After breakfast, his dad dropped Arash off at school on his way to work as he normally would. Arash walked toward the front gate of the school but didn't go in. He waited to make sure his dad drove off. Then he walked to the bus station, took the bus to old middle-class neighborhood in the Westide of Tehran and walked toward his old high school. A week earlier Arash, Masoud and Jalil all had planned to meet that morning close to the high school, at their standard rendezvous. But when Arash got there, they weren't there.
Something's up, he thought. They're never ever late.
He waited a few more minutes but he knew he couldn't stay there longer because it would look suspicious. Older comrades had taught him to only wait a few minutes and then if the contacts don't appear, move forward with plan b and go to the second rendezvous. But they didn't have a plan b. Arash walked toward his old high school. He looked through the front gate at the empty school yard. Everyone was already in class. Then he saw a friend from his old neighborhood walking toward the school. As soon as he saw Arash, he started to walk faster toward the school gate. He was visibly panicking, looking around and motioning with his hands to go away.
"Go away! Go away!" he said. "Everyone got arrested!"
His friend ran into the school and disappeared into his classroom.
His friend had infected Arash with his panic. His little mind was racing with questions. What did he mean 'everyone got arrested'? 'Everyone' everyone? Who's 'everyone'? Where's Masoud and Jalil? When did they get arrested and why? Am I next?
He avoided eye contact with anyone on the street and got on the bus to go back home. That's it. It's done. Time to go. I'm going to need money.
In his panic, he came up with a plan:
Stay in the streets, outside, not inside, for no less than 48 hours.
Then go underground.
Find out what "underground" means.
Not get caught.
No, put step "e" before step "d."
Arash kept repeating the plan in his head. When he got home and opened up the front door, his mom was walking out of the kitchen. She was surprised.
"What are you doing home, Arash?" she said. "Why aren't you in school!"
Arash looked at her.
"Mom, I need money."
"What do you mean? Why do you need money?"
"I need to go away!"
None of it made sense to his mom.
Arash grew impatient.
"I think they're after me."
She knew about Arash and the Pishgam and the Fedaii. She knew it was a matter of time.
"But you didn't do anything!" she said, but then thought again. "Or did you?"
"No!" he said, but his mom didn't know if he was admitting or denying anything. "Look, I have a connection. I can go underground."
Normally, it would've sounded silly to her but not that day. Arash was in fear. So was she.
"You are not going anywhere, Arash!" she said. "You are not going anywhere until your father comes home."
She walked toward the phone and called him. She told him Arash was home and confused and sick and that he needed to come home right away. Arash got more nervous with every passing minute. The more time I spend here, the more likely they will find me!
His dad came home and went directly to Arash.
"What is going on!"
"They're coming for me! Everyone got arrested! Because of what we did, or like what we do!"
His dad knew about his flyering at demonstrations and posting up propaganda against Khomeini. But he didn't think it was serious. It was just papers, he thought. No guns, no bullets! They're just little kids!
"But you're all just kids! What possibly could you have done!"
"Dad, it's not about that," he said. "I didn't do anything but they don't care about that. Look, I need money. I have to leave. Now!"
His dad looked at Arash, oh pesaram, what have you done!
"Don't let him go anywhere" his dad told his mom. "I'm going to find out what the hell is going on."
His dad, like many Iranians, thought that with enough money and connections he could get out of any problem. The system is crooked and money talks, as the Americans say. But he didn't understand this was different. Or maybe he did, but was in denial of the terrible things waiting for his son. His mother told Arash to stay inside while she went over to the neighbor's house across the street to try to get some advise. Arash waited a little while and then walked outside. As soon as he stepped outside the neighbor from across the street called him over.
"Arash!" he said. "Do you know how to change a flat tire?"
His dad had taught Arash a lot of things about cars, especially tires.
"I got a flat tire but I don't know how to take it off and put on the spare," he said.
Arash walked over to the car. He popped the trunk open and got the spare tire and car jack out. The flat was on the rear passenger side. He got to his knees and slid the jack underneath. First, he used the tire iron to loosen the lug nuts. Then he jacked up the car. Quickly, he took off the flat. Arash was getting ready to put on the spare tire. He was going to stand up and bend down to pick up the spare.
"Arash!" his neighbor whispered loudly. "Do not move!"
"A black Mercedes just turned down our street," he said.
Mercedes Benz were mostly used by Iranian intelligence agents. Unbeknownst to Arash, his mother had called the neighbor earlier about his situation to get advise. Arash quickly dropped down and slid underneath the car as if he was working on it. The Mercedes passed them by. But it stopped just two houses down. The car reversed and parked directly across from them in front of Arash's house. Three of the four doors of the Mercedes opened. Three bearded men in suits stepped out.
"Hey, do you know which house belongs to the family of Arash?" one of the three men asked the neighbor.
"No, I don't. We just moved here."
One of the men walked toward Arash's house.
"Wait!" the neighbor said. "I mean, please wait. The lady of the house is not home. She is visiting my wife at home. Let me go get her."
One of the three men looked toward the car and saw Arash's small body, but not his face.
The neighbor went back inside. Outside, Arash stayed underneath the car. The three men stood there. His mother came out. Two of the three men approach her.
"Where is Arash?"
"What do you want from him!"
"We just have some questions for him," one of the men said.
"Where is he!" one of the other men said. "We were at his school. He isn't there!"
"It's because he is with his father," she said.
"Where are they?"
"At his—his tire shop," she said, becoming more afraid, her voice breaking.
"And where is his tire shop?"
"In mid-town," she said, and asked again. "What is this about?"
"We just have some questions," they repeated.
They ordered her to call Arash's dad and tell him to keep Arash there until they got there.
"He better be there," one of the three men said, then drove off.
Arash crawled out from under the car, shaking with fear.
"Arash!" his neighbor said. "Get in here!"
Arash went inside his neighbor's house. He was a nice man in his mid-40s, an office worker, married with two young boys. He was not political. But he liked Arash and his family. He knew they were good people, and even if Arash had done something, it wasn't enough to merit all this. His mother walked quickly back into the neighbor's house and called Arash's dad telling him to come back home as fast as he could.
"Here," his mom said, giving Arash a pair of tennis shoes. "Put these on and be ready, Arash."
"If, or when, they come back," she said. "You leave. Leave from the backyard of the neighbor's house. Save yourself, Arash. Save yourself."
Facundo Rompehuevos is an activist, writer, husband, father and recovering alcoholic and drug addict born and raised in the San Fernando Valley. He writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction. His work has appeared in zines and literary magazines and poetry journals, such as Rusty Truck, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, The Rising Phoenix Review, Red's Not White and Delirium. He has two books of poetry: Irreconcilable Contradictions (2017) and Grabbing the Stars from the Sky (2021), both published by Fourth Sword Publications. He is currently working on his debut novel and a collection of short stories.
Arash Pouyan was born in 1966 in Tehran. By the age of 12 he participated in the 1979 Iran Revolution. Later on he was arrested for his participation and support of the Fedaii. After three years as a political prisoner, he was released and left to Europe—where he continued his political activism against the Islamic Republic. Afterward, he moved to the U.S. He returned, briefly, to Iran in 2009 to participate in the Green Movement. Today, he continues to keep up to date with the popular movements not just in Iran but all over the world.