Motel Texel

Marjolein Bierens

Illustration by Legend Hou Chun-Ming

VOICE: It had been a long journey
when, after buses, aeroplane and the train, we finally took the boat to Texel
Yes, it had been a long journey to Texel from Teheran
It was windy and stormy on the boat
and I stroked my daughter's hair
afraid that she might get seasick
because she had never been on a boat before
There was no boat in Teheran
And my husband was always looking for our little son
who would not stay in his place
would not stay with me
only wanted to be with his grandmother
because she brought him up
in Teheran
And it was windy on the boat
and I could not see where we arrived
where we landed after the journey from Teheran
met and sent on at Schiphol
because we were refugees
And I stroked my daughter's hair
which felt different now that we were refugees
and I looked at the blue veins under her skin
and at her small face which looked more vulnerable now that we were refugees
and my own body too, under my black veil
my black chador, felt different now that we were refugees
and my husband Mohammed was also different now that we were refugees and spoke even less than he did before
And I could not see where we arrived from our journey from Teheran
No, from the boat I could not see where I arrived
for which country it was we had asked asylum
And when we arrive in Texel it is just as if
we have asked for asylum in what seems to be emptiness
it is just as if we have asked for asylum in a country that consists only of water, wind and clouds
And while my husband carries our suitcases
and I carry my daughter
my little son laughs because he doesn't need to walk himself
but is simply pushed along by the wind

Yes, it was a dark no man's land when we arrived in Texel
arrived at that reception centre that was called Motel Texel
With my daughter limp and pale in my arms

And my son who wanted to run away all the time
didn't want to stay with us and looked for children to play with
while we didn't even know where we were supposed to sleep
or a room was being prepared for us somewhere
And the people who kept asking questions where Mohammed would not allow me to be present
and then the papers all those papers
And I was worried about my little daughter in my arms
who was sleeping and looked pale and so vulnerable
when I had to look for my son again
who just would not stay with us
and who was then slapped by Mohammed

Yes, it was big and empty and quiet around us
when I unpacked our suitcases
And when I hung up our clothes on hangers
I still didn't know why we were there
and I still didn't know when I
combed my little daughter's hair
and caught my little boy in the long corridor
because he finally had to go to sleep
And I still didn't know when I lay in bed next to Mohammed
stared at the ceiling and listened to the sounds around us
"Why are we here", I thought when I heard the storm roaring
later I heard that there was talk of wind-force 10
And I still didn't know when by daylight I looked out over dunes saw the sandy plain, the white seabirds stuck all over the windows
so that the migrating birds would not smash themselves to death during their flight

We woke up and wanted something to eat
and Mohammed went out to see if there was something to eat
and I held my little daughter close to me
wake her with a kiss
comb her hair
tell her a short story about a little girl in Iran
about a little girl who is just like my daughter
who lives in a house like ours
and I hoped that the neighbour was looking after my magnolia
and took my washing indoor in Teheran
And my daughter asked me, reproachingly
why we were there
why we are no longer in our house in Teheran

And I had to say that I didn't know
asked myself too why we were there
and got as much answer from Mohammed
as when I looked at my own questioning face in the mirror
where I saw my face, that was still very young
but in which my eyes were cheerless and questioning
And I put on my black Iranian veil again
to go with my daughter in my arms
and look for my little boy again
who was crying because he had been fighting
had fallen down
I didn't quite understand
But what I did understand was that with his whole heart and soul he longed to go back to his grandmother in Teheran

And because I myself did not know why I was there
I asked others why they were there
I asked women who were in the laundry rooms
or in the corridors
helped their children in the toilet
Asked them cautiously why they were there
Because perhaps there was something they didn't want to talk about
and I noticed that they were also cautious, sometimes were suspicious and actually would rather not talk, because that was not good for others who had stayed behind

and they advised me to be careful as long as the uncertainty
And while I walked through the building complex
carrying my daughter
looking for my son who was fighting with other children
I also saw people who were running away from something in themselves
who were angry at a cola tin or at the door-post
a man who had attacked himself with a knife
someone else who kept trying to catch the boat to Den
And someone else again said to me that there were also criminals among the refugees
who had fled from somewhere for a murder
told stories that were not true
And I tried to keep away from as many people as possible
just walked around them because on the outside you could not see what they were on the inside
and preferred to sit with my little daughter in the room that had been assigned to us

And while we look at the cloudy Dutch skies
I tell her fairy tales from Iran

It is quiet and empty on the island of sky and water
So quiet that I feel the silence creeping under my skin
feel it creeping into my body
And I tried to do away with the silence by learning a few words of the country that we had asked for asylum
that we had begged to take us in
and that had done so for the time being
and fortunately had not sent us back at the border
And hesitantly I leave our small room with my daughter
in my arms
to go to Dutch lessons
sit quietly listening to a woman who wants to teach us her language
And I try to read the words from her lips
although I have no idea what she is saying
what I am saying
I only know that I am speaking the language of emptiness
and we laugh about my daughter who sits on my lap
and grabs at my strangely moving lips
And later I went alone, when my daughter was more settled
and we carefully dared to let each other go
especially she, when like my son she played in the long corridors
with other children
with other little girls from Iran, Iraq or Kurdistan
And I go to the lessons to avoid having to think
why we were there and not having to look all the time
at my questioning face in the mirror over the wash basin
and that's why I sat in the classroom, where my lips bent themselves around empty sounds
my mouth folded itself around unfamiliar ideas
because that's how I could forget Mohammed's evasive looks for a while
but I could still feel him looking at me
felt his eyes on me when I looked at the clouds with my daughter
and told her the fairy tales from Iran
And I wished I could take him by the hand with me
like I always took my little son back to our room
could tempt him to stay with me for a while
by giving him sweets from Teheran
And I try to be loving to him in our narrow bed
to kiss him while the children are asleep
but he is harsh and defensive
and pushes me away from him
as if men who love
will not be silent anymore
And then suddenly there is the day that I call out the names of my children in vain
when I go looking for them in the long corridors
near the bathrooms, in the toilets
ask after them in the recreation room
where a blond girl is making coloured kites with children
And I saw that the room in the temporary reception was empty
saw that Mohammed was gone
and that everything was taken away
even the bag with dirty washing
the photos that were taken here on the island
the children's toys
everything was gone
only none of my things were taken
everything of mine lay there just as it had lain
as I had left it behind to go to Dutch lessons
And I call out my son's name like I have never called it
out before
when I was looking for him in the building
and I whisper the name of my little daughter whom I have loved
with every fibre in my body
And then I scream their names into the emptiness
and go on until the others come to tell me that they've gone
that Mohammed has left holding my son's hand
with my daughter on his arm
and that my son said he was going to his granny again in Teheran
And the people who are standing in the doorway watch me
how I walk around in the room that is empty
watch how I, bewildered, touch the emptiness
open the cupboard door and close it
open and close it again
to see if Mohammed has really taken everything
hoping to find a sign that he has not forgotten me
and watch how I throw myself in despair at the waste paper basket
from which Mohammed has also taken away the contents
And I look for traces of my children
a sock, a little book under the bed,
but everything is gone
And the management comes to tell me through an interpreter
that in Iran there were accusations against Mohammed
which have been bought off by his family
that Mohammed with the children have been redeemed
and because of that have left for Teheran
and in my mind I hear my father-in-law saying
that in the world there are more women than money
that in the world there are more women than bank-notes 

And I walk out of the asylum seekers centre, into the same emptiness
in which I had called out their names
and I look at the seagulls on the beach
scream at them when they peck at dead animals
because everything that is dead and lifeless
stands for the loss of my children
And I could do nothing but cry and scream
scream at the seagulls
because I was desperate
because I was furious
because I was afraid
because I had been abandoned, betrayed and disowned
but especially because I was young
and had never before been left in the lurch
And for days I sat in my black veil on the beach
at the path near pole 22 at the end of the Badweg
looking out over the sea
feeling, in that immense void of sand and dunes,
like a grain of sand from Iran

The day Mohammed took the children with him, it had been summer
it was summer and the winter was still to come
while I thought at the time that it was already winter
but it would become colder
on the island and in my heart
and I didn't know that I could ever become that cold
And with upturned face I waited for the rain
for a caress from the wind
and for the harassment by the wind
During the day I sat on the beach
only at night I sat in the small room from where my husband had taken his things and my children
and sat on the edge of my bed without moving
with my knees drawn up
because the room disgusted me
disgusted by that asylum seekers centre that had let Mohammed go
that had let my children go
Yes, they have given me my history
because they didn't intervene
because they are glad about each one who leaves
to go back to live in his or her own story
And so I sat in the small room where I had lain next to
Mohammed and the children
and was surprised about the beating of my own heart
that just went on beating 

while I had nothing to live for
and waited for the morning, when I left the centre before breakfast to go to the beach
And in the evening, when I came back out of the void
there were women who sometimes took my hand
who wanted to do my washing and wanted to hug me tight
which took my breath away
because I also heard their children talking
heard their daughters laughing
and I heard them walking through the corridors
looking for their sons
who were always somewhere anyway
And sometimes someone knocked at my door
someone who was in search of an affair
or in search of a whole new life
or in search of a new wife
and spoke through the keyhole
through the keyhole promised me other children
because the men too knew my story
And once I let a man come in who had sung
at my door
a beautiful song that I knew from Iran
and because he sang I let him in because for while I wanted to feel at home somewhere
like I used to feel in my house in Teheran
when with my children next to me in my bed
I slept with Mohammed's arms around me
And I let him in
because I had never slept with anyone but Mohammed
I let him in because Mohammed had betrayed me
And I want to betray Mohammed
And I, in that asylum seekers centre with the white seagulls stuck on the windows
want to be unfaithful to my husband
and I let him in and watch how he undresses
without saying much
just as little as Mohammed used to
and goes and lies on his side of the bed
and I try to be loving
like I tried to be loving to Mohammed
when it was quiet in the corridors and the children were asleep
because Mohammed who after all was my husband
had become a stranger whom I wanted to get to know all over again
but while I nestle up against him, I smell a scent that is different
and I feel arms that squeeze
from which I cannot free myself

and am in that pressing grip of someone searching for love
who cannot let me loose before he has taken
what he missed and makes love the way he used to do
with the woman he misses
who is missing, has been raped and probably lies somewhere in a mass grave
and it comes to my mind that there is nothing in the world as painful as the love between roaming and failed souls
And the man who knocked at my door
and also the men who would follow later on
wanted to start a new life with me
wanted to give me other children
but no good children will be born out of bodies that are
And I cried when it was my turn to help with the cooking
for seventy-five refugees
and, with the help of others, serve them dishes from my region
and when I cooked, we ate yoghurt soup with tears
Soup with Tears from Teheran

Yes, I suffered on the beach that lay on the coast of Texel
where high in the sky sometimes aeroplanes flew over
that perhaps were on their way to Teheran
But I must say that I suffered more on days that I felt nothing
when the sadness had subsided and everything within me was as diffuse and grey
as a wintry mist on this island
No, I would rather be "the crying woman in the dunes"
"the weeping woman on the beach"
and when I bathed
I bathed in my tears
even when it was cold I stood with my feet in the sea
And sometimes suddenly something good results from tears
out of my salty silt tears suddenly a seal popped up
a small greeting from another life
a small soft seal showed itself to me
in the waves of the northern beach
And that's how I was found later by a man who was walking along the high-water mark searching along the high-water mark
and couldn't understand what I was doing there, in that cold weather, in that sea
in his sea that washed up on his beach
like the clouds in the sky were his clouds
And he showed me tiny shells on the beach
without speaking

only by pointing out things to me and was used to being silent
and because he was used to being silent, he took me along into the dunes and I let him take me into his arms
and it was nice to be in the arms of someone who belonged somewhere
who was simply at home
not on the run
had no gripping arms or desperate eyes
did not promise to give my children back to me
because you must never ever take children from a man who is
on the run
And I started feeling better when with lovely weather
I could lie in the arms of the man of the dunes
made love with the man who was dune warden on the island
in the sun, rain and wind could lie in his arms
in a hollow of the dunes, somewhere where it was quiet
while in the distance day trippers were sunbathing
flew their kites and dug their holes
let the sea fill them
Where the other asylum seekers were
waiting for the news
until they had exhausted all legal remedies
because their stories were not convincing enough
went to pieces and were blown away by the wind
with the result that ultimately they became people without a story

And through the dune warden I discover the island
Because I don't go only to the water and the sea anymore
but now look at the other side of his island too
Through him I look at his inhabited world as well
look at the people, who are just like the dune warden
look at the sheep that are on the island
and I in my black veil go on my own to the cheese farms
where they make their Texel products
And I get used to Texel where along the road, a bit like in Iran,
they sell their vegetables and fruit
and I get used to the view of the dunes
the empty fields that somehow distantly remind me
of the emptiness of the great Iranian salt desert
salt from Iran that I taste again in the sea
and in a vegetable from the sea called glasswort
that the dune warden makes me taste
and I get used to Texel when I walk behind the dune warden through the dunes in search of a spot to make love or to do other things

like plaiting baskets for a duck decoy
to do things in connection with the bird stock
the laying out and maintenance of feeding places
and where I, when the other dune wardens come to the forestry
to drink their coffee
hide myself in the broom closet
want to stand behind the door, because I myself think
that our relationship must be kept secret
And when the news came that I was allowed to stay in Holland
that I would be given an official status
and that right away the next day I would be going to an asylum hotel in Amsterdam
I went to him, to the forestry in the dunes
but I haven't said goodbye to him
and I looked at him from the distance when he was busy at the fen in the dunes
where he was pulling branches and trees out of the Muywater
because there too were feeding grounds
for migratory birds to help them on their flight
And I left without saying goodbye to the dune warden
Who waited in the dunes because he belonged to the island
To the beach and the dunes and the strong wind
And there was no need for me to say goodbye to him
because after me he would still find more crying women there
sitting on his beach
who didn't know where they were and stared helplessly at the sea
as if they hadn't come by plane, by boat and by train
but had been washed ashore by the sea
women who had been left alone by everyone
women who had been washed up like exotic wreckage on the Dutch coast
And before I went to Amsterdam
to the asylum hotel in the Sarphatiestraat
I handed my veil over to the wind
the strong sea breeze that always blows there across the island
on that very same day when the wind grabbed my veil from below
and pulled it over my head
I still got hold of it in a reflex
but when the wind tugged and pulled, then I let go of it
watched it while it rolled along the beach
until it was raised in it's full shape and disappeared in the direction of the dunes
like a big black female phantom from Teheran
And later that day I also handed my other veils over to the

my light veil for special days
and my embroidered veils from my wedding
which I no longer wanted to wear in Holland anyway
Yes, I let my veils go
and gave them their freedom
and like big birds they fled away from me

And so I took the boat back to Den Helder
where I was put on the train to Amsterdam
and was met at the Central Station
by someone with a big board
with my name on it
which gave me a feeling of excitement
because in that way I could see that I was somebody
And curious and excited by all those new things
I followed my escort to the asylum hotel in the Sarphatiestraat
where nevertheless everything remained as before
where I still am alone when I have to unpack my bag
alone when I hang up my own clothes on a hanger
alone when I have to iron my own blouse
alone when I have to look for my own slippers because I am the only one who has cold feet
and amidst all those new things I would also have
liked to unpack the little bags of my children
would have got my little daughter's slippers for her
combed her hair
looked for my little boy who straight away would have gone to play in the empty corridors
and with whom I would sit in front of the window overlooking the
where the tram passes by
and while we are looking at the people and at the high, somewhat grey houses
tell them stories from Teheran
And because none of the asylum seekers knows my story
as all of them only in Texel do
there are no women in the corridor who take my hand
who want to hug and squeeze me, want to do my washing
who want to talk to me about their own fears
Who are afraid, just like me,
to lose their children
and come to tell me that they take
their children everywhere with them,
even to the toilet
Who sleep without sleeping
who keep watch lying beside their husband

And because I don't belong to anyone
belong to no one
and for that reason could belong to everyone
sometimes men come to my door at night
who know that I'm there...
that I'm alone and am combing my hair
or sit on a chair at my table staring in front of me
There are sometimes women in the asylum hotel
who while passing say to me "mousim"
which means whore
and speak without moving their lips
when I happen to pass by them in the corridor
But for the rest everything remains the same
when I have to help with the cooking for the refugees in the asylum hotel and go to the market with the other women
where we try to read the labels on the products
and where I always think of Mohammed and the children
about what they always wanted to eat and what they liked
and what they would be eating in Teheran that evening
And then I walk back again with the women to the asylum hotel in the Sarphatiestraat
carrying our shopping with us
Sometimes we also have to go to the market on the Albert Cuyp
but we
women from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Turkmenistam and Kurdistan
prefer to go to the supermarket
because sometimes it is still difficult
to speak Dutch to the market vendors
and to pay there with the exact amount of money

And when I find it difficult in the asylum hotel
I go outside, into town
via the Wibautstraat to look at the shops
look at the people
at the women in the street
and it is strange when I see myself walking somewhere
see myself reflected in a shop window in the Leidse straat
and see myself going by in a crowd of people

Eventually I took care of a little girl
because in the supermarket where I do my shopping with women from the asylum
there was a notice on the advertisement board which said
"wanted amiable baby-sit"
and that's what I went and applied for
And it was strange that that little girl like the island where I'd just come from

was called Tessel
And her mother told me that long ago there had been a woman whose name was Maria Tesselschade
which meant "damage" at the coast of Texel, where in the old days hundreds of ships had been shipwrecked
And I found it quite strange that children here can be named after disaster
after things like what happened to me, that went to pieces on the coast of Texel
whereas we in Iran would rather be named "peach blossom" or "loveliest of all" 

And I quieten down in the big house of the people who live there
With the little child who is theirs
who is not mine
and therefore no one can take away from me
but whom I cherish, like I cherish my own children
And because in a certain way everything there is so quiet
I feel the need to sleep
and when I have to look after the little girl whose name is Tessel
I lie and sleep with her in my arms
or listen to the soft noise of her breathing
like I used to feel the warmth of my children
and we sleep together for hours
between the white sheets of the parental bed
that big white bed of her parents
in that big silent house
where every half hour I hear the ringing
of the carillon

And I walk with the little girl in the pram through the town which is hers
And outside I inhale the smells belonging to her town
and walk together with her through the streets that are hers
and visit the museums which are her inheritance
and together with her I went to a photographer
and secretly I had photos taken, which are just of the two of us
and in the big busy streets like the Rozengracht I showed
her the little Iranian shops
which were part of my memories

And one day during a farewell party for someone in the asylum hotel
I danced with a watchman
who was a man of his own town

who was a real Amsterdammer
even though he came from Almere
And because it was nice in his arms
I allowed him to take me to my room
and I asked him to stay
And I sleep better now that at night I lie in the arms of the watchman when he visits me
when he has finished his round
his cap lies on the bedside table
and I hear his heartbeat
through the sounds of the asylum hotel
when someone snores again in the room nextdoor
or somewhere someone shouts in his sleep
at the end of the corridor

And when because of our love affair he was fired
I followed him
to his little apartment in the Kinkerstraat
to a flat that's already been under construction for years
and where I look out over the market
like before when I used to look out over the dry mountains, the cement factory and the mosque
and that he's already been busy renovating for years

And with the watchman I walk through the town
go together with him on a boat trip through the canals
while he points out to me five kinds of step-gables
and the house of the burgomaster
And shows me old masters in a museum
and where I stood for a long time looking at a portrait of a woman who sat at a table writing a letter

And he too wants to start anew with me
wants to give me other children
has sworn to me that when we have children together
he would never take them away from me, that that's impossible here
That here in Holland there are different laws than in Teheran
But still I would never quite want to start anew again
because I don't want to forget
because the loss of my children has inflicted a deep wound
has left an emptiness that cannot be filled again
And I know that people around me find it difficult to understand
that I don't need much to be happy
don't really want another future
and that it hurts people when I do little about their proposal to pay for me to study
because I am different from the people here anyway

I make other choices
because I know from my garden in Teheran
that there are also plants that grow in the shade
and still bear flowers and fruit
if you look after them well enough
and that not everyone is suited for a life in the strong sun
that I don't want to lose myself
don't want to lose myself in Holland
because one day I want to see my children again
and hope that they will then recognize me

And now that the island girl has grown up
something has to be done about making a living
and although I love children
would have liked to go on working with children

I work for a start in a clothes shop at the Nieuwendijk near De Dam
which is not owned by people from this town but by someone from Oman
and I dare to swear no one hears my sighs
when I'm hanging up dresses on hangers
price the pants with the tiger print
and make piles of the T-shirts with pictures of Amsterdam
because I like to be friendly and
my sighs are not sighs about things in life that are immediately visible
like for instance that I have actually hardly been paid then by the boss of that shop
and sent packing again after six months
back home again in the Kinkerstraat
him asking me for respect and trust
but next declaring himself bankrupt
and now living in Oman on my salary
is a religious Muslim over there
like I myself too still always am a religious Muslim
although I don't go to the mosque anymore
but instead rather go on internet
to Imam-Online,
or my friend the watchman logs in for me
on Cyber-Imam, so that I still keep in touch with my roots
and, with the watchman, celebrate Noruz, the Persian new year
and at the kitchen table in the Kinkerstraat
make the dishes for him
that I used to make before during Noruz in Teheran

And sometimes when I'm feeling down,
I go to the beach
take the train to Zandvoort/Bloemendaal

where I eat an icecream
look at the seagulls
or just let my thoughts be blown by the wind
lift up my face to the sun and the rain
and wait for a caress from the wind
that blows so differently than in Iran
that opens up clouds, caresses skin and hair
Yes, even releases women from their veils
And every now and then I still think of my own veil
if perhaps it still floats around somewhere along the Texel beach
and I wonder if
there are more women's veils blowing about in the Dutch dunes
that have been taken off there or whisked away by the wind
that perhaps collect there
and cover women who lie there sunning themselves on the North Sea beach or on the nudist beach
which in fact was around the corner of the asylum seekers centre
and where the men sat in the dunes
waiting for news
and watched the naked women in the sand
And it would be funny if my veil was still floating around,
suddenly out of the blue covering their nakedness
with my Iranian blackness, my Iranian modesty
because the arm of the Islam is long
and can reach very far

But I am no longer afraid of of the arm of the Islam
the arm that has taken away my children
because three months ago the same arm took me back to
Teheran, when my brother died
my dear brother who always asked me
to forgive my parents
because they didn't know any better
because they were angry and confused
because they had often stood at the gate to see my children
had quarrelled with Mohammed's parents
and then my brother died
and then my parents thought of me again
of their daughter who had stayed behind in Holland
of their daughter whom they had disowned, because "being disowned" was improper
"Why", they thought then
"Why? Why have we done that?"
because it became silent around them

now that they were getting old, had no son anymore
and a daughter less to mourn for my brother
and a daughter less to stand by them on their deathbed
and I received a letter from my lawyer
that my father in a roundabout way had bought a passport for me
for money, for lots and lots of money
for the money you have to pay for a house in Teheran

I went to Teheran three months ago
everything has changed
the town has become busier
much busier than it used to be
people no longer wear only black veils
but also colours on top of the natural tints
and my parents had become small and grey
and it was strange to see them again after all those years
suddenly after all those eight years
and we cried on Mehrabad airfield
because we were sad
were happy
but were angry too
and kept on embracing each other and pushing each other away
as if we could hardly bear the embrace

It was strange to be in the same town as my children
to sleep under the same starry sky as my children
and to see the same falling stars as my children saw
to inhale the smell of the street my children smelled
And when I was back in Teheran
I was allowed to see them, together with Mohammed
my children
on my son's birthday, with Mohammed also there
who was censorship impersonated, although there wasn't much to talk about
and all I wanted was to embrace them
touch them and embrace them and just look at them
how they did the little things
how they put sugar in their tea, looked around them
blew their noses, how they used their eyes

how their voices sounded
and although I had no idea at all about their life
didn't know what had happened in those eight years
had not been able to see how they had grown up
I absorbed every moment
until it became too full inside of me
and I had to get rid of silent tears to be able to breathe again
to be able to carefully speak again

And when they walked away from that park in Teheran
because the time was up
I watched them leaving
and after that I went home again
which I always believed was in Teheran
but I went to Amsterdam
and landed at Schiphol again
where the watchman came to meet me
because I felt that although I had found my past again in
I could no longer stay there

Once every year I can go to Teheran
to hold the hands of my children in the park
because Mohammed does not yet allow us to speak much
and I abide by that
I abide by everything as long as I can see them
can hold their hands
just like I held their little hands in mine in the old days
and to look into their eyes, that are bright but also questioning
not condemning as I had feared
But that is the only childlike thing in their behaviour
the way they look at me
the way they used to look at me in the old days
when there was something they didn't understand and asked about something that could not be explained
No, I don't want new children to relive
the youth of my own children
And now that things go as they go
I have set my mind on their adulthood
on the fact that when they are eighteen

they will perhaps be able to come to Amsterdam
can come and live with me in our little house in the Kinkerstraat
where the watchman will make two rooms out of one
in the meantime the kitchen will then have been rebuilt
and all the woodwork will then have been repainted
and the whole house will have new windows and doors
At least if Mohammed allows it
and if it's their own wish as well
then they would be allowed to come, Mohammed said
when I spoke with him in Teheran
only without pressure from my side
and without me speaking badly about him
because he knows very well what he has done wrong
he told me
in a tea house in Teheran
and he was ashamed of himself and it meant a lot

that Mohammed spoke to me about it
because he never spoke about anything
always sat silently keeping to himself
always was angry and resentful about life
about something small or something big
you never knew with Mohammed

But fortunately with my children things have gone well
although they haven't been children any more for a long time
eight years have gone by
and it was strange to see that my daughter
my little daughter, of whom I don't even have a photo
only images ingrained in my memory
now suddenly has a bosom
suddenly has become a young woman
with bright eyes
And I have always been afraid about my son
that he too would condemn me and perhaps would
reject me
but nothing could be less true
and it struck me that his eyes had a questioning and gentle expression
when without any reserve

he put his big callous boy's hand
in mine

Yes, I hope, I think, I am sure that one day they will come
and live with me in Amsterdam
that's why I'm working in a shoe shop now
where all day long I kneel down at someone's feet
sell gumboots for children
slippers and gold or silver coloured mules
I regularly do extra work in a sandwich bar
and I clean up in the evening
to be able to go to Teheran every year
to send my children presents and clothes
and although I don't want to run ahead of things
and the watchman also says that I should take it easy
I cannot help buying things for them every now and then
because I want to be prepared
and I must have things for them
and they will need beds to sleep in
and I already have a few piles of towels and underwear
and some clothes on hangers
and for both of them I also have a T-shirt with a picture of Amsterdam

translated from the Dutch by Joan Proost