‘Pairidaeza’ by Hooman Majd
I remember the garden well. The physical layout changes in my mind depending on when I’m thinking of it, but the smell is always the same. How is that? How the hell do I remember an odor from sixty-five years ago? I haven’t smelled it since, and am almost certain I never will again, but I could swear it’s right there in my nostrils. I can’t quite describe it except to say that as with other odors you may know them well but somehow words don’t quite describe them. I mean, describe an onion and you might use words like pungent, burning, sweet, sour, or whatever, but those words only describe it because we already know what an onion smells like. Use the same words to describe X, and someone might think X smells like an onion, when nothing could be further from the truth. Do you want me to describe the smell of a ripe Persian plum? You will never imagine it. Believe me.
The garden I’m talking about was actually the small backyard of the house I lived in as a child. We only lived in the house for a few of my years—it was apartments after that—but I loved that garden because it was my playground and because my mother had changed it from a yard into a garden. I never understood why we moved from this little plot of paradise, but I suppose we, like so many others in the capital at the time, believed that sophisticated city dwellers lived in sophisticated apartments, just like in the Hollywood movies that slowly made their way to Tehran.
It seemed easy, what my mother did with the garden, but I realize now how much time and care went into nurturing the rose bushes and the trees and the saplings and the little flower beds that made my playground so interesting and provided me with the many landing fields and obstacles for my armies and aircraft. My navy—and my country barely even had one then—had its own ocean: a ridiculously small pond in the middle of the square of grass in which my little hands would create huge waves, waves that I thought could sink a toy wooden battleship but somehow never did. The mulberry tree (or is it bush?)—it looked like a big tree to me—in the corner of the garden against the mud and brick wall, its branches extending over the wall and shading the alley on the other side, provided me with hours of delight and deeply stained shirts, but let me tell you: there is no berry in the world that tastes like a big fat red toot. No. I can taste it now, and how many years has it been since I last tasted one? Was it in Tajrish? Or was it up in Darbandsar? I don’t remember. But let me tell you about the peaches, those flat discs that look like peaches that are somehow elastic and have been sat on, but that taste like heaven, especially when you eat them on a summer’s afternoon in your garden, right after the dust and dryness of the air have been washed away with buckets of water and a twig broom. At the end of a hot summer day, after playing in the garden and getting mud on my hands and knees, having consumed the last of the toot before the tree went barren, I would go back into the house, finally, after my mother’s repeated beckoning and then pleading, with the smell of the garden firmly entrenched in my nose. What a delight!