Monday, 29th May 2023 - 16:20:58 pm

Ahmed caught the first flight that connected with Tehran. Without leaving the Tehran airport he was booked on a same day flight to Tabriz. At Tabriz he caught a bus to Khaneh.

He saw no changes in the countryside on the ride. There were Iranian soldiers visible, but there had been Iranian soldiers when he left eight years before. There didn't seem to any more or any less.

The bus was stopped at a highway check point. Soldiers ordered the driver out. Two soldiers with submachine guns got on the bus. One stepped onto the drivers seat and sat back on the top of the steering wheel.. The other stood at the front. They pointed the submachine guns at the passengers.

"Everyone off the bus," one ordered.

Once outside, the Iranians and the Kurds were separated. Ahmed, in his western clothing, was waved to join the group of Iranians. There had been eight Kurds on the bus besides Ahmed. Three of them were traveling alone, two old men and another man of about thirty. The other five were a family. The parents were in their mid-thirties. They had a daughter in her early teens and two younger sons about nine and twelve.

The soldiers lined them all against the side of the bus and, one be one, started searching them. The two females were toward the back of the bus, the last in line.

One of the soldiers who had climbed on the bus had followed the passengers off. He now stood to the side, ten meters from the Kurds, the submachine gun cradled in his arms. The other leaned back in the doorway of the bus, a cigarette drooping from his lips, idly watching the proceedings. Two soldiers with slung rifles were going through the Iranians, slowly checking papers. Two other soldiers were conducting the search of the Kurds. Their officer stood apart, aloof from everything.

The soldiers made coarse jokes as they patted down one of the old Kurds. They found his money bag and opened it. The old man started to protest. One of the soldiers pushed him against the side of the bus. He said nothing more as the soldiers took something out and handed him back the rest. It was the same with the second old man except he didn't protest. They found a pocket knife on the younger man which they kept. The two soldiers took their time patting down the young boys, going over the same area again and again until their father said something.

That made the soldiers angry. They treated him roughly when his turn came to be searched, slapping their hands against his headdress, pretending something might be hidden in the folds of cloth. He was carrying nothing at all which made them even more angry.

Then they came to his wife. Ahmed saw the two soldiers with the submachine guns come alert. The one in the doorway of the bus spat the cigarette butt out of his mouth. The two checking the papers of the Iranians stopped what they were doing to watch. Even the officer changed his attitude from aloof to detached.

The Kurds were orthodox Muslims. For the most part, in this area of the world, they kept their women out of sight. When the women did go out in public, they always wore a veil on the lower part of their face. To remove that veil would be considered a mortal insult.

The Iranians, on the other hand, were Shi-ite Muslims. Despite recent changes in their central leadership and efforts to put in more restrictive religious tenants, the Shi-ites had a history of slack spiritual discipline.

Ahmed suddenly realized that his years in England had changed him. If this man was foolish enough to die for a veil, then that was his business. There were better causes. It was all a matter of perspective.

One soldier turned the woman around and made her lean with both hands on the bus. The other one unslung his rifle and pointed it at the husband, as if daring him to make a move. The first soldier made an elaborate charade of searching the woman. He patted every inch of the outside of her garments from her neck to her ankles where her robe ended.

That didn't get a protest from her husband, though he looked to be suffering.

The soldier then reached under the robe and started patting her in places that were invisible to onlookers. The husband closed his eyes to this indignity rather than stare into the barrel of the rifle. The soldier doing the searching, with a sidelong glance at the husband, raised the back of the woman's robe and tucked it over her shoulders exposing her white cotton clad bottom. He started feeling the contents of the white underpants. The husband had reached his limit. He was about to do something. A word from his wife stopped him. Ahmed couldn't hear what she said.

The soldier finally finished with the wife, having found nothing of military value, and turned to the daughter.

The older woman adjusted her clothes. Ahmed noted with irony that the sanctity of the veil had been preserved.

The girl was at the undeveloped age during which she wore the same blouse and loose pantaloons as the boys. That signified that she was not yet a woman ready for child bearing. But Ahmed could see that it would not be long. Even under the loose tunic it was obvious that her breasts had started to develop. And the figure of a woman was beginning to spread out the hips of the pantaloons.

The searching soldier investigated all of this with his hands. Then, while the other one still held a rifle on her father, he loosened the tops of her pantaloons and pulled them down to her knees. The young girl started crying as that part of her budding front was exposed for all to see. Ahmed wondered if it would go any farther.

The soldier tired of that sport. He walked back to the older of the sons, being careful not to pass between the father and the soldier holding him at bay with the rifle. The daughter pulled up her pants and buried her head in her mother's breast.

The searching soldier grabbed the twelve year old boy out of the line and started to pull him around behind the bus. His father made a move to go after him but the soldier in front of him reversed his rifle and banged the butt against his forehead. He fell to the ground bleeding.

"They are animals," and Iranian said somewhere behind Ahmed.

Ahmed knew the man was referring to the Kurds and excusing the behavior of the soldiers on those grounds.

The searching soldier released the boy. He and several of his comrades laughed at the joke they had played that had finally provoked the father of the family.

All the Kurds were herded back on the bus.

Ahmed's turn came to show his papers. He displayed his passport to the soldier. The man stared at it in confusion. He went over to his officer and spoke to him hurriedly, pointing a finger at Ahmed. The officer came over and examined Ahmed's passport closely.

"You are a Kurd?" he asked.

"Yes," Ahmed spoke Farsi with difficulty. It would be a while before he would be able to speak any language without a thick British accent.

The officer looked at Ahmed's western clothing doubtfully. He had probably never before seen a Kurd who was not wearing tribal dress.

"Why do you not have an identity card?"

"As you can see from my passport, I only today returned to the country."

The officer could see that it was true, but that did not make it right.

"If you have a question you would like to ask me," Ahmed told him with a tight smile, "I would be glad to answer."

Ahmed's self assurance, his strange phraseology and accent, frightened the officer. It occurred to him that his might be an official sent from Tehran. He waved vaguely at the bus. "Nobody has been hurt," he said.

Ahmed stared at him coldly and didn't reply.

The officer dropped his eyes and handed the passport back. "You must obtain an identity card," he mumbled.

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