An Odd Journey: Pride

A Short Story Series

by Amir Bagheri

Part VIII


Pride

Roya

Nobody, really, understands me. They all think that they do because I pretend to be aloof and easy to understand; I guess I am a people’s pleaser after all. It’s not anybody’s fault. I just don’t share much of myself with anyone. I guess experience has taught me better. Sharing myself, my body, or even my stories have brought me nothing but vulnerability and pain. And I have nobody to blame but myself. My decisions in the past have led me to be closed off to most people I meet nowadays.

Since my move to the US, my mental and emotional health has been on an all-time low. I haven’t been able to fully figure out what has caused this; I am still trying to unpack it all. I have always been the kind of person who learns more through other people. And the lack of people, good people, might be the cause of my emotional low. These days, I long for a healthy and easy companionship that could lift my spirit, similar to what I had going with Reza back in South Africa. 

I think about him often these days. I miss his calm, yet talkative, personality. I miss his smile and gentle gaze. I miss his soft, yet electrifying, hands. He knew how to caress my body with his fingers, even when he would gently wrap them around my neck. I miss him a lot. He always felt like therapy, but free. Reza always provided me with a safe space where I could be silent, yet loved. I didn’t have to pretend to be someone else when I was with him, yet I was never fully myself. This was not his fault though; I just no longer knew how to be honest with other people.

There is a lot about my Afro-Iranian identity that I love and appreciate. However, it would also be unfair not to acknowledge the flaws it comes with. I say this knowing very well that every culture has its own flaws and problems. We are all somehow traumatised by the values that were forced down our throats by our own primary caregivers. And the moment you try to speak about it, you’re labelled as a problem child.

I grew up knowing that my every move is policed by my own family. From the clothes I wore, the colours I was allowed to choose, all the way to who I was allowed to be friends with. Growing up in that kind of environment strips away from all your individuality and creativity. You are constantly reminded that your individuality does not carry much weight and therefore it would always be easily dismissed and ignored in favour of collective values. We grow up learning how to lie to ourselves and others, from our own parents. 

Don’t tell your mom that I drink, I remember my dad saying to me, every time I saw him sip on a little wine in our basement. Don’t tell your dad that Somaye was here, my mom would say, every time her childhood friend visited while dad was out working. We all grew up in an environment where being ourselves and living our truth was always discouraged. This was the reason why I eventually left Iran. However, I am still unlearning the lying and dishonesty that was engraved in me as a child. 

Reza understood this, perhaps because of his own Afghan background. I know that growing up under Taliban rule was not any easier. He’d never put me in a position, or ask stupid questions, where I’d find myself lying to him. He was mostly silent but when he talked, he’d talk about his observations of human peculiarity. He had a beautiful mind. I was always in awe of how he’d analyse social situations and human behaviour. I guess his background in anthropology helped him a great deal. It was a skill that always stood out in him. I can’t think of anyone who knew him and didn’t enjoy listening to him. Listening to him, by default, made me a better speaker as well, and an honest one. But like I said, even with all of that, I was never fully myself with him. 

I never spoke about my bi-sexuality, to him or anyone else. Not that anyone is ever entitled to know that about me, but I knew that if there was ever a man that I could open up to about this, it would have been him. But I never got to speak to him about it, despite being intimate with other women, while I was dating him. I was too scared that he, like my own family and friends back home, would react in a way that’d make me have to become a faux/foe version of myself. His companionship and intimacy were too precious to me, and I was not willing to risk losing him until I was ready to leave him. This is not to say that I ever undermined his emotional maturity or capacity to understand. As I said, dishonesty was a learnt behaviour that I had inherited from my own caregivers, and here I am now, trying to unlearn and outgrow all of that. 

I have tried calling Reza on a few occasions but I had no luck. His South African number is no longer in service. I guess it is fair to assume that he’s no longer there. Nowadays, he’s just a visitor to my thoughts on sleepless nights. Sometimes I just relive the memories we shared together, hoping that one day I get to share myself with him again.

God, I really need a break from my thoughts, from my surroundings. Maybe Prague would be a nice change of pace, or Santorini for a bit, or… Istanbul might be interesting. 


To be continued.

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 story will change depending on the monthly theme of Odd Magazine.