TEHRAN GAS STATION ©Christina Maile 2022
TThe lines have never started this far. He should have risked finding a place nearer the boy’s house. Now he will be late. Very late if that brand-new Samad in front keeps letting every car nose ahead. The guy must be like an idiot. Which only reminds Ardeshir of the boy again. The semester barely a month old, and his parents are already complaining. Would they use today’s lateness as cause for dismissing him? Such foolishness. Kaveh’s parents are the sort who never need excuses.
Suddenly from out of nowhere, which is how one drives in Tehran, a space to the right opens and with great satisfaction Ardeshir swings past the idiot in his precious doesn’t-want-to-be-kissed Samad. From what he can see of the gas station - which for now is only a red and white sign high against the yawning empty windows of the old Hilton Hotel – he has perhaps another 15-20 minutes to the pumps. Then five minutes to fill up. He frowns at his watch. It is another half hour at least to Kaveh’s house.
This semester, it is the equations of the hypotenuse. No matter how well Ardehsir draws for Kaveh the barque of the cosine, the catamarin of the sine, or even the simple rowboat of the 90 degree angle, the liquid vacancy of the boy’s eyes seeps in between the lines, submerging them deck by deck again until by the end of the 75 minute hour, all have drowned companionably into the crowded mud of previous hours. At these moments Ardeshir imagines what must be the walled city of Kaveh’s comprehension standing across a wide, pearl grey ocean, inviolate, distant and untroubled.
Finally a tiny Fiat realizes what it is in for and surrenders to Ardeshir’s mutinuous change of lanes. He needs more cowardly drivers like that. Right now such crumbs of mercy would be worth almost any price. For of all the mornings of the world, it is be precisely tomorrow morning which brings Kaveh’s first big math exam of the semester. And of all the evenings when it has scarcely ever mattered, it is this evening of all evenings when Ardeshir the math tutor will be late
Six weeks ago, sitting in the immense chill of Kaveh’s parents’ air conditioned living room, Ardeshir’s sweaty good suit drying chillingly against his body, both parents, dressed very European in crisp soft clothes, the mother’s scarf, sheer as perfume, gracing her shoulders more than her hair, they were impressed with the excellent letters of reference Ardeshir presented. Of course he felt no need to mention they were from families whose children were already good students. Never would he have considered a circumstance to the contrary. Sitting in that spacious room so far above his means, how could anyone not succeed who lived in a place so elegant and rich.
But the ways of God are unpredictable to men. Of his three private math students, Kaveh is the worst. The effort Ardeshir expends on the worrisome boy is so exhausting, he has hesitated to take on another student. But to give in to such exhaustion is madness. A minimum of four is absolutely required if fees are to be paid, food to be bought.
But Ardeshir knows the fault of his exhaustion is not just the boy. There is his teaching job at the middle school, a steady position and undemanding, But the trip, an hour’s drive from his house is made longer by the need at 6:30 am every morning to drive his daughter to her pre-university classes which lie in almost the exact opposite direction. At 17, no matter what she says, she cannot travel there alone. Absolutely final.
Though there is a women’s door leading directly to the back of the city bus; though the women sit there bound and insulated like eggs in a carton, though in this way they are safely separated from male passengers, I ask you my daughter, where are the precautions when you are standing alone at the bus stop? Where is the protection in the streets when you walk home by yourself, as strangers, as men freely pass you by? No no no. It is the duty of a father to consider all these dangers, and it is the duty of a daughter to obey; to wait inside the lobby after classes are over, for as long as necessary until the crunching gravel of tires announces the arrival of your father upon the driveway of the large, reasonably priced but well-regarded school. Ardeshir sighs. There is a moment of relaxation for the mid-day meal at home with his wife and children. But afterwards… there is the drive to the bank to check if his school salary has been deposited. The trip to the house of a friend to pay off an installment of a loan, The drive to the government office to argue about a mistaken identity card. And at least once a week, to drive one of children or even his wife to some far-away bazaar where some better thing might also be cheaper.
Only after, does his money making day begin, and he gets back into his car to visit his weekly students all over the city. The traffic is unbearable. the lights of the pollution billboards always yellow or red. But who pays attention to such things, when one must concentrate on beating back the cars and more cars, the trucks, the taxis, the little vans piled with furniture higher than a minaret, the motor bikes populated with entire families ramrod straight as dolls, the black-smoked buses, the voracious mini buses, the occasional man-pulled wagon, the insect-buzzing scooters, all either yoked together in jammed, elongated misery, or rushing and clawing like starved predators for a piece of street as if it were a chunk of throat.
Spewing smoke and haze in this city of rare traffic lights, they persevere, fender to fender, insinuating themselves through the narrowest of openings, hurtling forward, blaring horns, screaming curses, fleeing collisions, stomach crunching stops, the flickering animations of pedestrians, and always, ever watchful for the smallest tinge of failed nerve, for the blood of hesitation, for the leanest blade of opportunity, dismembering the twisted vegetative streets for shortcuts, for strategies, for momentary collaborations with the all-merciful. Breath by breath, millimeter by millimeter Ardeshir knows the pulsating pathways of Tehran as intimately as he knows the geography of his own mouth. But he has never known a day when he is not unalterably tired.
But today, it is the tiredness of his car, the slow deaths of its parts which are the source of his present trouble.. Months before, when his gas gauge stopped registering, Ardeshir began keeping a mental record of the state of his tank. Not today, though when the shaking and shuddering of the engine as familiar as the body of his wife indicated he had failed.
Ardeshir drums his fingers on the steering wheel. Not even a working cassette player. Still he cannot bring himself to throw out the cracked plastic cassette tapes aging on top of his dashboard. Old Persian songs. The litter of ancient lyrics. One glance at a faded cover and they overflow Where is my love who gazes at me with the eyes of a gazelle. Where is the forest I must travel , where is the sea I must sail, upon the bow of my ship with my arrows of love… His eyes, alert like a sailor’s never leave the swells and troughs of the traffic in front of him, even as he pulls up the 2 litre bottle of water balanced near the clutch, even as he rummages in the glove compartment for his small cup. Only when transported briefly by the water in his mouth does his gaze momentarily drift from the jammed sterns of the autos to his tutor bag on the passenger seat. Inside are some coloured papers he has cut into right triangles and squares. He knows they will not help Kaveh,. He brings them in promise to the boy’s mother to bring for this week an advanced teaching method. To impress her with the effort he is making on behalf of her son.
Kaveh’s parents live in the immense quiet of Mahmoudiyeh, with its wide, even sidewalks, densely dappled iron gates, and high marble courtyard walls upon which only the leafy shadows of the old street sycamores are allowed to tremble. So unlike Ardeshir’s own neighborhood of thin streets, thinner trees and small pasted flyers which confetti their patchy courtyard walls like bits of dried tears. It takes him hours to scrap them off, and even then they re-appear almost immediately. But Kaveh’s neighborhood is pristine and as placid as ice, as remote as a different planet, lit by a clearer sun, scoured by the narrowing atmospheres of wealth and the relics of wealth, it is unsuited to the inhalations of ordinary people. An unbreathable world, in other words, it shimmers brokenly behind the iron gates - the complex, grandiose houses, the diamond-paved gardens, the multi-arched windows, the caged balconies. An unexpected dizziness that first time, when the iron gates of Kaveh’s house fragrantly opened to Ardeshir and into his lungs, the archaic exhalation of power.
Through the car window the hot gaseous breath of the city tides in. Still better than being stifled by a car without air conditioning. Usually there are vendors zigzagging these lines. Where are they? The water had tasted of plastic. A wish, no a longing for a nice orange, overwhelms Ardeshir. Maybe even just a plum .
Oh what a day when a poor man’s prayer is answered. For barely visible but growing more real with each step , a full-throated vendor suddenly appears. Slowly weaving in and out of the lines of cars, there is something aloft in his raised right hand. Ardeshir is suffused with a small pre-emptive happiness. His mouth tingles with anticipation. Oranges? Better than a plum any day. But Ardeshir would not refuse this gift from heaven, even if it turns out to be a radish.
“New wallets for your gas ration cards”, the man shouts. “Of the finest make. It has a special compartment for your gas ration cards.
Ardeshir almost weeps with disappointment.
“Wallets for your gas ration cards Look and see. New wallets for your gas ration cards, look and see.”
The stupid man is heading directly towards Ardeshir, his open window, a clear invitation.
“Go on, get out of here, “ A driver on Ardeshir’s passenger side suddenly yells out. “Go on, I spit on the gas rationing cards. If it wasn’t for these stupid gas rationing cards, we wouldn’t need your damn wallets. We wouldn’t be waiting in this stupid line. Go on, get out of my sight. Gas rationing card wallet, how stupid does the government think us?”
The vendor halts, seemingly stunned by the driver’s anger. And yet it is never bad to have gotten someone’s attention. It is the most important first step towards any kind of sale.
“Not only for gas rationing cards. Oh no, not only for that!”, the vendor shouts as if in answer to the complaining man and also for the benefit of the neighboring drivers, “ Other things too. Money, receipts. ID cards. Room for all. Plus the new gas cards. Such magnificent gas card wallets. Take a look. “
“Didn’t you hear me.” The driver yells back as the vendor nears. “ Go on get out of here. We don’t want your gas rationing card wallets. We don’t want these useless gas rationing cards. And most of all we don’t want the stupid bureaucrats who caused us to have these stupid gas rationing cards in the first place!”
The vendor slows. The angry driver has insulted the wallets too much. Perhaps he has turned others against them too. If he were in the vendor’s shoes – and praise God, Ardehsir has never come close to that –the vendor should just quiet down and keep moving. But the man does something that Ardeshir immediately admires. He opens wide his case. Passing slowly and silently between the two drivers, the vendor cradles it out in front of him. For is it so much to ask, that upon seeing the gas rationing card wallets so nicely displayed, someone just might…just might be persuaded by the choice of colours?
As the vendor is swallowed by another wave of cars, the complaining driver looks over to Ardeshir . “Can you believe this? The lines are longer every day.”
Ardeshir smiles “I am running out of gas just sitting here.”
The man continues, “ This country has plenty of oil, why must we have these stupid gas rationing cards, eh? Thanks to that incompetent president of ours, that’s why. Does he wait in line for gas?
Ardeshir is about to reply when he realises - this man, this driver, he could be anyone. Anyone. Just waiting for him to say something…something incautious. Ardeshir does not want to appear discourteous. He nods imperceptibly and quickly turns away, as if re-called to duty by the old cassettes, as if he had been derelict in their need for urgent re-arranging on his dashboard.
How fortuitous that in reclaiming his view of the front, the corner to which he has been nearing, has widened presenting a perfect fleeting opportunity. Ardeshir expertly slides one micron past the jutting chair leg of a gangly overburdened van, and forges safely ahead from the complaining driver. Of course he totally agrees with what the man said. Everyone knows the government is corrupt and incompetent. But what can anyone do. No matter if one day perfection is reached, , there will always be something to kill a poor man. Only gold can give birth to gold.
To be born in a house like Kaveh’s. When Ardeshir removes his shoes and places them on the shoe shelf, they look so sad and ill-used next to the softly expensive ones of the family . Real leather, they are, even the beautiful English loafers lying dusty and unworn on the bottom rack. To treat such shoes so ignobly. Yet as Ardeshir slips into the house slippers reserved for guests, they are so sublime a fit for his unwieldy feet, even he abandons further thought of them, so eager is he to enter the pale cream house, to be entranced once again by its strange arctic candor. He slides along the white wainscoted hallway, he passes by the wrought iron stairway, the slight breeze from its marble steps a signal to turn right, to the only room he has ever been allowed to enter. A living room so large it can hold Ardeshir’s entire apartment. At the far end, a balcony overlooks a small back garden. Dark curtains and gold tassels at the windows, a heavy room, full of old Baluchi rugs, dense with richly brocaded chairs and deep sofas. So reminiscent of old Qajar waiting rooms, the furniture themselves could be plotting in French.
The room simmers with the smell of expensive silk and fabricked flowers. Bouquets upon bouquets of them, fanned inside vases, themselves shaped like flowers. They inhabit the end tables, the cabinets, the top of the large armoire in the corner. They forest the floor in stiff fruited branches. They petal the coffee tables, the top of the covered TV stand, their blooms overflow the polished black earth of the baby grand. Luminous and un-alive, the room is a garden basking in the light of an eternal summer afternoon cast by the evening lamps. Against the walls, creamy and sunlit, with their espaliers of ghostly mouldings, the dusks of the painted landscapes hanging upon them are also gifted in this un-moving sundown, the dynastic gilt of their frames bright as coins.
Kaveh’s parents don’t think very much of him, he knows, even though he, too, has been to Europe, to Denmark, in fact. So homesick, though, it was a blessing he never found a real job there. The family's initial frosty friendly optimism at Ardeshir’s ability to help their son has faded along with Kaveh’s math grades. Ardeshir is thankful that it is only the mother he must face on his weekly visits. The father is never home. There is much work to keep a factory running, the mother explained importantly. Something Kaveh must learn as well as math. But his father will see to that part, she adds.
Poor Kaveh, Ardeshir thinks, the boy already 14 does not show any sign of being able to take over anything, much less math. But Ardeshir reassures the mother, and of course in a way himself. Your son is smart, he tells her, but he must do the exercises I leave him. He must apply himself. (As I did, once). Ardeshir feels badly because shy, hesitant, heavy Kaveh reminds Ardeshir of himself. One evening Ardeshir was even struck by how alike their hands were – wide and fat, but like Ardeshir’s, Kaveh’s fat stubs of fingers also ended in delicate points where the nails began. But how long will the parents bear the tutor’s inability to raise their son’s grades. Until Ardeshir finds another student to replace Kaveh, he must continue to place the blame of failing on the boy without seeming to.
For the lessons, he and Kaveh each sit on one of the eight elaborately carved, beautifully upholstered chairs which surround the dining room table, itself fitted into a dining alcove within the living room. A plastic table cloth covers what Ardeshir suspects is an equally beautiful table. It is almost exactly the same grayish, cheap pattern that his own family uses. How could they know this? In that lovely room, they have made Ardeshir’s final destination, winter. The mother brings in a tray of tea, plates and some dishes of raisins and almonds. Leaving them alone, she is always nearby. Ardeshir can hear her in the kitchen on the other side of the wall. Sometimes she is on the stairs. Sometimes there is the slight thrum of her passage down the hallway as she goes about her mysterious obligations. Back and forth she goes, in and out of the fire-bloomed, swan-white rooms he will never see.
In just such an evening filled like all the others with disappointing exercises, and the mother on some long household journey, that Ardeshir, tired and bored asked the boy about his interests. Kaveh was even more silent than usual, if such a possibility could be. The silence lengthened. Should I have asked this question? Is it too personal? But then Kaveh , his head still bent towards his lesson book whispered,
“I like to build wooden models, and ride my bike.”
“Models? You build models? How nice. I used to build them.”
“Do you want to see one? ”
“Well I ….” Before Ardeshir could finish, the boy ran from the room. Immediately Ardeshir became uneasy. Here he had seemingly sent the boy away, the mother would catch him alone at the table. She would accuse him of wasting time and money. He became angry at the stupid boy who left him in this questionable position. But then Kaveh had returned quickly, holding out a small wooden construction.
“I made it myself. From a kit” Ardeshir took the small armored tank into his hands.
It had been manufactured out of extremely thin plywood which had been jig-sawed into flat intricate shapes. To construct the model, all one had to do was to slide these shapes one into the other according to the numbers printed on the pieces. When all the sliding was done, a three-dimensional model was formed. Ardeshir turned the tank from one side to the other. Unpainted, the pieces also had not been manufactured very well, the parts fitted badly and many were loose and falling out if not handled delicately.
“It is very well done, Kaveh.” Ardeshir smiled, “ I have never seen anything like it. You are very talented.” Kaveh’s face glowed as if Ardeshir had meant it.
Ardeshir placed the model on the table in front of them and began to refer to it in the lesson. Did it make a difference in the teaching? He had no time to form a conclusion. The mother entered with more tea. “So Kaveh, you have brought out your model to show. But you know what your father says.” and she took the tank away with her.
That was two weeks ago and although Kaveh seems to be waiting, Ardeshir does not ask to see another model again. It was such a bold and unusual step. He is afraid to repeat it.
But there is something about the mother which tells him that perhaps he should be more courageous. Some kind of fragile empathy about the difficulties of educating her son. She ruffles Kaveh’s hair when she leaves the tea, and tells him he is a good boy and very smart. At the first interview, she had said little, and only after the father spoke. A tall, heavy, bull headed man, he had managed to lower Ardeshir’s fee which Ardeshir had secretly raised by 50% upon seeing the house. Despite Ardeshir’s impeccable credentials, the father had succeeded in getting Ardeshir to lower his price by 40% of the secret increase. So a gain of 10%, above his normal fee but is it enough for the aggravation. When the negotiations were done, the mother had spoken, with frequent glances at her husband, of the need to gain Kaveh’s wandering attention. Ardeshir had responded enthusiastically without considering anything serious in her words. The father became impatient.
“The tutor knows his job, we are paying plenty for it. He knows we want results”
Last week as Ardeshir was leaving, and only to be expected, the father spoke through the mother.
“My husband is growing impatient, Ara Azir”, she said when she handed him the envelope containing his fee. “ Kaveh must begin to do better. His father doesn’t believe enough progress is being made. He may want to look elsewhere for teachers. ”
Panicked, Ardeshir blurted “The concepts are hard. But I have been involved with…uh…some recent methods which have been tried in…in Denmark”. Next week I will bring these methods which I have just acquired. They have shown remarkable results.” The door closes and all that is left is the long drive home.
Only three cars are ahead of him now. The roof of the station looms like a legible cloud.
As he relaxes against his seat, Ardeshir’s gaze is caught by a thin old man standing under the same cloud. His large-beaked nose hovering over his scraggly white beard, the vendor is dressed in baggy black pants, a long sleeved shirt,and despite the heat, a dark wool visit buttoned tightly to his neck. Colourful boxes nest at his feet. In his hands, something remarkable. An old time ship, complete with sails.
The man’s beard just grazes the top of the tallest mast like a pennant. In the shade of the stations’s roof, the vendor stands on a median strip like the captain himself, caught in the swirl of the metal and fumes around him. Yet it is still a wonderful location. Here the cars must separate and pass by slowly. Here the drivers are happy mostly, in a good mood, their interminable wait is almost at an end. And here, most of all, here is where the money is, already slipping halfway out of the pockets and wallets which bind it. Money for gas, of course. But perhaps money too for the beautiful ship he offers, right here available to tempt a person’s sudden whim. Such a lucky spot. Ardeshir likes that the man says nothing. Allows the ship to speak for him. It’s beauty to speak. The voice of the ship calls him. And an idea has formed in his mind. Ardeshir leans through the passenger window.
“Let me see that thing.”
“Of course, Ara .” The vendor sails the boat on the horizon of the passenger door. With the other hand, he thrusts a box through the opened window into Ardeshir’s hands. “Open it, all the pieces are inside. See how well made it is.”
Keeping an eye on the pumps, Ardeshir inspects the box. The words “Pirates of the Caribbean”, in English, are printed above a picture of the pirates themselves. One of the pirates is a woman. Her hair has been magic marker-ed over with a hijab, and a black solid scrawl covers her body. Only her Western face is visible like a full moon among the grinning men rich in beards, hats, jewelry, and knives. Real swashbucklers, they are. And “Made in China” which is printed in white at one end of the box.
Ardeshir removes the cover and is pleasantly surprised. It is a real model- building kit. Almost exactly, no, even better than the ones he built as a boy. There is an actual solid wood hull split into two parts which must be glued together, and bits and pieces of plasticised cloth. Real balsa-wood masts and decks. There is thread for rigging, and miniscule hooks to attach it. And two tiny brushes tied to even tinier bottles of paint. Even a small stand for when the ship is completed. Everything neatly arranged in little plastic bags, sealed closed. His hands shake at the care and wonder of it.
“How much for this little toy?”
“ Toy?! Not a toy. A kit. A beautiful kit. And as you see I have only a few left, There is nothing like it in all of Tehran.”
“What is the price?”
“Yes, yes, so I will tell you. My original price was 60,000 tomans, but since you are in a rush,we can dispense with talk, I will give it to you for 50,000 tomans. There, its yours. ”
“For a toy that one must put together and will break easily?! “ Ardeshir shakes his head. “I will give you 25,000 tomans for such a fragile thing. “
“Ah my friend, that is the point. It is not a toy, but a real model kit. To train a child to build. Even if you could find another kit like this, which I assure you, you cannot, they would charge you over 80,000 tomans.”
“Well then you must sell this unfinished toy to someone who lives in a palace. Not to me.”
“Look at it. This is not junk that you can buy in any store. I guarantee, you will find nothing like it in all of Tehran. But I have a soft heart. 45,000 tomans. And I am truly giving it away at that price.
“This is just a whim of mine. It is not something I need. A present only. 30,000 tomans, And even at such a price, it may not be worth the trouble of buying it.”
“You know sir. I can tell by the way you touched the pieces, you are experienced in such things. Perhaps you have been a sailor yourself?. Yes, you are nodding your head. There, then, you cannot deny the quality of the kit. 40,000 tomans, and only because I personally want you to have it.”
“I agree it is a well made toy, although unfinished. It is beautiful. But I cannot go higher than 32,000.”
Sir, as you agree, it is a wonderful model. All I ask of your goodness and kindness is 38,000 tomans. There I’ve said it. 38,000 tomans. So be it. Mere rials for a treasure the lucky boy, your son…am I right?... I am guessing you and your son will work together to build it. Oh how everyone will admire the work when it is done.”
Ardeshir is very tempted to buy the kit. The vendor is getting anxious. So close to a sale, Ardeshir can get it easily for 35,000 tomans. A very good buy for something so rare and incredible. He could introduce it to Kaveh’s mother this evening as the Danish teaching technique. For that is the idea he has formed.
In the weeks to come, the lessons could revolve around helping Kaveh to build it. Ardeshir would very much like to do that. It is almost a lifetime away that he has built such a model. And as Kaveh is already interested in kits, it would be very easy to incorporate math lessons in the building of it. The parents would be pleased. Kaveh would pass his tests with a new understanding. This is in fact how Ardeshir himself became interested in math. Building models. Which led to geometry. Then architecture. Finally naval architecture, for which he gained his degree How long long ago was that? 26, 27 years. Can he still be that same person who went to Denmark to study, when Denmark seemed like a beacon of adventure and success.
A car has moved away from the pump, another has driven up. Now he is only one car away. Should he spend the money?
But he must move up. “I will think about it” Ardeshir thrusts the box back at the vendor.
The vendor waves the box away. “ It is yours. 36,000 tomans. That is my last price, a very good price.” The man says running along side Ardeshir’s car.
“No, no.”Ardeshir is impatient to get to the pumps. He cannot deal with the man now. He tips the box on top of the edge of the window as he moves the car. The vendor has no choice but to run and grab it before the box falls to the ground.
Ardeshir parks just behind a man filling his car. It is not by chance that the vendor was standing there, selling such a thing. Could it be just mere coincidence? Perhaps it is really a solution that has been given to him. True it is 35000 tomans. Money he will never see again. Denmark is famous for strange and toy-like educational experiments.
The mother would be very impressed.
Ardeshir turns and finds that his car had all by itself moved right up to the pump, and had shuddered to a stop. Ardeshir opens his door, gets out and and hands his gas ration card to the attendant.
Although Ardeshir’s own Khodro has become so useless in many ways, it has one good advantage. It is a 4 cylinder car. For such cars, and after much proof and paperwork, owners of such cars such as Ardeshir, receive a special gas rationing card which allows them to buy gas at a much lower rate than those others, whose cars eat up much more gas per mile, must pay.
The attendant returns the card, and adjusts the pump. Ardeshir unlocks his gas cap and inserts the nozzle.
“The camera! I want that camera! Give it to me.”
Ardeshir looks up. At the other line of pumps, there seems to be an argument. A man is screaming at someone inside a car. His voice is loud and frantic.
“She is a reporter.”, he yells to the other men and pointing at a woman sitting in the passenger seat. “ She will report me. He turns to the woman again, “Give me the camera, give me the camera.”
The yelling man is waving a white plastic gas container. His hair is wild, his shirt sweaty , his gray pants shapeless. Two men surround him, Ardeshir cannot hear them. But they seem to be trying to calm the man down. But the man refuses to calm down.
“She will put my face on the television. Everyone will know who I am. The government will come to my house. He screams at the woman again, “Give me the camera. You will not leave here until you give me the camera.”
Ardehsir looks around. Everyone is watching what is going on, but not in a way that would call attention to themselves. Everyone is busy with their own purpose, but alert to their surroundings.
The man is gesturing. He is crying, He is waving his arms.
“What have you against a poor man trying to feed his family. What? What. Give me the camera now. You see, She is trying to get me arrested. She will sell the picture of my face to the tv news or to a newspaper. I am not safe. Give me the camera.”
Of course, Ardeshir thinks. Some men with the lower rate gas ration card instead of filling up their cars, buy the gas at a cheaper rate and fill up plastic containers. They then sell the gas at a small markup to drivers waiting on line who have a higher rate gas ration card. Everyone profits. It is not illegal to fill up gas containers. But it is illegal to re-sell the gas.
More calming talk from the two men surrounding the screaming man. Ardeshir realizes that these must be the men from the car with the woman with the camera.
“Baleh, baleh. Yes, yes,”, the man with the white gas containers “ OK, Then just tell her give me the film. Give me the camera and I will take out the film. Or just let her open the camera and I will take out the film. ”
More frantic talking from the men. Ardeshir cannot see, but apparently the woman in the car. Had she been taking pictures of everyone?
“Why should I believe you?. She is a reporter “, the man continues to argue. “She is not a visitor, a tourist as you say. She is a reporter. Why else would she take a picture of a poor man at gas station. Why should she be taking a picture of a line of cars. What kind of tourist picture is that? No, no, she knows exactly what I am doing, that I am re-selling the gas. She wants to sell the picture of my face and make money off of my hardships.”
The men talk further. They allow him to look into the car where the woman sits. They talk further. They seem to have convinced him.
“You will delete my face. I have your word?.”
Whatever was seen or what was said, the problem seems to have resolved itself. The man retrieves his white containers and leaves. The two men get back in the car with the woman with the camera and speed off.
Ardeshir himself has finished filling up. He looks at his watch. Miraclously the whole waiting in line, the gas filling, everything has taken much shorter than he anticipated. God be praised. Perhaps if his blessings continue, Ardeshir will beat the traffic, find a quicker short cut and get to Kaveh’s house in time, just in time. But he has made a decision. Fate is with him. He must take advantage of it. Quickly he parks alongside the station, gets out of the car and rushes back to the corner of the gas station where the man with the boat stands.
But the vendor has disappeared. Ardeshir looks up and down the street. He is gone. Was it the threat of a camera that frightened him away?
Ardeshir is suddenly totally relieved. He would have bought the wooden kit. With money that truly he could not afford. And then what have would happened?. It would have been money wasted. He would never in a million years have had the nerve to give such a thing to the family. No matter what explanation Ardeshir gave, no matter how graciously the family received it, Ardeshir would only have to look into Kaveh’s father ‘s eyes and see the dismissal that would accompany the politely veiled words, “Thank you, my dear sir, you shouldn't have done this, my son has so many things.”