Here are the extracts from:
DENOUNCED: A Tale of Two Courts
- Tara is reunited with her father, after eighteen years in Evin
- Theo considers his impression of his doppelganger
- Darius advises Gil not to go to Iran
- Darius reflects on his errors in Iran
- Mehdi finds support
- The Court is convened
- Mehdi helps to free Darius
- Darius is rearrested
- Mehdi’s letter from Evin
- Theo says farewell
Tara is reunited with her father, after eighteen years in Evin:
Sitting at a desk in the window was a tired old man. Although he was actually in his early fifties, his appearance suggested a man approaching his eighties. He had turned as they entered and smiled benignly. It was the sort of smile that reassured he was offering no threat, certainly it was no projection of happiness.
Tara said in Farsi, ‘Pedar, it is I Tahmineh!’
The man looked perplexed. Ebrahim shut the door and locked it from the inside and Mehdi visibly relaxed at the sound of this.
The room had a pallor all its own. It felt like twilight. Gil looked at the desk and realised he had expected to see a laptop or other office products, but it was bare.
Ebrahim commented, ‘Is everything OK for you?’
A quiet tremulous voice answered, ‘Fine, thank you.’ He looked around at his visitors without interest or curiosity, more a dull mechanical perception, then turned his attention back to the empty desk top.
‘Would you like a little more light?’ asked Ebrahim. Receiving no reply, he switched on a bedside lamp.
Mehdi mumbled, ‘I must bear it, if you let it in.’ He put his hand across his eyes.
Tara repeated, ‘Pedar, it is I Tahmineh!’
‘Sorry, did you ask me my name? It’s 135897, Evin University.’
‘He’s referring to the purpose-built wing that held many of the intellectuals and students at the prison.’
Tara asked him, ‘Do you not remember anything else?’
She looked him closely in the eyes. Some long dawning marks of an active intellect were appearing in the middle of his forehead. They seemed to gradually force themselves through the mist that was upon him. They became over-clouded again, they grew fainter, and then they were gone. But Tara swore to herself that they had been there.
Gil had seen it too. ‘Āghā Ghassemi, do look more closely. This is your daughter who wishes to return you to life.’
Darkness had fallen over him. He looked at the visitors less and less attentively, and in gloomy abstraction his eyes sought out the bare desk top.
Tara stood next to him. She was distraught, she had expected more, she had no training in dealing with this sort of situation.
He seemed to notice the hem of her chador. He looked up at her and asked. ‘Are you the gaoler’s daughter?’
She did not reply but touched him on the shoulder.
He raised his hand to cover hers, but could not look up at her. She turned carefully to Ebrahim as she removed the chador from her head. ‘It is I, your Tahmineh!’
He looked up then. He raised both hands to his neck and undid a dirty string from around it. This held a folded piece of soiled rag which he opened carefully on his desk. It contained just three strands of hair. He looked at the ‘lock’ of hair, then looked at her hair. He said, ‘It’s the same. How can that be?’
He fingered the lock of hair, ‘I remember. She laid her head on my shoulder that night, when I was taken prisoner. Tahmineh cried at her fear of my leaving, had refused to let me go. When I was brought to Evin they found these hairs on my sleeve. I begged, Please leave me them? They cannot ever help me to escape physically, but they can mentally. That was what I said. I remember it so well. The guard was a father too and let me keep them.’
Theo considers his impression of his doppelganger:
Theo caught his reflection in a mirror. He asked himself. ‘Do you like that man? As you said, shouldn’t you automatically warm to a man who resembles you so precisely? However, there is nothing in you that is to particularly like, you know that for a fact. So, can there be anything to like in someone who looks just like you? He appears a good man, perhaps he can show me the way back!‘…
‘If you could change places with Mason for a moment, would you have provoked those looks from Tara? Would you have evoked her emotional response, the fainting? Come on, admit it, you hate the man, particularly in his ability to attract others!’
Darius advises Gil not to go to Iran:
Xander said, ‘From what you tell me, it is like a tinderbox there at the moment, and you are not getting any younger. Why take the risk? Speak with your contacts by phone or Zoom them.’
‘But Zoom is just like a TV interview, constrained by time, framed by a selected background, formalised by the medium, completely staged and I suggest it all very antiseptic. I get most of my material from the bits I see outside the camera’s point of view – from the asides, body language, micro-expressions. It is these that tell me where to lead the interview, how to explore their opinions.’
Darius persisted, ‘Unsettled weather, a tedious journey, a disorganised country, a city that may not be safe for you. Try to be more insistent and imaginative in your Zoom calls. I’m surprised they haven’t banned them already!’
‘But, don’t you see? Those whom I interview know that I am invested and that I care enough to actually go there, to put myself at risk. That’s how I get the most from the meeting.’
‘You are so old school. You need to work differently and try to overcome those failings by the approach you adopt, rather than put yourself physically at risk of harm.’
‘It is safe enough for me. Nobody will care to interfere with an old fellow when there are so many young people with whom they can better interfere. As to its being a disorganised city, if it were not a disorganised city there would be no occasion to send somebody from the publication there, one who knows the city and the business. As to the uncertain travelling with the long journey and the winter weather, I have always been prepared to submit myself to a few inconveniences for the sake of a good story. That’s what my readers reasonably expect.’
Darius said, ‘Because I’m Iranian-born, the thought of visiting has passed through my mind often. One cannot help but think about its problems. I have sympathy for the miserable people and feel as though I have abandoned them. I question if I might be listened to, if I have the grasp of its history to be able to persuade some restraint. Only last night after you left us, when I was talking to Tara…’
Gil interrupted, ‘You should be embarrassed to mention the name of Tara! Wishing you were going to Iran indeed. She would be shocked.
Darius reflects on his errors in Iran:
He realised that in his horror of the bad deeds and bad reputation of his family, he had acted improperly. He knew very well that his renunciation of his social status had been hurried and incomplete. He now recognised that he ought to have supervised his emigration properly. He had meant to return but had never found the right moment.
He had been seduced and distracted by the happiness of his own home in London. His mind, like that of Mehdi, always needed to be actively employed. He had become too preoccupied to think about returning. The time for action had never presented itself. He had sat back and become a spectator of Iran’s ills. The executions were eliminating grand old family names, names well known to him from the past. Would the Republic impeach him merely because of his name?
He reassured himself that he had personally oppressed no-one, nor had he imprisoned anyone. Rather than extract payment of his dues, he had relinquished them of his own free will. He had thrown himself on an unfamiliar western world that offered no easy solution to making his living. Applying his skills, he had marked out his place and earned his own income. He had built a family.
Turani had maintained the estate upon his written instructions and urged to spare the people, giving them what little there was to give. Surely that should count in his defence?
This review of the situation pointed to just one desperate resolution. Darius had to return to Tehran.
Mehdi finds support:
Gil led Mehdi through the streets where they skirted a square which was blocked by a drunken rabble who were celebrating something. Mehdi asked Gil what they had to celebrate. Gil responded, ‘As usual, they are rioting and seeking out those to execute.’
Gil was stunned when Mehdi walked out amongst them, calling out, ‘Greet me, the released Evin prisoner.’ The rabble gathered around and cheered him. He continued, ‘Will you help the ex-Evin prisoner to release his family member from that place? Make room for me at the front. Let us save Darius Mason from the prison.’ Having found a new purpose, the rabble excitedly followed him.
The Court is convened:
The Revolutionary Court was convened with three judges. Mehdi did not comment but worryingly he knew that this was only the case when a capital crime was being presented. Where the matter was not considered to merit a death sentence, then one judge would be required.
When the charges were announced they appeared to have ‘thrown the book’ at him. He was charged as an emigrant, charged with propaganda against the state, charged with breaching the internal and external security of the Republic. He was charged with espionage and treason, he was charged with spreading corruption on the Earth and he was charged with waging war against Allah.
These offences had been read to Darius at the prison on the eve of his trial. He had been summoned to the association area where an official announced, ‘Daryoosh Mazandarani, called Darius Mason, you stand charged of the following offences.’
By this time Darius had heard this sort of pronouncement made of others, many times before. The individual named would then not be returned to the general population of the prison, the other prisoners were left to hope that he had been released. However, within weeks a rumour would pass around the prison that he had been executed. Darius was relieved that he would have his day in court but he held no great ambition for the likely outcome. Mehdi had done all he could. Now they needed the process to be completed.
He was shown kindness by the others but soon found himself escorted away from their nightly games and conversations. He was again placed in a solitary cell and was a little surprised in the morning to learn he was in fact one of fifteen prisoners whose cases would be heard that day. All fifteen would be dealt within a total of ninety minutes.
When Darius arrived in court, three judges were sitting on the Bench, two wore clerical clothes with turbans. The central of the three was younger; he wore a business suit, an open-necked shirt and was bare-headed. Darius had been advised that despite his lack of clerical clothing he was the hard-liner of the three. Not strictly a judge, he ran a branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Court, the prime function of which was to prosecute ideological opponents of the regime. So, he was more an administrator rather than someone who knew the law. His fellow judges were there to give his pronouncements the veneer of religious conviction.
Mehdi helps to free Darius:
Mehdi Ghassemi was called. His high personal popularity and the clearness of his answers made a great impression. He explained that the accused became his friend on his release from his long imprisonment. The accused had remained in England, always faithful and devoted to him and his daughter in their exile. He explained that the accused, far from being in favour of the government in England, had actually been tried for espionage and presented as a foe of England. As he revealed these circumstances with discretion and earnestness, the judges and the populace became one. Finally, he mentioned that Gilgamesh Khorasani, known as Gil Corry, had been a witness to that English trial and could corroborate his account of it, as he was here, present in this court. The Head Judge declared that they had heard enough and they would retire to deliberate.
The three judges returned and the Head Judge announced, to cheers from the public gallery, that Daryoosh Mazandarani was formally freed of all charges.
This was followed by an extraordinary scene. This crowd had assembled to pursue its ongoing rage at someone who had challenged the Republic. Now they displayed their great fickleness, or perhaps their better impulses, towards mercy. They cheered and shed tears as freely as they would have shed blood on another occasion.
Darius was surrounded and hugged by all and sundry. He accepted their good wishes but he appreciated that the very same people, carried by a different whim, would have torn him apart.
Darius is rearrested:
‘It is enough for you to know that you are being taken straight back to prison. You are already on tomorrow’s court list.’
Tara’s father stepped forward, ‘You said you know him. Do you know me?’
‘Yes. I know you, Mehdi Ghassemi.’
‘We all know you. You are famous!’ said one of the other three.
Mehdi looked abstractedly from one to another of the four men and asked in a lower voice, ‘Will you then answer Darius’s question for me? How does this happen? Why?’
‘Mr Ghassemi,’ said the first, reluctantly, ‘The prisoner has been denounced. This man here is from the area in which he was denounced.’ He was pointing at one of the other men.
‘Of what is he accused?’ Mehdi asked.
The first man, still with his former reluctance, said, ‘Ask no more. If the Republic demands sacrifices from you, without doubt you, as a good patriot, will be happy to make them. The Republic goes before all. The Republic is supreme. Mazandarani, we are pressed for time.’
‘One word,’ Mehdi entreated. ‘Will you tell me who denounced him?’
They all turned to look at the man from the area where he had been denounced. He rubbed his beard a little and at length said, ‘Well! Truly it is against the rules but then you are Mehdi Ghassemi, so I will say that he is gravely denounced by both Mr and Mrs Dehdari, and one other.’
‘And who is the other?’
Mehdi’s letter from Evin:
I, Mehdi Ghassemi, resident of Tehran, write this melancholy paper in my doleful cell in the Evin, during the last month of the year 2004. I write it in stolen intervals, under great difficulty. I keep it in my mattress where some pitying hand may find it when I and my sorrows have been returned to dust…
… I, Mehdi Ghassemi, unhappy prisoner, write this on the last night of the year 2004. In my full capacity, I denounce the brothers Mazandarani, and all members of their family, for these heinous acts.’
Theo says farewell:
Once again, it was Theo Churchill who saw her fall and he was the first to pick her up. He had emerged from deep within the shadows of the court. His expression was strange and did not reflect the sombreness of the moment.
He carried her out to the car, seemingly unaware of her weight. The group drove back to their temporary home where Theo again carried her indoors. Miss Parsley fussed over her after he had placed her on the settee.
Theo suggested, ‘Don’t wake her. She is better like this for now. She has had a terrible shock.’
‘Oh, Mr Churchill!’ cried Miss Parsley, ‘Now that you have come, I pray you can do something for my Ladybird, something to save her husband! Can you bear to see her this way?’
He extracted himself from Miss Parsley and returned to the settee, ‘Before I go,’ he said, ‘May I kiss Tara?’
Later they commented that when he bent down and touched her face with his lips, he had murmured some words. Miss Parsley who had been closer to him, told them that he had said, ‘A life for love.’ She would recount this many times.