بینی با هر نام دیگری

کتاب: عطر سنبل، عطر کاج / فصل 24

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A Nose by Any Other Name

When I was a student at Berkeley, I found myself fascinated by a certain librarian there. This woman had the ugliest nose I had ever seen. It was as if God, in a moment of confusion, had switched her nose with the beak of an exotic bird. I suspected that somewhere deep in the rain forests of Brazil, high in a mango tree, lived a toucan with a human nose.

What triggered my fascination wasn’t the sheer majesty of the librarian’s nose, but her abundant confidence. This woman carried herself like a beauty queen. As I watched her go about her duties in her self-assured manner, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why doesn’t she have a complex?”

In Iranian culture, a woman’s nose is much more than a breathing device; it is her destiny. A girl with an ugly nose learns early on to dream of one thing only—a skilled plastic surgeon. Only the poorest families do not intervene to correct nature’s nasal missteps. No amount of charm, talent, or intelligence can make a girl overcome an ugly nose; it simply must be fixed.

I am descended from two types of noses. On my father’s side, the noses are big but otherwise perfectly reasonable. God just didn’t know when to stop a good thing. The noses in my maternal lineage are all large and hooked. Gonzo, on Sesame Street, bears an uncanny resemblance to my mother’s side of the family. I grew up thinking that it was normal to yell “Not the profile!” whenever a picture was being taken. Mine is the kind of nose that enabled me to impress fellow high school students with my ability to balance a pencil and eraser between my nose and mouth. This enviable contortion act pretty much sealed my fate as the type of girl who never had to worry about buying a prom dress.

When I was small, all eyes were on my nose. I was considered a cute little girl, but whenever anyone commented on my looks, someone, usually my mother, would say, “We’ll see.” Everyone knew what that meant. History is full of girls who were cute one day and then boom, the nose grew. And my female relatives had known them all. They continued their nose watch, tracking my rhinal growth like traders tracking stock on Wall Street.

By the time I was an adolescent, it was clear that I had been somewhat spared. I had a hooked nose lite. I resembled my maternal relatives, but the nose wasn’t quite bad enough to invite comparison to a puppet. The consensus among my female relatives was that even though my nose wasn’t horrific, it could use a little improvement. “You just need the tip removed.” When I was eighteen, my father and I headed off to a consultation with a plastic surgeon, “the best in Newport Beach.” As I sat in this man’s well-appointed office and looked at the expansive ocean view, I wondered how he could take himself seriously. Judging by the framed diplomas all over the walls, he had spent many years studying at prestigious medical establishments. Here was somebody who could be saving a life somewhere, but instead he was looking forward to lopping off the tip of my nose. As he explained the procedure, what bothered me the most wasn’t the idea of having my nose broken, but having my nose broken by him. I just didn’t respect him enough.

My father was relieved that I had decided against a nose job. He thought it was way too expensive. “You can buy me a car instead,” I suggested. “Your nose is fine,” he replied, “and you don’t need a car.”

Despite the ominous warnings from my female relatives that noses keep growing well into adulthood, I managed to graduate from college, get married, and have children, all with my original nose. I hadn’t actually thought about my nasal imperfections in years; after two pregnancies, I had found other body parts far worthier of obsession.

I had, however, thought about the Toucan. Whenever anyone complained about his nose, I always shared the story of the confident librarian who had overcome her formidable rhinal challenge. Naturally, people wanted to know why she had so much confidence. “I don’t know. She just did,” I always replied. Little did I dream that I would someday find out.

About twenty years after my last sighting of the Toucan, François and I and our two kids were on our way to a motel for a week. Our house was on the market, and the real estate agent felt that it would sell more quickly if we weren’t in it. Somehow toys scattered throughout the house and toilets that the little ones had forgotten to flush are not considered a marketing boon. François and I cleaned the house, removed all the extra things we had stuffed in our closets, put fresh vases full of flowers everywhere, and left.

We arrived at the local motel just in time to go to bed. While we were putting the kids to sleep, François was called in to work. As soon as he left, every article I had ever read about crimes being committed in motel rooms came flooding back to me. I was convinced that the moment I fell asleep, a disgruntled ex-employee who had managed to keep the master key would come back to avenge himself. I was not going to be able to sleep until my husband returned. Desperate for a distraction, I turned on the TV. Since we don’t have a television in our house, I assumed it would be fairly easy to find something entertaining, if only for the novelty. I started flipping channels, avoiding the in-depth profiles of serial murderers, zipping past the sitcoms, past the infomercials selling juicers, past Susan Lucci selling shampoo. Just as I was thinking Thank God I don’t have a television so I don’t have to watch this crap, all of a sudden there she was on the screen. The Toucan. She looked exactly the same except for a few more gray hairs. I assumed that this was a show about the Dewey decimal system or recent donations to the UC-Berkeley library. But suddenly, the camera panned back and I saw that the Toucan was completely naked.

My father had always told me that a college education would give me endless opportunities. I never realized that seeing the librarians naked would be one of them.

I was intrigued and repulsed at the same time. I looked to make sure my children were sleeping. They were still at the age when they readily announced every detail of our life to perfect strangers. “Mommy watches naked women on television” might not get them into the best preschools. I hoped that François would not come home and think I was hiding some big secret.

I sat back to watch the interview, more awake now than before. The naked Toucan had startled me more than any ax-wielding disgruntled ex-employee. According to the interview, the Toucan was a member of a nudist colony in Northern California. This in-depth profile covered not only her experiences as a nudist, but also the experiences of the other nudists.

The Toucan talked extensively about coming to accept herself as she is. She didn’t refer to her nose, but that’s what I was thinking about. She said that she had struggled with low self-esteem her whole life until she discovered nudism. Somehow she had shed her clothes and her poor self-image simultaneously, a concept that could truly put a dent in the world of cosmetic surgery. How odd, I thought, that I had so wondered about this woman’s self-confidence and my question was being answered on an obscure cable show in a cheap motel at midnight.

The Toucan continued listing the virtues of nudity, how being naked took away all pretenses and left others to see her for who she really was. I had always thought that conversation revealed who people really were. But apparently seeing their saggy body parts could actually tell me a whole lot more.

The other members of the colony said basically the same thing as the Toucan, although she was by far the most articulate, not to mention the best-looking. Before this show, I had assumed that watching a group of naked people would be erotic in some way. Not this group. I was not the only one who had not gone to the prom.

The show ended with a scene of all the nudists sitting around a campfire laughing and bonding. Watching this jovial group, I found myself overcome with sadness. I couldn’t help but think of all the Iranian women who had paid to have their noses broken and reshaped just so someone might find them worthy of love. I thought of all the little girls I had known who had learned to cringe at their own reflections. I remembered how much I admired Jane Fonda’s nose when I was in fourth grade in Tehran, and how much I hated my own. Thinking of all that wasted energy, I wanted to scream and tell my fellow countrymen and countrywomen that a nose by any other name is just a nose. It does not hold the soul, for no matter how big our noses may be, our souls are far, far bigger.

My husband was quite surprised to find me awake at two in the morning when he returned from work.

“What have you been doing?” he asked.

“Watching television.”

“But you hate television,” he reminded me.

“Believe me,” I said, “there are some interesting shows nowadays.”

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