|Publisher:||Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Sara Farizan is an Iranian American writer and ardent basketball fan who was born in and lives near Boston. The award-winning author of If You Could Be Mine and Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, she has an MFA from Lesley University and a BA in film and media studies from American University. Here to Stay is her third novel.
Read an Excerpt
If You Could Be Mine
By SARA FARIZAN
ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILLCopyright © 2013 Sara Farizan
All rights reserved.
Nasrin pulled my hair when I told her I didn't want to play with her dolls. I wanted to play football with the neighborhood boys. Even though sometimes they wouldn't let me because I was a girl, they couldn't deny my speed or the fact that I scored a goal on the biggest kid in the yard. Nasrin pulled my hair and said, "Sahar, you will play with me because you belong to me. Only me." That was when I fell in love with her.
We were six. We didn't wear head scarves then. We were little girls, not "whores of Babylon," to be met by the scrutinizing eye of any asshole with a beard. Nasrin has the longest, darkest hair but it never gets tangled or neglected under her roosari like mine does. I always think there's no point in making my hair look decent if I have to cover it in school, but Nasrin is always taming her locks—blow drying, using mousse, a flat iron sometimes. No matter what she does to her hair, she will always be the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.
It's difficult, hiding my feelings for her. Tehran isn't exactly safe for two girls in love with each other. I wonder if people can tell I love her when I look at her—in the park, at the bazaar shopping for bras, everywhere. How can I not stare? Even at age six, I wanted to marry her. I told my mother when I came home after playing with Nasrin, who lived a few houses down from our apartment. Maman smiled and said I couldn't marry Nasrin because it was haraam, a sin, but we could always be best friends. Maman told me not to talk again about wanting to marry Nasrin, but it was all I thought about.
I thought about marrying her when we were ten and Nasrin cried that I got my period before she did. I thought about marrying Nasrin when she taught me how to put on eye-liner when we were both thirteen. I thought about marrying Nasrin when we finally kissed, on the mouth, like Julia Roberts and Richard Gere did in Pretty Woman. It's a stupid movie, but Nasrin always makes me watch it with her. We got the DVD from my older cousin, Ali. He's in university and knows everything cool but gets awful grades. I don't like that the movie is dubbed; the voices never match the actor's lips. And Julia Roberts has big lips. She could fit a whole kabob barg in her mouth if she wanted to. It was three months ago that Nasrin and I kissed. Even though I'm seventeen now, it made me feel like I was six again and she was pulling my hair.
We are always around each other, so I don't think anyone will suspect that Nasrin and I are in love. She worries, though, all the time. I tell her no one will know, that I will protect her, but when we kiss I can feel her tense. She keeps thinking about the two boys who were hung years ago in Mashhad. They were hung after being accused of raping a thirteen-year-old boy, but most people think the two were lovers who got caught. I remember the video of the hanging my cousin Ali downloaded for me. I don't know how Ali gets away with the things he does, and would never ask, either. When I saw the video, I wasn't scared, but I got angry. They were so young, just sixteen and eighteen, blindfolded, standing next to each other in the square with nooses around their necks. I felt my neck itch as they were slowly raised on cranes. Whatever crime they committed, I didn't want a part of it. I wanted to stop loving Nasrin, but how do you stop doing something you know you are supposed to do?
Nasrin keeps telling me, "We aren't gay, we are just in love." I've never even thought about being gay; all I know is I love Nasrin more than anyone. Nasrin always used to giggle with the neighborhood girls about boys, but I never joined in. Why should I care if Hassan grew a mustache that looked like a baby caterpillar? It wasn't going to change the fact that I am in love with my best friend. It wasn't going to make my baba stop crying, wishing that my maman didn't die all those years ago. It wasn't going to change the fact that I had to teach myself to cook meals, and my khoreshts will never be as good as Maman's, even though Baba says they are delicious. I miss her sometimes, but these days I just resent her for not being here.
I've gotten used to Baba's long periods of silence. Sometimes he won't speak for two days, but when he comes out of whatever trance he's in, he is in a good mood and pretends nothing happened. I'm no doctor, but I think he is depressed. I wish he would snap out of it.
Nasrin is in my room, painting her fingernails while I pretend to do my science homework. I've been studying a lot for the Concours, which determines which university you get to go to and in what field. About one and a half million students take the exam every year in June, and only 150,000 get acceptable scores. Your performance on the exam is all that matters. Your grade-point average is meaningless, which Nasrin always reminds me when I get a less than perfect score on an Islamic Studies quiz. It's September now and I already feel anxious. I want to go to Tehran University to study medicine, which is just about every student's dream, but I think I actually have a chance. Nasrin on the other hand ...
"You're staring again," Nasrin says. She looks up from her nails and gives me a smile. I look down at my textbook and hope my face isn't red, like all the other times Nasrin catches me watching her.
"Don't you have homework?" I ask.
Nasrin just blows on her nails and rolls her eyes. "I'm not a genius like you, Sahar. I'm going to move to India and be a Bollywood actress." She stands up and goes into one of her Indian dance routines. Nasrin is an excellent dancer and gets a group of girls together from her school to practice. They usually have me film them while they dance Persian, Arabic, or whatever other dance routines they have been working on. My favorite was when they did the Ne-Yo dance. Black American singers sound better than anything, though I fear saying that in front of Nasrin because she loves her Persian pop so much.
If she spent as much time on her studies as she did her dancing, maybe we could end up at the same university, but I know that isn't going to happen. Now that we are getting older, we have only a few more years left like this together. Things will change. Nasrin will have a lot of suitors. The men will line up on her block. All of the well-to-do in Tehran will come to her family's house, dressed in their best suits.
The suitors will have tea with Nasrin's parents, and they will explain that they can provide her a good life with whatever important and boring job they have. Her parents will pick the best man for her, meaning the one with the most money. Nasrin comes from a good family, and they have money themselves, so she will marry the best that there is. I am not the best. I am an awkward girl with breasts so big that sometimes I feel I might tip over. I don't know when I am going to lose her, but it's going to happen, and I don't know if I will be able to handle it.
Nasrin finishes her dance, and her face falls when she sees mine.
"What's wrong, Sahar joon?" she says. She's always been able to read me, even when she doesn't want to.
"I wish we could stay in this room forever," I say. She grins.
"Wouldn't you miss fresh air? The sun on your face?"
"The morality police complaining that your head scarf isn't on properly?" I always go by the rules, but Nasrin couldn't care less. She's always pushing the boundaries, with most of her hair showing at all times and a little scarf flopped over the end of her ponytail. Nasrin sits down next to me and takes my hand.
"We can't live in here forever. There's never anything to eat in your room, anyway." We both laugh, and she plays with my hair.
"I want to marry you," I say, and Nasrin looks at me with a sad expression that makes me feel helpless and pathetic.
"I know you do, azizam. We've talked about this,"
"We could run away!" I beg of her. I'd go wherever she wanted.
"We would get as far as Karaj and then what? Sahar, be serious."
I'm not as well off as Nasrin's family, so I couldn't provide for her, or even buy her a bus ticket to Turkey. When I'm a rich doctor, I'll buy her all the things she has grown accustomed to. Maybe until then I'll just lock her up in a shack in a village so no man will ever have her. I'll have sheep guard her, bleating at whoever approaches. Knowing Nasrin, she will probably be choreographing dance numbers with the sheep and putting a video of it on the Web.
"I'll find a way for us to be together." I look her in the eye to let her know I mean it.
She bites her lower lip, as she's done since she was little, and gently pulls at my hair. "We're together now, Sahar. Let's not waste time on what can't be."
What can't be ... Sometimes I get so angry I want to take off my roosari and run into the streets like a madwoman, my hair flying behind me, waiting for Nasrin to pull at it. I see how Ali is with his boyfriends—they're very sweet together, but they are always hiding. Ali is perpetually dating someone new, but he treats the men like they are toys that he is eventually going to grow tired of. Ali introduces his gentlemen to me as his boyfriends, but usually the boyfriends look nervous and laugh like Ali is crazy. They say they are in Ali's class, but I know Ali has never cared much about schoolwork, and I'm pretty sure Ali is planning on studying anatomy when they come over. He's an engineering major.
I haven't told Ali about Nasrin and me. Though Ali told me he was gay, we never really discuss it. I remember Maman telling me not to talk about it. So I don't. Ali, though, he treats it like it isn't a big deal when he's with me, which I don't understand. In public everything is secret, of course. I don't even know where he finds his boyfriends. A part of me doesn't want to know. I don't want to know what would happen if Ali got caught. It would kill my aunt and uncle in Tabriz, who send Ali lots of money for his "school" when Ali lounges about, smoking shisha and playing backgammon. There are things I don't understand about Ali, but I like that he didn't look at me with sad eyes when my mother died. He treated me like he always had, nudging me with his hip and giving me a wink.
I think about telling Ali about Nasrin because it's getting so difficult not to talk about how I feel. I want to shout how much I love her to anyone who will listen, but sometimes I feel stupid even saying "I love you" to Nasrin. I know she loves me, but once in a while I can't believe she could feel that way about me. I think that she just might not want to hurt my feelings.
"Maybe when I get into university we can get an apartment," I say, and Nasrin raises one eyebrow. I know. It was a stupid idea.
"You think my parents are going to let me move out of their house? Before I'm married?"
"You'd be living with me. I would keep the boys away," I say with a grin. She leans in closer to me. Her perfume smells like jasmine and vanilla. She's so cruel. I could die from it. Her mouth is close to my ear, and I think she knows how deliciously evil she's being.
"If my parents knew what a devil you are, they'd lock me in Evin Prison for lust." She says it with levity and I smile, but it very well could be a reality. Though I can't imagine Nasrin's parents putting her in any danger. They have spoiled her since birth because she is the baby of the family, with two older brothers. Her parents have always been very sweet to me, but I worry they are nice to me so I will marry Dariush, Nasrin's oldest brother. A family like Nasrin's would typically seek out other wealthy families to marry into, but Dariush doesn't have many prospects. He was suicidal a few years ago over a girl who wouldn't marry him. The girl's father said Dariush wasn't good enough for her because he's a mechanic. Nasrin's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mehdi, have not produced children who have met their expectations.
Mr. Mehdi is a prominent exporter of pistachios to foreign countries and it is fair to say that he is nuts about nuts. His wife comes from oil money generated during the Shah's time, though they will never admit it. They were hoping their children would be captains of industry or cancer-curing doctors. But their children had everything handed to them—happy birthdays, nice clothes, and the latest toys—so they had no incentive to try at anything.
Cyrus, the middle one, is hoping to take over his father's business and isn't lazy, but he isn't very bright. Dariush is a free spirit, more interested in learning how to play Cat Stevens songs on his guitar than making a living. Nasrin's only goal in recent years has been to acquire as many shoes as possible.
To Mr. and Mrs. Mehdi, I am the dream child they always wanted and also the example they set for their children. I study hard, I take care of my father, I cook and clean. I'm polite when Nasrin is sometimes too cavalier. When they compare Nasrin and me it isn't fair, and sometimes I think Nasrin resents me for it. We don't ever discuss it. If they knew about the relationship Nasrin and I have, I don't know if they would be more disappointed with me or their own daughter.
I tuck a strand of hair behind Nasrin's ear. She smiles and kisses my nose. I hate when she does that. She knows I do, she's just being tough on me today for all of my wishful thinking. I wonder whether Nasrin would be open about us if we didn't live in Iran. She might be just as scared but for different reasons. She's always been the loud one, but she's scared of stupid things. Things like spiders, the dentist, or not having the latest jacket. She squeezes my hand when she's scared, and lately my hand feels like it is going through early arthritis.
I lean in and kiss Nasrin on her lips. She returns the kiss with urgency, and I definitely know that no man or woman can ever make me feel the way she does. If that makes me gay, so be it.
Sometimes when Nasrin and I kiss, Ayatollah Khomeini's and Ayatollah Khamenei's faces pop into my head. When I was little, I used to think they were the same person, because their names sound the same, they wear the same outfit—a cleric's robe and a turban—and both with long gray beards. Khomeini, now deceased, became the Supreme Leader after the revolution. I hadn't even been born then, but apparently Iran was a lot different. There was a king and girls could wear miniskirts, which is all Nasrin cares to know about that era because it sounds glamorous. In school, they teach us that Khomeini brought justice and the will of God to the people and how much better the country is flourishing than under the Shah. I'm not sure how much I believe that.
The ayatollahs' photos are everywhere. At the shopping mall, in small businesses, restaurants, parks, on the autobahn ... and when I kiss Nasrin I feel like they are watching me. I don't know if it's to give citizens a sense of pride or to scare us from questioning our government. I think Khomeini is my "Angry Grandpa," and Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of today, is my "Disappointed Grandpa." Whenever I think of Nasrin in public or at school, I feel their eyes on me. Angry Grandpa is the most judgmental. His brow is furrowed as if to say he knows exactly what I am: a degenerate.
Ayatollah Khomeini has been dead thirty years, but it's as though he never left. He's always mentioned in news broadcasts. Khamenei speaks of him with great reverence during his national addresses, and he's depicted as the father of the country. People typically hold their tongues if they don't agree with that sentiment. Those who don't ... Well, it makes their life a lot harder. There's a national holiday to commemorate his death. Some people make the pilgrimage from far, far away to visit his tomb and get one free meal given to visitors that day. Most people in Tehran try to get out of town and go visit the Caspian Sea.
Nasrin puts her tongue in my mouth and it makes me forget about Angry Grandpa for a moment. Her fingers run through my tangled hair, and I kiss her neck, making sure I don't leave a mark. We're always so careful, and being that way is exhausting, but we don't know anything else. We hear a knock at the door, and the two of us jump away from each other.
"Yes?" I say in my best calm voice while Nasrin looks into one of her books for the first time all afternoon.
Excerpted from If You Could Be Mine by SARA FARIZAN. Copyright © 2013 Sara Farizan. Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
“A book full to bursting with aching, haunting, beautiful questions.”
“ A heartbreakingly beautiful story of first love . . . The reader becomes part of Sahar and Nasrin’s journey. We move through it with them with our heart in our hands.”