Most people have dreamt at least once in their life of losing a tooth. In my country, Iran, people take it as an omen of the imminent death of a family member. I haven’t had that dream for many years and this time it came to me in a somehow different form. The two teeth on the left and right sides of my mouth were scattered into hundreds of small pieces and were spinning in my mouth. I tried to swallow them but I couldn’t. As if a part of me was detached, and yet I couldn’t get rid of its discomfort, it was still part of me.
After my father left my family, I felt that I could come to terms with the loss without much hassle. I saw it as a kind of emotional gym for the world outside and all the unexpected things that would have happened. I felt stronger and stronger about being able to deal with absences, uncertainties, and disappearances without getting too upset. I could get along with life and say: ‘Alright, show me what else you’ve got now. My skin has become thick. You can’t scare me anymore.’ I started sniggering at life. Five years after my father had left, when I came to the same country where he immigrated to – Germany –, and saw him at the airport to greet me, I felt no anger or hate. No repulsion. It felt as if I’m meeting somebody not so close to me. Meeting him didn’t evoke any particular feeling in me and I wished it would continue to be that way. But there was a lot of repressed anger under the surface and I myself was not aware of it. Day after day I had to recognize that I had not dealt with it as I thought I had.
One day, shortly after emigrating, I felt the weight of the earrings on my ears and, when I went in front of the mirror, my ears were deformed, as if the earrings pulled the lobs down, making them long. I had hanging ears that could not be put back in place. I panicked, but soon I realized that I was dreaming. After retelling the dream, I remembered the image of Sultan, my grandmother, whose earlobes were split in two, as she had been wearing heavy earrings all her life. The last images I remember of her before her death are so vivid. Her blackened fingers holding a blue glass while drinking water. And then a drop of water moving down from the corner of her mouth afterwards. I remember thinking to myself how black her fingertips turned. I had touched them several times with hesitation and a little disgust. They were like rough wood. I quickly withdrew my hand.
She had a unique sense of humor and made up funny words that my cousin and I made a list of. One of these words was “Kotorom”, with which she meant bloated or swollen after eating too much. It took us some time to become familiar with her vocabulary, and even years after her death we would find ourselves at the dinner table arguing about the meaning of a certain word she used. Sometimes her reactions would surprise us. Like when I was a teenager and she threw me out of her house after a fight with my sister, because my screaming was driving her crazy. It was the first time I saw her so angry, her voice trembled and I felt that if I put a hand on her shoulder, she would disintegrate, leaving only vibrations in the air.
Only once more I felt those same vibrations. It was one day before her death. Sultan was greedily clinging to the life that was slipping through her blackened fingers. She was in pain and it was so intense that she ate opium to ease the pain. I was in the room next to hers that day. Under the blanket, I pressed my hands over my ears so I wouldn’t hear her, but her voice looked at me through the door like the sunken eyes of a skull.
Sultan did not recognize anyone in the last moments of her life, not even her daughter, who wanted to lift her up and take her to the bathroom, and was unable to because of her weight. She cursed all those who were supposed to come on time and take her to the hospital but were late. I thought to myself that I had never heard her voice so full of hate and fear before.
In one of his books, Rilke talks about death’s roar. Until then I didn’t know that death can have a voice.
Now I am almost 4000 kilometers away from the city where I lived for 23 years, and I think more and more about how I will feel when my father will be close to death. A father with whom I have not been able to reconcile and forgive. When my mother told me some time ago that his diabetes was getting worse and his legs were swollen and red, I got worried.
My grandmother had big red spots on her face. I always asked myself what they are, and it frightened me as a child. In the last days of her life, her face was red and swollen because of her illnesses. Or as she used to say with her strange vocabulary “It has become kotorom”.
After her death we stopped going to her house, where we would no longer hear her puny footsteps going back and forth.
Her hands blackened over time, but they were gone in an instant. Like my father, who was no longer with us for dinner one night. One less plate on the table, and splinters of memories gone mad that, like the tooth in my dream, disintegrated and sharply shredded the gums.
Every time someone leaves, a certain order is disrupted, an order that cannot continue to exist without them. And trying to restore it is like touching with the tongue the empty space left by a fallen tooth, hoping to discover it is still there.
Bita Kaheh is a 26 year old Iranian filmmaker and anthropology student currently living in Germany. She has never published her works and this is her first attempt for publishing.