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کتاب: عطر سنبل، عطر کاج / فصل 12

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  • زمان مطالعه 10 دقیقه
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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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متن انگلیسی فصل

Waterloo

My father is a proud man. He was the first member of his family to study in America, the first to win a Fulbright scholarship, and, years later, the first to settle permanently in America. Because of him, his siblings and their families ended up in Southern California, where they all live within half an hour of one another. “I am the Christopher Columbus of the family,” he always says.

Nothing, however, has made my father as proud as his role as the family swim instructor. In Iran, people learned to swim on their own, if they learned at all. My mother, like most women of her generation, never learned to swim. Neither did four of her five sisters, or her brother. This was the norm. My father, always the progressive man, decided that every one of his children and his nieces and nephews would learn to swim. Abadan, having been built by the British, contained many luxuries not readily found in other areas, including a clubhouse with a large pool. Every summer my relatives came from all over Iran to stay with us, and, sure enough, it was always some child’s turn to learn to swim. Like a game-show host announcing the next contestant, my father would say, “This summer, it’s your turn, Mahmood!” My father had a perfect track record, a topic he loved to talk about. “I have a gift,” he’d always say. We had all resigned ourselves to having to listen over and over again to his description of the exact moment at which each niece and nephew learned to swim and the spellbinding tension leading up to it. “Mahmood said, ‘Uncle Kazem, I can’t do this,’ and I said, ‘Yes, you can,’ and he lifted his arm like this and I pushed him a little bit and he kicked like this and he started to swim like a fish, so I said, ‘Hey, you never told me you knew how to swim!’” He’d always end these riveting tales by telling us, “You should’ve been there!” We were all glad we hadn’t been. The stories were interesting the first fourteen times, but beyond that, they became the equivalent of the neighbor’s vacation slides showing the cathedrals of France from all angles. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t much anyone could do to put an end to these tales. Each new swimmer represented a victory, and talking about it made my father relive his moments of glory over and over again. The twinkle in his eye, the excitement in his voice, the pride in his face all made it clear that my father would never stop retelling his stories.

History, however, has shown us that even the greatest of generals must eventually face defeat in battle, and thus was carved my destiny. I was my father’s Waterloo.

My father, an engineer, had an entirely logical approach to teaching his students to swim. In a methodical manner, he would explain all the necessary ingredients in swimming. “Your head goes like this, thus creating buoyancy; your feet go like this, thus propelling you forward; your arms go like this to steer you. You put it all together and you’ve got it!” Hearing him explain it made swimming seem as easy as baking a Betty Crocker cake from a mix. You just add water and there you go.

The cerebral approach worked on all of my father’s swimming students, most of whom, not coincidentally, grew up to be engineers. I, however, needed something else. I’ve never been interested in why exactly an airplane can fly; I want to know if the pilot has had enough sleep. In learning to swim, I just wanted to know that I wasn’t going to die. My father, however, never quite understood the role of anxiety in my fruitless swimming lessons. He eventually decided that perhaps if he yelled or hurled insults, I might learn more quickly. “You’re like a rock! You’re hopeless! What’s wrong with you?” This method may work wonders in the army, but it didn’t work with me. I now had two hurdles to overcome, fear of water and fear of being in the water with my father.

After a couple summers’ worth of lessons, I had managed, by age six, to learn nothing, setting an all-time failure record for my father. In hindsight, I believe my ability to dodge all learning opportunities did reveal a certain inner strength, a persistent refusal to be like the others. But the British never appreciated Gandhi’s persistence, and my family didn’t appreciate mine.

My father eventually decided that we didn’t actually have to be in a pool for him to get angry with me for not knowing how to swim. He started to have a somewhat Pavlovian reaction toward me. If anybody used the word “swim,” my father would glare at me with a combination of shame and anger, a look that said, “I wish I had kept the receipt.” To save face, he had come up with a theory of why I couldn’t swim. “She’s built like a rock,” he’d always say. “She just sinks.” This wasn’t entirely true. I had never actually let go of my father in the pool, preferring instead to cling to him like a koala on a eucalyptus branch during an earthquake. His determination to peel me off himself matched, but did not exceed, my determination to hold on to him.

Sadly enough, my father stopped talking altogether about his glorious swimming lessons. He knew that no impressive tale could match his one big failure, moi. He finally announced to the world, which for us consisted of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, that some people are incapable of swimming. “Firoozeh is one of them,” he concluded.

When I was eight years old, we went to Switzerland to visit my aunt Parvine, my mother’s sister. Aunt Parvine has always been considered something of a deity in our family because she managed, despite being an Iranian woman of her generation, to become a doctor and to set up a successful practice in Geneva. The woman overcame so many hurdles to reach her dream that she deserves to have her likeness carved in marble. The fact that she actually lives in Switzerland further adds to her allure. Iranians have always considered Switzerland the apogee of civilization: a small, clean country where bus drivers don’t have to check for tickets since everyone is so genetically honest. Besides, Switzerland has never particularly welcomed Iranians, thus accruing the magnetism that comes only with repeated rejection.

Aunt Parvine told my father that she was going to teach me how to swim. My parents decided to leave me with her one afternoon while she worked her medical magic. It didn’t occur to them that perhaps they should stay and watch the swimming lesson. My aunt took me to the deep end of the pool and there, this highly educated woman, whom I had grown up worshiping from afar, let go of me. I sank. Perhaps because of her medical training, or perhaps because she couldn’t face the prospect of having to explain to my parents that she had killed their child, Parvine eventually decided to intervene. Moments before I got to see the tunnel with the light at the end and the angels beckoning me to join them, she lifted me out of the water.

My aunt dragged me out of the pool and, doing her best imitation of General Patton in a bad mood, announced that I was hopeless. When my parents joined us, she announced, “Firoozeh is a rock.”

News of my European failure soon reached the rest of my relatives, thus cementing my reputation as The One Incapable of Swimming. Oddly enough, no one questioned my aunt’s method of instruction; she was, after all, a doctor in Switzerland.

My near-drowning experience brought with it an unexpected ray of hope, like a wildflower blooming in a battlefield: my family was now completely resigned to my inability to swim. My father no longer insulted me; instead, he treated me with pity, since he now assumed that I was missing the chromosome necessary for buoyancy. His pity often led to trips to the toy store, thus proving that I was far smarter than my cousins. I managed to acquire eight new tea sets, while my cousins had merely learned to swim.

Most fruits, if left alone on a tree, eventually do ripen, especially if they’re not being yelled at. It was thus that I, at the age of ten, decided that I was finally ready to learn to swim. There was, however, one proviso: I wanted to learn to swim in the sea by myself. I proudly made this announcement to my father, who, once he stopped laughing, said: “You never learned to swim in the pool, so now you want to go drown in the ocean?”

That summer, we headed for our annual weeklong vacation by the Caspian Sea. Because of work commitments, my father was unable to join us. My two brothers, my mother, and my aunt Sedigeh and uncle Abdullah and their four sons, who knew how to swim courtesy of my father, headed north to the Caspian. Once we arrived, I went straight to the beach. I took a few steps into the water, where a gentle wave lifted me and I started to swim. Simple as that.

When we returned to Abadan, I proudly told my father the news. He did not believe me. He and I headed straight for the pool, where he watched in disbelief. “You, Firoozeh,” he said, shaking his head, “are an odd child.” “No,” I said, “there was nobody yelling at me in the sea.”

Years later, when we moved to Newport Beach, I discovered that one of the greatest joys in life is jumping from a boat into the deep, blue Pacific ocean. That was before I discovered snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of the Bahamas with sea turtles and manta rays swimming around me. Later still, my husband introduced me to the cerulean waters of the Greek islands, where I spent hours swimming with the hot, Mediterranean sun burning on my back. But despite my dips in the many beautiful bodies of water in the world, I have never forgotten that first gentle wave in the Caspian Sea, the one that lifted me and assured me that, yes, the pilot has had enough sleep.

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