K repeats his history, a version of his story, almost every time we sit down to talk.
There is a wooden table.
There is a man with a belt.
There is blood.
Sometimes the victim is a young woman who attended a birthday party. She is being beaten because men were present at the party.
Sometimes the victim is a man. He is being beaten because he painted his door red.
Sometimes…there is no explanation.
Listen, K tells me with each repetition, listen! You need to know this.
K was born in Iran. He’s lived here for many years and is now a U.S. citizen. He practices English in our Open Class. He manages many interactions smoothly- greetings, requests, calendar arrangements- but struggles to verbalize more complex concepts.
Still, it’s clear to everyone he meets, K is a philosopher.
“What is this?” he asks as he opens his hands revealing wide, worn palms.
As a child, he survived the upheaval of the Shah’s fall, and the shift of power which followed. He laughs as he remembers the camels delivering crates of fruits and vegetables to his parents’ city apartment. Or playing soccer in the alley with balls made from rags and plastic bags.
K is Baha’i, a minority religion in Iran, and he remembers many holiday celebrations which are now banned there. For Charshanbeh Suri, the Baha’i light bonfires. By tradition, everyone jumps across the fire hoping to burn away the old year’s bad and start the new year clean and fresh. (“Some years,” K adds with a shrug, “you must to jump more than one time. Maybe jump, jump, jump, many fires.”) After the fire leaping, all the kids put on disguises and run from house to house banging pots and demanding treats. K recognizes the similarity to Halloween and he makes sure I notice it.
It’s not the first time I’m struck by our commonalities. Even if K’s version of Peapod delivery is via camel.
So when he returns to the stories that pain him most, I’m afraid. Honestly, I want him to stop. I’m afraid of his suffering.
“Right there? In the street! There is a bed made of wood. And this man,” he mimes the swing of the belt.
K is old enough to be a grandfather, but he is still a strong man. His arm has power when it falls. My stomach turns over a little at the thought of an even younger, angrier man swinging a belt with the force of his whole arm. K’s face contorts with the memory.
“And there is blood! Again! Again.” He swings his arm. “Why? What is this!” Exhaling loudly, he opens his hands wide, the philosopher.”What is this?”
Neither of us has an answer.
I see his eyebrows furrow with concern. “Sorry, sorry. You headache?”
His question makes me realize: I’m bracing my head on my hand, and leaning into the desk for support.
I wonder if K had more English, more words to explain what he’s seen and all he’s felt, would that help?
I wonder if there were more people listening, could he find peace?
Today, we have only these few words.
Today, there is only me.
“I’m okay. Go on.”