift, listened intently to my reasons for talking to him, and tried to dismiss them by saying “come on man, I’m from Afghanistan, what else can I say about myself?”
He got back to his tomatoes. I watched him in silence for a while, thinking about all the reasons he might have for reducing himself to his nationality alone. Eventually I broke the silence, asking about his childhood.
He was born to a normal family the same year the US invasion of Afghanistan began. He’s lived his life being a good son, going to school and making friends before turning 18. Then, with his best friend, Muhammad Ali, and 40 other classmates, voluntarily joined the army.
“Muhammad Ali and I were inseparable,” he said. Just before I could ask him where he is now, a car parked nearby and Rasekh fell silent. It was his boss, bringing fresh supplies. I stepped back and watched them unload packs of bottled water, soft drinks, boiled eggs, potatoes and a big jar of mayonnaise from the trunk. Then together they set the affairs of the cart in order before the boss drove away. He seemed like a good guy.
“He was martyred,” he said with a sigh. I sensed a terrible gloom descending upon him. It turned out he was the only survivor among all of his friends and classmates. He himself was wounded as a result of a landmine explosion about a year ago. Oh, to be so young and have endured so much!
“Since I was 18 I’ve only seen war. And what’s worse? After three years we started to lose ground, stronghold by stronghold.”
He finally came to Iran 6 months ago. Since then he’s been working here and there, with some employers cheating him out of his salary because of his situation. But he is happy with his current boss and has even found a new friend, Mahdi.
“I like him a lot. One day he came here and I gave him a sandwich, and we talked for hours and he was really kind. We exchanged numbers. Although he’s back to his own city now, we still keep in touch and talk to each other quite often.”
Thinking about his newfound friend put him in a better mood. He took a jar of pickles out of the compartment and put it on the cart. It was almost 9 and time for him to make the first sandwiches of the day.
*Ali Amiri is a guest contributor to Iran Daily who observes and narrates often unspoken stories of the ordinary people.