A thick voice said, “Come in.” His wife was crying behind the door, and after blinks and sobs, she added, “Sit.”
Farah wore a sober rust-colored blouse, black trousers, and tall dress shoes that gave her another two inches. The loose hair was just long enough to brush against her shoulders, and she was pretty despite the sloppy black mess around her eyes. Quentin sat on the sofa, the same place as last time. Farah claimed a hard wooden chair pointed at him, not so much sitting as perching on its edge. She looked exhausted, but the audience obligated her to stop weeping, a string of soggy tissues scraping off the wasted makeup.
Quentin didn’t speak.
“No,” she said. “This is nothing.”
She sniffed hard. “I want to do this. No second thoughts.”
“You don’t believe me.”
“I do.” He hadn’t tried to sound doubtful. “You want to live here. Fine.”
“And become a citizen,” she reminded both of them. Elbows on knees, she said, “Any smart woman would want to live in the West.”
“Because she’s free,” he said.
Yet those were the wrong words. Red eyes refused to blink, staring at a point above his head. Then quietly, fiercely, she told him, “It’s not as you people think. We aren’t slaves in Persia. I can vote and own property and hold any opinion I wish, and if I were there now, I could read more books than you enjoy in your world.”
It was safest to silently nod.
“Freedom is not one simple shape,” she assured. “It’s never pure or finished. Freedom exists as a matter of degrees.”
She mashed the tissues into one gray ball and stood abruptly. “My mother called this morning.”
“Shiraz,” she said.
“My home city. Shiraz. It’s ancient and beautiful. In case anyone should ask you, which they won’t. Tell them Shiraz is in the heart of the hated nation, and it’s famous for its splendid gardens. I miss those gardens, by the way. Nothing here is half as lovely.”
“Your mother called from Shiraz,” he said quietly.
“My mother.” The young woman refused to cry again. Resolve took hold of the face. “Sometimes I love her, and I miss her. But love is like freedom. I think. Measured in degrees, refusing to remain constant. Do you know what I mean?”
Quentin gave what he hoped was a confident nod.
Farah didn’t notice. What mattered were events and faces thousands of miles removed, years in her past.
“Does she know?” he asked.
“Your recent marriage.”
A weary sigh bled into laughter. “I think, yes, she does know. But only because she’s clever. I haven’t volunteered explanations for my lingering here. Our relationship, hers and mine, is difficult as it is.”
Quentin pointed at a framed photograph on the bureau. “Are those your parents?”
As if she hadn’t noticed that portrait before, the picture needed to be lifted, examined in detail, and then carefully set on its face.
Saying nothing, Farah walked into the bathroom,
Quentin turned the photograph on its back, studying an elegant man and the beautiful young woman standing before a bed of roses.
“Shiraz,” he repeated.
“Nobody will ask,” she said.
“But a husband should know.”
Rebuilding Farah’s face took a long while. Quentin was reading a random chapter in an economics textbook when she returned, offering a careful smile before saying, “It won’t hurt to be early.”
He stood again.
“You are good to do this,” she told him.
“Like you say,” he countered. “It’s really not much.”