The Smell of Flowers and Salt: Chapter 2
The children are the first to arrive at the police station at the other end of the island. No one is crying; they are soaked with seawater. Dazed and unbelieving, they stop a stone’s throw away from the precinct. They look briefly at each other and then yell in unison: “Officer! Officer! Officer!”
There is no answer. The officer doesn’t seem to be in. The tricolor flag is hanging like a tattered rag from a rusted pole. The children realize that they did not hear the national anthem on the station’s loudspeaker that morning.
They turn and look back, and see that the women are approaching. Their faces uncovered, the women raise their hands up toward the heavens as they weep and wail. The presence of the grief stricken mothers gives the children courage. They move a few steps closer: “Hey officer! They’ve taken her away! They’ve taken Marjaneh away!”
When the women move closer the weeping gets louder and they are joined by the inhabitants of the island. But where is the officer? Marjaneh’s mother collapses in the sand as her legs go numb. Marjan is standing close by. The other women rush to the door of the precinct. They kick the door and pound it with their fists. Finally they manage to open the door.
Papers are scattered all over; the room is in disarray. The officer’s uniform, with its ripped epaulettes and pantlegs spread wide, is nailed to a wall like a picture. The stars from the epaulettes are scattered on the floor. Someone has stepped all over them and now they’re completely black. The big picture of his majesty and the queen is shattered and kicked to a corner of the room. The captain and the officer are nowhere to be found.
Did the pirates come in the middle of the night and kidnap them? The children recall having seen the captain in civilian clothes waving his hand as he was heading for the port. Come to think of it, the women haven’t worn their religious garb for two days; there are no men on the island. The officer and Abdolah must have taken his boat to the sea.
The children turn to face the sea, but nothing is there. The sea is flat, without a single wave. What can they do? There’s no possibility for the island to float to the port and spread the news that Marjaneh has been kidnapped. The officer could have informed the police precincts with his cordless telephone, and Abdolah could have used his boat to get to the port and tell the officials at Governor’s office about what had transpired. But without them, the islanders don’t know what to do . . .
Who is the one shouting? Who will move first toward the teacher’s house?
Who truly loved Marjaneh enough? Who would sit with her and the other children on the beach, braid Marjaneh’s golden hair, and give grades to her as she wrote “Marjaneh, daughter of the Captain Abd” on the sand?
Two women hold the mother under her arms as they make their way to the school. The single room school seems to be a long ways off. Mother is thinking of her daughter’s long legs, how she’d grab her lunch box and run to the school, and in no time run back home. Mother falls again, too weak to remember.
Earlier, the teacher had dismissed the class, and—as she had informed Marjaneh, Marjan, and other girls—she was going to join the other teachers for a strike at the Governor’s office.
Marjaneh had asked her teacher: “Will you be coming back soon?” The teacher had responded: “Very soon,” and pinched the girl on the cheek. “Who has the heart to be away from you for too long?”