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Gentle Face by Christine Catalano

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Non Fiction

Play Iranian Style

Manijeh Badiozamani

Cousin Manooch, now a prominent psychiatrist, was my childhood buddy – we grew up in Tehran. He was a year younger, I was an inch or two taller, and I loved to boss him around. He had no objection to being bossed around by me, a girl! That created a harmonious relationship between us which resulted in hours of playtime with no fights, bickering, or jealousy – to the delight of our parents.

We were two kids who always found creative ways to entertain ourselves. Our favorite activity was to write scripts for plays and then act them out. Our parents, in turn, were obliged to sit through our theatrical production - that is the least they could do, as a reward for us being such good children all day without pestering them.

One hot summer day when our families got together for a day of fun and relaxation, Manooch and I, as usual, resumed our roles as playwrights!

With paper and pencil in hand, we began creating a story for our play. The plot of our drama had to do with a poor, homeless, hungry girl in a cold snowy night with no place to go. I don’t remember the details of the plot, but the ending was a happy one: the poor girl is taken in by the father of a well-to-do family to join his children at the dinner table. We must have been aware of class differences in our society, and probably knew something about the behavior of the rich and the poor. We also knew we were role-playing, so we could pretend to be different characters.

I insisted that Manooch play the part of the poor homeless girl, and reserved the role of the benevolent and generous father for myself! He yielded.

To hide my shoulder length black hair, I made a pony tail and hid it under his school cap, and then put on his long pants. He wore my skirt and blouse, but then his crew cut posed a problem. We could easily fix that – he wore a large white handkerchief on his head and tied a big knot in front, right above his eyebrows. We spent hours cutting white paper making pretend snow-flakes, and rehearsing our lines.

Dinner was over and the grown-ups adjusted their chairs to face the curtain. We were two little geniuses creating a stage by tying a rope from one end of the living room wall to the other and hanging my mother’s flat sheets over the rope!

Applause, applause, and Manooch entered the stage, wearing my clothes. I followed him with a big plastic bucket full of cut paper, pouring snowflakes over his kerchief-covered head. He looked sickly and miserable, moaned, shivered with cold as he said his lines. He coughed and fell down a couple of times. He bent over, as if he was about to throw up – no doubt the effect of cold and snow! He gave the best performance of his life. More applause from the audience! The more snow I poured over his head, the more he shivered and trembled. His parents were proud of their son’s natural acting ability. He was a born performer.

The play ended. We changed clothes and came back to the living room. But cousin Manooch’s shivering did not stop. My mother stuck a thermometer into his mouth and it registered 102 - and then he vomited. Manooch missed school for a whole week.