An Odd Journey: Heritage

A Short Story Series

By Amir Bagheri

Part VI



I was never the superstitious type. I never entertained “illogical” and “baseless” reasoning to explain coincidental events in my life. All of this changed after I met Roya in South Africa. She was fascinating, mysterious, dreamy, spiritual, beautiful, and so much more. To be honest, she challenged and changed a lot of things in me and my life. I owe a lot of who I am today to her. 

Roya is Iranian; an Afro-Iranian or Afro-Persian to be exact. She hated to be asked about her race or heritage. I could always see the pain in her face every time she had to explain who Afro-Iranians are. Not that she was ashamed of her identity, not at all. It was just an endless repetitive conversation that she’d always find herself in. From a stranger’s point of view, this would be a great, educational, and informative conversation, however, for Roya it was like reliving the historical pain that a part of her heritage was rooted in.

From what Roya had told me, through the Indian Ocean Slave Trade, Arab and Portuguese slave traders would sell African people, in large numbers, to neighbouring regions, including the Persian Empire at the time. This slave trade continued and was then amplified during the “golden” Muslim era, in the 9th century. It is estimated that millions of captured Bantu people, also known as Zanj people, were forcefully removed from their homes, and then sold and enslaved until the 1920s, and a big population of them resided in Southern Iran. Slavery in Iran was eventually abolished by Reza Shah in 1929, but the topic of slavery and race was never discussed or studied after that.

Roya would often find herself explaining to her Iranians and Middle Eastern friends that “we grew up Iranian. We speak Persian. And I promise you, we are as patriotic and nationalistic as every other Iranian. However, the majority of the Iranian people who are not of African heritage don’t see us like that. Especially when we leave the South, to go up north. Most people think we are foreigners.” 

Roya was always looking for individuals and communities who would be able to relate to her story and experiences. That sense of belonging, of finding a community, was very important to her. She’d always create micro-communities of odd individuals, anywhere she travelled to. She was charming and dreamy, so it was natural for her to have admirers and followers of all kinds, leading me to often joke with her that she had a cult following. She always carried herself with grace and was protected with a peaceful aura that was untouchable. She was religiously spiritual and in touch with her inner-self. It was precisely this spiritual side of her that I was most drawn to. I’d learnt about spirituality from her every time we had spent time together.

Roya and I were natural lovers. We barely had any conflict throughout our relationship, but the relationship didn’t last very long, perhaps six months at the very most. She had a doctoral programme waiting for her in the US. 

“I know everything is good between us, and if I didn’t have to leave South Africa, we’d continue being together. But I know I am not made for long-distance relationships. I need touch and physical affirmation in my companionship to feel worthy,” she explained to me, over dinner. “I want you to know that it has nothing to do with you, or the kind of lover you are. You were always generous and kind to me,” she continued. I smiled and nodded my head in agreement. I knew she was right, and I didn’t know if I had an alternative scenario to offer her even though I so badly wished I had. So, we mutually ended our intimate relationship, hugged it out, and decided to stay in each other’s lives as friends. 

From time to time, I’d miss Roya immensely. And that specific morning was one of those times. I was sure that these emotions and thoughts were linked to the visions I had of her the night before, during my spiritual trip. I was, again, reminded of what she was trying to tell me, warning me about Ramana. So, seeing Ramana’s text message that morning left me feeling disturbed, an uneasiness I couldn’t shake.

“I had a bad dream about you. Are you okay?” 

I paused a few minutes before replying, and truth be told, I didn’t want to respond. But I also didn’t want to add more to her anxiety, especially since it was rooted in her worrying about my wellbeing.

“I am good, thank you for checking in. You’ve got to tell me about your dream when I see you again. I’ll be home much later tonight.” I hit send and switched off my phone. 

I opened the windows for some fresh air, hope it will help cleanse my racing thoughts, and eventually got under the sheets. Before I knew it, I had fallen asleep.

To be continued.

With this month’s “Heritage” theme and the inspiration for this instalment, I would like to raise awareness of the deeply inspiring and phenomenal work of Collective for Black Iranians. This is an NPO platform created by and dedicated to the Iranian diaspora. I urge my readers to visit the platform and see the remarkable work of this platform. 

To read the previous story in the Odd Journey short story series, click here.

“An Odd Journey” is a monthly series of short stories by Amir Bagheri, written exclusively for Odd Magazine. The context and characters in these stories will remain the same throughout the coming months, however, the storyline of each part will change depending on Odd’s monthly theme.