Division – Part Five: Esmat
Soheila Azadi tells stories of her experiences as a Muslim woman living under a theocracy in Iran with the spatial separations between the sexes and races.
This is part five of a five-part short story series. Read part four here.
Esmat grew up with two sisters and one brother. She and her sisters took craft classes with a conservative woman in their neighborhood. After Esmat married her cousin she moved to another part of the city where craft was forgotten. Esmat did not look anything like women in Persian miniature drawings. In 1930s when veil was forbidden in Iran, Esmat did not leave the house for months. She felt naked, and vulnerable. The veil became even closer to her heart than it was before. Her fear was to be forced by police to take her hijab, the only fashion she knew that was feminine other than her skirts.
She gave birth to nine kids, two girls and seven boys. Esmat’s husband never called her by her own name. It was always her firstborn son’s name. Esmat was a quiet woman, tall and dark skinned with masculine features. She never prayed. She was always busy maintaining home, her most favorite place. Esmat’s face showed little emotions. The only time she spoke up, I remember, was when her husband would curse her parents. She would with a cold smile reply, “Hajji* please do not shake their bodies in their graves; let them rest.” Esmat was visible in clean laundry, in a boiling pot of soup, in hot reddish saffron tea, in the upbringing of her daughters and under her veil.
Esmat’s way of eating pomegranates was different. Her skinny thumbs were pressing against the leathery skin of pomegranate. She pressed every bit of the pomegranate’s skin so hard with her long fingers, until the round of the pomegranate became wobbly. She then took a small bite of the bitter skin. She sucked every drop of its juice with her eyes closed. It seemed as though she felt pleasure in its cold red juice on a hot summer day. She had no heart to confront white walls of pomegranates. Her fingers were too big to deal with every delicate seed, she may have thought. She took the shortcut; how different, I thought. Mom never juiced pomegranates. Red spots of pomegranate’s juice left marks on Esmat’s white scarf. After many washes they became blue. Blue is good.
*Hajji is an honorific title given to a Muslim person who has successfully completed the Hajj to Mecca.
Soheila Azadi is an interdisciplinary visual artist based in Chicago and Iran. Born in the capital of Islamic cities, Esfahan, Azadi absorbed story-telling skills through Persian miniature drawings since she was nine. Azadi’s inspirations come from her experiences of being a woman while living under Theocracy. Now residing in the U.S. Azadi is dedicated to transnational feminism with a passionate devotion to the ways in which race, religion, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity intersect. Azadi currently teaches at Oakton Community College while she is an artist resident at Hatch Projects.