The chocolate sat in the middle of the table a sugared dune burned brown by a dusting of cocoa. The human voices – pealing honeyed larynxes had melted and the sun was in a half bow staring intently over at the moon longing to seduce each chasmal dip but content for now to set the crescent on fire, at least on reflection.
Reza had started pawing at the sweet, his velvet thumb up against the base of the block, his long, thick index finger tracking its spine. A Camel coloured sleeve, quietly celebrating utility with a rather anxious-looking arm, gave way to yet more limbs and yet more material, only barely managing to conceal the occupier’s broad shoulders and unusually tall frame. A casual observer might also have noticed, upon shifting their restaurant seat a little to the right that the wooden chair upon which Reza appeared to be sitting, was missing a leg.
“Azizam, have some more tea. She will be here”. Reza’s moss-green eyes met with the concerned irises of a man, shadowed by twilight and stuck in a pose, back bent over the table like an expectant cat, teapot tilted several degrees and leaking into Reza’s tea cup, quite unaffected by reply or reason. “Mamnoon dooste man. You’re like my uncle, Kamran. The one that never lets me finish a sentence”. The restaurant owner looked puzzled for a moment and then shook his head in sympathy “You’ve spent too long in London. My tea is world-famous, you know. At least for the next three of four blocks”. Kamran lifted the teapot and smiled playfully at Reza, who in turn mustered a laugh, an earnest sound, although hollowed, also in earnest, by anxiety. “Let me get you some Baklava. She will be here”.
The restaurant purged more of its visitors as the sky turned a pious black but Reza remained at his table, the solitary chocolate still in one piece, safe from ingestion as the distractions of tea and pastry and no ‘she’ continued to comfort, assuage and sicken. Yet, it had finally happened. The thing they all wanted most, the unthinkable victory that always seemed within reach but never tangible enough to grasp. They had been found, in their beds, slaughtered without warning. Theirs was a decadent religion glutting on past legacy, gorging on the future of a people bound by poverty and opium. The news had come as a shock. Nobody believed the foreign journalists arriving in droves, brandishing the epithet, with files in one hand and microphones in the other, like self-made prophets of paragraph and comma. “The Islamic Republic is dead”, they said. The side door of the little restaurant began to undulate gently with the persistence of some soft tendency trying to push against a bad-tempered spring. Reza and Kamran exchanged worried glances and waited for the tendency to reveal itself.
She came in pieces. The shadow of a knee at first, entombed in the now defunct chador but still clinging to her bony indicators. Then a hand, alabaster under the pale lamps that hung down from the ceiling and which somehow seemed to seep right through her palms so that every vein appeared to be moving, like grass in the breeze. And then her face. A countenance without incident, it was not exceptional to look at for it did not strike the observer that any features were particularly worthy of distinction or unusual in their own way. Her eyes were brown, like caramelised amber and languished hopefully in small almond sockets. The eyelashes were altogether uneventful; long but infrequent and too ready to congregate and gather, making their absence seem all the greater. Her nose was an aquiline construction flanked by rather delicate nostrils, which had a tendency towards oscillating wildly whenever its owner found herself seized by mirth. Below that edifice lay her lips.
Maleknaz closed the door behind her and looked at Reza, now standing within touching distance of her. She smiled and the corners of Reza’s shoulders rounded in anticipation. “Come and sit down, you must be so hungry”. Kamran came to the table and offered Maleknaz some tea. She gratefully extended her arm, which was covered in bruises and upon securing some liquid from the samovar began to suck at the sugar cube she had gently bathed in her tea. “Malak, are you alright? Do you need a doctor?” Reza winced at the softness in his voice, betraying an intention to remain cordial. But why? The regime had fallen, there was no one except Kamran in the restaurant and they had cared for each other longer than he cared to remember. Malak put down her tea and let her gaze rest on the saucer, tracing the bronze-painted horses with her eyes as she listened. “I’m absolutely fine. It’s what we wanted, we are free. I’m so happy. Aren’t you?” Malak could feel Reza shift with a sense of purpose in his chair. “No, Malak, I mean did they treat you properly in Zendan Evin? Did they….. touch you?” Kamran suddenly remembered that he had a till to tally and a cook to send home and so he made his way to the kitchen. Without a spare wheel in the room, Malak knew she could not avoid the question for long.
She felt her gaze drifting from the saucer to the chocolate. “Reza, why is that chocolate sitting there, all alone?” Reza watched her lips as she spoke, taking in the peach creases and their suppleness as they parted and closed, revealing in slow bursts the little white teeth that lay quietly behind them. He had always loved her lips. “Reza? It’s funny; it has no wrapping and no other friends to keep it company. Did Kamran give it to you?” Reza, forgetting himself and getting entirely lost in the fleshy tissue of her mouth, suddenly looked at the chocolate and played back her echo, unexpectedly stored in the previous moment. “I was saving this chocolate for you, Malak. It’s the first chocolate”. Malak sat upright and looked concerned. “Reza-Joon, you and I both know that you have a sweet tooth. If you’re asking me to believe that you’ve never tasted chocolate before, then not even freedom is the answer”.
“No, Malak” Reza said, taking her hand in his, “This, is the first chocolate”.