Perhaps I should be grateful to Philadelphia. Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to be alone, and here I have no excuse not to be. I can spend my nights walking through the city without knowing from where I'm coming or to where I'm going. I just sit here on this bench beside the river, or watch dudes playing on the soccer field and keep muttering to myself: “Who asked them to play?”
I know nobody is waiting for me at home and I'm not waiting for anybody either. Nobody will call me, and of course I have nobody to call. My friends in Tehran have forgotten me. My ex has updated her Facebook profile picture; looking straight at the camera lens, laughing, with her hand on the shoulder of a man with a strange moustache. The man’s face has been cropped halfway, and I can't figure out what the point of it is. Is it just to help with the composition, or is it some kind of message for me?
Philadelphia is dark, very dark. There are lights behind the small squares on the buildings, but such tiny lights. I don't know what the people are doing behind those squares. Are they reading? Are they eating dinner together at the table? Are they watching TV? The new episode of “How I Met Your Mother”? Or what? A Phillies match? An Eagles match? Or a match of any other team with any of those strange names? I like its darkness, though. It helps me not to see and not to be seen. I listen to the rhythm of my steps from the school to wherever. And finally the river, to sit on my famous bench. Then I look at the Schuylkill and the reflections of the light on the river.
When I was a child, every time that we went to the Caspian, I only wanted to watch the sea. The ever-naked and ever-free sea. My dad thought that I was afraid of the water, and of course I was. But that wasn't the point. One day Dad, my sister Parinaz and I went to the beach from the villa together. The sun was shining in the sky and the hot sand was creeping inside my sandals. Dad was speaking to us, but I don't remember what he was saying. Parinaz and I were talking stealthily. We climbed the sand dune and suddenly the sea appeared in front of us. There was water as far as the eye could see. Water and more water. And how beautiful, strange, and unbelievable it was.
We arrived at the Caspian Sea and, beside it, another sea, this one of hairy men. This area belonged exclusively to the males, and because of her boyish haircut, it was hard to tell whether Parinaz was just a handsome boy, or a girl pretending to be a handsome boy. We told Dad that we wanted to play in the sand by the water’s edge, and he let us. Soon, however, as if he had become bored, he came back to the beach after only a few minutes’ swim, and told me that he wanted to take me into a shallow part of the sea. I was frightened. I don't know how he tricked me into getting on his shoulders. Parinaz was laughing. We went far into the sea - it was very obvious that it wasn't at all shallow. I started to scream, but Dad was laughing. I remember that he suddenly dropped me into the water. I began flailing violently. He said “Calm down! Don't move!” I desperately grasped out for his hands and just about found them. I clutched them firmly.
“Be still! You won't sink - even in the deepest part of the sea - so long as you’re calm! Don't move!”
I resisted, but Dad didn't really care.
I don't remember exactly how long it took, but at last I gave up being a prima donna and stopped crying. My mouth was full of salty water. Finally I became calm. Dad encouraged me. I still had my hand in his, but as if his words suddenly came true, I became weightless.
When we returned to the beach, Parinaz was still laughing. I lay on the hot sand. She sat down beside me and began to build a sandcastle, and I don't really remember what Dad did after that.
I don't know where they are in Tehran at this moment, or if they even remember that day or not. I don't know if we can ever return to the Caspian Sea together someday. Maybe next time Dad won't wish to swim, and Parinaz won’t be in the mood to build a castle, and all three of us can just watch the sea.
But now, I'm here in this cold night, in Philadelphia, in front of the Schuylkill. My foot is on land, but as if I'm in the deepest part of the sea, I still don't move. I don't even breathe. And I don't drown.