Parisa stood by Navid’s old bedroom, holding tight to the hyacinth flower, and wondering if her brother’s soul had found a home yet. She had changed into her yellow polka dot dress along with the white stockings even though they made her knees all itchy. On her feet she wore her new shoes--with insoles that were decorated in lemony polka dots.
Parisa had been standing there a while daring herself to take a peek into her dead brother’s room that had been left undisturbed since the car accident.
It had been a quick death.
Navid hadn’t felt any pain-and her family had told her all the things that adults say when they are not sure how to speak to children. Mina, her mother, cried for weeks as she straightened up the house. Sami, her father who was an accountant, had lost himself in his work and treated Parisa like she was the one who had died.
When Parisa asked her parents about her little brother they always said the same thing: Navid was in a better place.
None of that explained what had happened to Navid and why his bedroom was tended to every few days- as if he would run upstairs with a slice of pizza to play his video games or read one of his comics.
Her mother had been in Navid’s room that morning straightening things up. When Mina caught her daughter’s confused eyes she cleared her throat and said:
“Spring cleaning is part of Nowruz...it’s our tradition. Parisa-borro bache get the flowers I bought and bring them downstairs. Stay out of your brother’s room.”
Then her mother went to work on placing the items that represented the coming of spring on the haft seen: coins, goldfish, sabzi, mirror, colored eggs and the poetry of Hafiz instead of the Qu'ran since her family didn’t practice Islam or any other religion.
Nor did anyone ever enter Navid’s room-except for her mother. Parisa was caught once but her aunt Haleh pulled on her arm:
Boro-boro bache...boro ye jaye digge...hichi ke inja nist barre shoma. Go child...go somewhere else….there is nothing here for you…
Parisa had gotten angry and remembered how everyone always fussed over Navid even though he was such a little brat: always tugging at her hair and stealing her peanut butter cups: her favorite Halloween candy. Still, Parisa missed her brother’s scent: a mixture of peppermint sticks, cinnamon and maple. It was a sweet scent and thinking about it almost made her cry.
“If his body is buried and his room is still the same-what happened to his rooh-his soul?” Parisa asked her uncle because she thought that maybe Navid could appear for the Pars festival. It was a silly thought by a silly little girl-but it wasn’t impossible. No one could see her lemony polka dot insoles that matched her dress for it was hidden. It was sort of like Navid. She thought she had seen her brother on Shabe Yalda-the winter solstice when they had stuck out their tongues at each other like it had been any old day.
“If he came to see me during the Winter Solstice why wouldn’t he come for the spring?”
Her uncle sighed heavily and turned the page of his newspaper. His forehead was crinkled and he lifted his eyes slightly.
“Ey babba...veleshkon. Leave your brother’s soul alone. Navid is happy. That’s all that matters,” Uncle Behrooz said.
Her uncle had been immersed in the news about the recent lifting of sanctions in Iran. Since the summer it had been the one thing that had been on his mind more than anything else...because it meant that things might get better for his kin back home.
She heard him speaking on the phone with Mr. Saman, his friend, and advisor, who had been helping Behrooz with his dissertation. Her uncle had been working on a long project but had taken some time off to help the family.
Parisa poked his shoulders.
“Hmmmm?” Her uncle said.
“I think I saw him...on Shabe Yalda…dooroog nimigam ke!”
“Parisa, joonam...maybe you saw him in a dream. Your baradar is gone...but we still have you...”
Uncle Behrooz smiled thinly and cleared his throat. His mustache seemed to wiggle. She knew that it meant that the conversation was over. Parisa found herself sitting in her room and resting her chin on her Snoopy doll.
She heard her uncle and mother screaming at each other downstairs while her father tried to keep the peace between the two:
“Both of you need to calm down…”
“That room…it’s sick and it is confusing her.”
“Behrooz now you care? Where have you been this past year? In your own little world getting a useless degree in theology…”
“My studies are separate from Parisa. Babba...the girl thinks she still sees her brother. She needs help...”
“My daughter is fine. If you want to help you can get your head out of books and help us with the bills. We took you in when that gende...that whore left you.”
“I work at the university.”
“Azizam, we are fine. Let Behrooz finish his studies. I can adjunct again if needed.”
“No. Your daughter needs you and you ignore her. No wonder she speaks to ghosts.”
Parisa thought about her brother.
On the winter solstice, Shabe-Yalda, where her family celebrated the long winter night eating watermelon, sharing pomegranate seeds, the poems of Hafez and keeping warm by the fireplace, she had heard something outside. When she looked out the window she thought she had seen her brother. Then he stuck his tongue at her and she did the same-feeling horrible afterwards and wondered if his soul was cold.
Parisa dropped the hyacinths on the floor. She placed her hands on the bedroom door and opened it slowly. She entered quietly, and stood in the middle of Navid’s bedroom hoping that he didn’t mind; her brother hated it when she went into his room without his permission.
Her eyes spotted David Beckham on the closet kicking up a soccer ball that splattered dirt beyond the edge of the poster. Parisa felt the big red eyes and wide grins from the video game characters standing guard with their swords for they were still pinned to the wall as well. Navid’s bed was also still there, with the dark blue Justice League bedsheets and his Akira manga all stacked neatly on the table next to his bed.
Parisa walked towards his desk and pulled open the drawers. She found envelopes that held foreign coins from countries that uncle Behrooz had visited. On the windowsill a few mason jars held a collection of preserved insects. Parisa picked one up and stared at the shriveled grasshopper, wondering about its soul, wondering if it too was keeping her brother safe.
There was an awful scream.
Parisa dropped the mason jar as she flinched and turned around. The jar rolled over to her mother who was standing there in her long green dress and her apron. She was speaking fast in Farsi and Parisa just looked down at the blue carpet that had been freshly vacuumed.
“Biya biroon as inja...chi behet goftam? Bare chi be man hitchvaght goosh nimikoni! Get out! What did I tell you? Why don’t you ever listen to me!”
Parisa closed her eyes and thought about Shabe-Yalda, the winter solstice, where her family celebrated the long winter night eating watermelon, sharing pomegranate seeds, the poems of Hafez and keeping warm by the fireplace.
Navid had still been alive and she remembered that they had stuck their tongue out at each other-just like when his ghost had visited her.
All of a sudden, Parisa realized that she wasn’t sure if she had seen her brother’s ghost or if she had simply mixed everything up in her head. The little girl sat down on her brother’s bed, confused by the string of memories that all of a sudden didn’t make much any sense anymore and she began to cry.
“Chi shode...what happened? Why is my Parisa crying?” Her father was standing at the threshold with Uncle Behrooz. Both men looked at Parisa and then at Mina.
“She was supposed to help me with the haft-seen and I find her in here messing up her brother’s room…” Her mother was whispering as she held the hyacinth and the mason jar close to her heart. Parisa saw the dead grasshopper and imagined it blinking its eyes as if to say the little girl was next since she was ruining the Spring Equinox for everyone.
“Yes…we need to set up the haft-seen for Aide Nowruz…” her father said.
“Nowruz...it literally means a new day Mina,” Uncle Behrooz said. He looked at his sister and then the walls. Then her uncle began to take down the posters carefully.
Mina nodded her head gingerly.
Sami held Parisa and gently rocked his daughter in his arms.
It had a while since Parisa had hugged her father.