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Maziar Bahari: 'Then They Came for Me' (Excerpt)

Tehran, June 2009: Iranian Canadian journalist's rude awakening

Maziar Bahari, author of Then They Came for Me.

Maziar Bahari, author of Then They Came for Me.

Tehran, June 2009: Iranian Canadian journalist's rude awakening

"Zerto pert nakon, stop talking shit," Rosewater said sharply. "Sit down and shut up. One more word, and I'll beat you so badly, I'll make your mother mourn for you." He scratched his side under his jacket, revealing the gun strapped to his body. I sat down, feeling my body grow heavy with fear. I, like most Iranians, knew of far too many people — writers, reformists, activists — who had been woken up like this, and then taken somewhere and murdered. I thought of my father, my sister, each arrested and imprisoned by previous regimes, I thought of my mother, who had been forced to live through all this twice before. I could hear my mother's voice in the kitchen, and my fear was joined by an overwhelming sense of guilt. How could my mother go through this again? Why hadn't I been more careful? Why hadn't I left Iran sooner.

"Would you like some tea?" I heard her ask one of the men in the kitchen.

"No, thank you."

"Why not? It seems that you are going to be here for a while. You should have some tea," she said.

"No, really. I don't want to impose."

I heard my mother laugh. "You arrived at my house at 8 a.m. You are going through my son's personal belongings. I am going to have to put everything back in order after you leave. What do you mean you do not want to impose?"

The man ignored the question. "Madam, please put on your scarf," he said.

Though I could not see my mother's face, I could imagine the condescending look she was giving him at that moment.

My mother's unveiled hair was illegal under Islamic law. I knew her obeying of the Revolutionary Guards' order half-heartedly, was her attempt at defiance. She was telling them that while they may be able to control her body, they could never control her mind. The Guards rightly thought of my mother and me as parts of "the other Iran," a nation who did not want to be the subjects of an Islamic ruler, and wanted to live in a democracy.

"I am 83 years old. Why should I put on my scarf?"

My mother's name is Molook. Growing up, we called her Molook joon, which in Persian, means dear Molook. Because my older brother, Babak, couldn't pronounce the K, he called her Moloojoon. The name stuck, and it is this name I used as I called out to her, doing my best to keep my voice from trembling. "Please. Don't argue with them."

I heard her quick steps, and a few moments later, she walked by my room, a blue floral scarf covering just half of her hair. 

"Fine," I heard her say with polite disdain.

My room had a large book shelf full of Western novels and music, with books signed by prominent Iranian reformists on one side and HBO DVD box sets and copies of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Newsweek stacked sloppily on the other. It was surely foreign territory to Rosewater. He continued to thumb through my papers and books, despite the look of obvious bewilderment on his face.

I sat on the bed watching him until, a while later, Rosewater told me I could go to the kitchen and eat breakfast while they continued to search my room. In the kitchen, my mother poured me a cup of tea and placed a few dates on a small china saucer. She then took a seat across from me at the breakfast table, and silently pushed the dates towards me. "Bokhor, have some," she said, smiling and hoping, I knew, to assure me that I would find the strength to survive this ordeal, whatever was to come.

I was humbled by her courage but it didn't surprise me. My mother's strength has been a source of inspiration throughout my life. But I felt guilty as I thought about how painful it would be for her to watch yet another member of her family being carted away to prison for defying an Iranian regime.


Copyright © 2011 by Maziar Bahari. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.