Postcard From Vancouver

Photo: © Siavash Saadlou. All rights reserved.

Dear Armitta,

It is December 2022 and the month of Azar in the Persian calendar. Your mother’s birthday is coming up in about a week. I am writing to you while sitting at my desk in my studio apartment in Vancouver, glancing from time to time at the company of clouds outside my window. These days, schoolgirls in Iran are being subject to a serialized poisoning scheme. This is one of those times when the phrase “the world is watching” is literally true—the world is doing nothing. If I tell my Canadian friends about what is happening in Iran, they’d most likely resort to their easiest phrase at hand—Oh, I’m so sorry; that’s terrible—or some other perfunctory comment. I know you’re too young to know what “perfunctory” means, but you’ll learn the meaning once you grow up.

Vancouver, by the way, is very beautiful. They call it the city of trees. I still haven’t had a lot of time to explore it, though. I’ve been too busy with schoolwork, and more importantly, consumed with worry. One of the few places I’ve visited is Vanier Park, where thick fog blanketed the mountains and a group of variegated trees looked barren, others more luxuriant. But they all struck me as marooned, or maybe that’s how I saw them because moving to another country unmoors your roots.

The very first day I arrived here, I wandered into a restaurant, ravenous from the transatlantic journey. As soon as I entered, my ears picked up a tune you used to play over and over back in Iran: “Dance Monkey.” Before I knew it, tears came to my eyes. The waitress looked at me with a puzzled expression. She probably had no idea what it meant to be 6000 miles away from home. I couldn’t eat which, for me, is a big deal—I’m sure you remember how much I love food!

Armitta, the thought of you becoming a victim of these school poisonings makes me drop to my knees. Even now that I just wrote this very sentence, I’m near tears. Your mother, my sister, has been through a lot to be where she is now, to have you, to raise you to be nine years old. She grew up fatherless. The Iran-Iraq war took her dad—our dad, your grandfather. Your mother was just two years old when shrapnel shells found their home in Mahmoud’s body on the very last day of the war. Remember your brother Artin when he was only two, running an ecstatic lap around the living room whenever your dad would come home? That is the kind of joy that will remain a mystery to me and your mother.

We used to live together with our mom’s parents until I was nine. Your mother possessed an infinitely curious mind. She always peppered Grandma with all kinds of questions, to the point that it would wear her down—questions about God: Can we see God? Where is God? Why can’t we see God? Sometimes when your mother would give Grandma too hard a time, disobeying or defying her, Grandma would order your mother to open her mouth, then she would pour red chili peppers onto her tongue. Your mother would keep it together until retreating to the bedroom and crying in pain. Don’t get me wrong, Grandma was not a monster! She was very loving—she just didn’t know any better.

Armitta, just before you were born, the government gave your mother and me a small sum for our dad’s retiring allowance. The money was only 20 million tomans in total (equivalent of less than 1000 USD back then), and it was all based on an imaginary situation. They said that if our dad had been alive and had become a retiree, this is the money he would have been eligible to receive. I remember your mother crying on the phone, saying that she believed Dad had “sent me this as a gift just before my baby’s birth.” The day after you were born, your mother told me about the moment when the nurses had gingerly placed you next to her like an expensive relic. “I couldn’t stop the tears,” she said. “They were gushing out like water from an open tap.”

Anyway, it is late now, and the clouds outside my window have scudded across the sky, making way for the night to fall. The sky here is very lucid, Armitta, like the one in your enchanting hometown, Shiraz, the city of Hafiz and Sa’di, of exquisite wine and tuneful poetry. I know in my heart that we will walk under the same sky again someday. The possibility of reuniting with my loved ones is what sustains me—it is what sustains every immigrant who can’t stop thinking about what and who they’ve left behind.


Uncle Siavash

Siavash Saadlou is a Pushcart Prize-nominated writer whose short stories and essays have appeared in Southeast Review, Plenitude Magazine, and Asymptote, among other journals. His poetry has been anthologized in Odes to Our Undoing (Risk Press) and Essential Voices: Poetry of Iran and Its Diaspora (Green Linden Press). Saadlou is the winner of the 55th Cole Swensen Prize for Translation. He is currently working on his memoir titled Congratulations and Condolences.

Appears In

Issue 19.1

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