The Works of KJ Hannah Greenberg
KJ Hannah Greenberg gets high on adverbs, mixes more metaphors than a platypus has pockets, plus giggles so much as to not actually be indomitable. What’s more, she runs with a prickle of sometimes rabid (imaginary) hedgehogs, and attempts to matchmake words like “balderdash” and “xylophone.” Hannah's newest books are The Immediacy of Emotional Kerfuffles, 2nd ed. (Bards and Sages Publishing, 2015), and Dancing with Hedgehogs, (Fowlpox Press, 2014).
All Fiction © KJ Hannah Greenberg
It was not so much that Raahil acted as a criminal as it was that he acted as an artist. Along with his best friend Haarisa, he had made a music video of their gang. Those two youth, plus Maaz, along with the girls Labiba, Qaabilah, and Dastiaar all had been involved in, and, subsequently implicated by, the event.
Raahil, the son of financial corporation’s executive officer, had attended the University of Copenhagen. There, he had earned a baccalaureus in Media, Cognition and Communication, with an emphasis on Cognition, Culture, Interaction and Audiovisual Media.
Haarisa, his boyhood friend and the son of a wealthy carpet entrepreneur, had attended The Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology. He had failed to complete his diploma in Moving Image Media and had returned to Tehran because of some hushed up business involving a student from Lyone and a purportedly aborted pregnancy.
Maaz, formerly from Mashhad, and the son of Haarisa’s uncle, the one that co-owned the family business with Haarisa’s dad, attended The University of Tehran. Maaz was a second year Public Law student.
Labiba’s father, too, was involved in the family’s sale of carpets. He and another of Maaz and Raahil’s uncles were regional directors. Socially muted by his lack of male progeny, he had insisted that his oldest daughter take advantage of SAMPAD middle and high schools programs and of all other female-dedicated National Organization for the Development of Exceptional Talents programs for which she was eligible.
Under his direction, but without the knowledge or consent of Labiba’s mother, he had enrolled Labiba in The University of Tehran’s women’s performing arts track to train her to be a news anchor. Accordingly, during a third cousin’s wedding held in the family’s compound, his darling daughter, who had witnessed Haarisa texting feedback on music video concepts to Raahil, had acted on her observation.
It was Labiba’s precocious younger sister, Qaabilah, though, who had drawn Labiba’s attention to the break in the partition between the men’s and the women’s sides of the festivities hall. Qaabilah, who was a first year student at Tehran University of Medical Sciences, was learning anatomy and biochemistry because her father wanted his second daughter to become a podiatrist.
Left to her own choices, Qaabilah would have worked to maintain her status as a makeup artist. She had already made a large personal “fortune,” i.e. enough to send her male cousins, who necessarily took a cut of the cash before making any purchases, on campaigns for sodas and sweets. She had become prosperous, relatively speaking, by bringing her toolbox and by applying its contents, whenever she “visited” high school friends and other lady acquaintances.
Dastiaar’s attachment to the project, though, was more significant. For all of her humble origins and her uninformed conversational volleys, it had been Dastiaar whom, initially, had gotten the girls involved, and whom later brought them and the boys to ruin.
Dasitaar was the fifth daughter of a high steel toolpusher. She worked as a junior chambermaid in the women’s quarters of Labiba and Qaabilah’s home. Dasitaar’s father would have sent her away from the city had he known that his child was clandestinely taking courses in Applied Arts at Shahed University.
That father, a man who spent his life focusing on tightening oil rig bolts and who identified with the working-class, i.e. “kargar,” elements of Iranian culture, preferred traditions to social climbing. His highest aspiration for his female children was that they find courteous husbands possessed of two or fewer other wives. He instructed his girls’ mothers to teach his daughters all manners of culinary skills, and kindred domestic arts. Additionally, he bid them to hire out his daughters to well-to-do families so that they might prepare for married life by learning compliance and so that they might afford him a more expensive brand of tobacco plus nicer rice and fish.
Originally, before Labiba’s eyes had wandered to Haarisa’s screen, there had been no plan to make a music video. Raahil had meant not to create a YouTube sensation, but to document, on film, how his maternal grandfather, an exporter of nuts and dried fruit, had had his wealth confiscated during the revolution. Not until the young graduate traveled to Kerman, to interview his grandfather’s lone surviving field hand, had he had his video epiphany.
On a southbound train, he had listened to his smart phone’s international playlist, congratulating himself for having thought of porting the tunes, which he stored on his PC, to the cloud. In fact, the app he had used to make songs accessible had been free.
Raahil revisited a melody that had been a foreign hit. Intrigued, he pressed his device’s replay button over and over again, imagining, all the while, how a lively ragh could be set to that tune. True, that melody was no shisho hasht, yet it was wonderful music, and music as all Persians know, is as intrinsic a need as are water and air.
Pushing a few more buttons, Raahil called up the Internet. Some European news feed claimed that the song, which had caught his attention, had also caught the attention of young people worldwide. In Europe and in Asia, as well as other parts of the globe, youths were fashioning videos, which featured their hometowns as backdrops, and then were releasing “their” versions of the tune to social media. Those works, in turn, gave authentic glimpses into many cultures. There were not, as yet, any Persian offerings.
Raahil grunted. Persian culture was old and was magnificent. It was the Persians whom had first cultivated peaches and tulips. It was the Persians whom had created prototypes of garments still worn on the Indian subcontinent. It was the Persians whom had assembled the world’s most intricate marquetry and most exquisite enamel engravings.
Someone ought to immediately post a Persian video of the internationally popular melody. That someone ought to spring from the younger generation since it remains young ones’ obligation to electronically etch images onto riffs. That someone ought to be Iranian, too, since foreigners were likely to treat Persian culture perjoratively.
At the outset, Raahil had intended to film just Haarisa and Maaz. Haarisa was iffy on the project; he had already lost standing in his family.
Maaz, on the other hand, was enthusiastic. His personal agenda, enforced by years of secretly viewing North American TV, was to find ways to help local individuals and collectives use social media as their mouthpiece for social rants. He figured his law degree and his family’s network would shield him from most bad outcomes.
As per the involvement of Labiba, Qaabilah, and Dastiaar, it had been Dastiaar, whom, after chugging thee shots of Arak in the company of the sisters for whom she worked, suggested not only that the women participate, but also that they allow themselves to be videographed without their veils. Although initially disgusted by the idea of such lasciviousness, Labiba and Qaabilah were also intrigued; once they were married they would have even less freedom than they currently suffered under their father.
Raahil’s nightmares began the moment that those girls petitioned him to join his project. No amount of warm milk, of temperate rose water, or of chilled Hennessy mixed with caffeine-free vanilla Coke eased him to sleep. Even engaging in double sessions with his personal trainer proved to be of no avail. His muscles ached all day, but his eyelids stayed far apart at bedtime.
He did not want to be subjected to police raiding his home, to capture, to jail time, to being paraded in the streets and then to being made to publically confess “remorse.” Ignorant that he, himself, was planning a music video, his college friends had sent him disturbing tweets about young Iranian artists, whose YouTube channel had showcased unveiled women some months earlier. Those young Iranians had not only been jailed, but had also been abused.
Raahil had likewise heard his family’s servants whisper about the incarcerated artists. Allegedly, those performers had not been permitted to use toilet facilities, and had been separated into solitary confinement cells. Later, when they were found guilty of “corrupt film production,” i.e. of using a musical meme derived from the shores of the devil’s people, and of “offended public morals in cyberspace,” two of them had been hung.
Therefore, had Labiba not somehow obtained a condemning document from Haarisa’s former lover, he would not have included the women in his production. Yet that cousin of Haarisa and Maaz had learned media sleuthing. Her professors had insisted. Raahil was not sure where Labiba had studied blackmail.
In exchange for Raahil granting Labiba, her sister, and her sister’s best friend a role in his video, Labiba would purge her harddrive of the damaging text. Raahil hoped that, as they passed through life’s stages together, Haarisa would appreciate his sacrifice.
That indebtedness never blossomed. When they were on the run to the Turkish border, Haarisa told Raahil that Labiba had removed the condemning evidence from her personal computer as promised, but not from her smart phone. Haarisa’s ex-girlfriend had continued to electronically stalk and to try to extort large sums of money from him.
Meanwhile, ironically, at the time of filming, Raahil had insisted that his players take precautions. He had learned, from friends at Arts Mideast that various government agencies were using their own as well as were commandeering citizens’ records passersby. They ran those records through automated face detection and recognition systems. OpenCV, Facebook’s PhotoTagger, Google’s Picasa, VeriLook and eblearn are found on many privately held devices.
Hence, Raahil instructed his all of his actors to alter the contrast and spatial relationship of their essential facial features. They were to create two separate visual identities; one for the film and one for life beyond.
While Dastiaar was trying to teach the rest of the group about wardrobe asymmetry and about how to employ makeup that countershaded features, especially brows, nosebridges, and temples, Rahiil was exploring cold folding and signal blocking. He syphoned a bit of his allowance into cellphone monitoring and related spytech software. Often, he grumbled about the cost of Haarisa’s indiscretion.
Sometimes, though, when he played the tune to which he meant to capture his friends in dance, he’d smiled. Machines could be thwarted. If he could block the data coming from the apartment he had rented for the shoot, and if his actors would embrace his costuming specifications, their true identities would remain masked and their Persian superiority would be showcased on the Internet.
Except, the girls complained with increasing frequency and volume. They protested Raahil’s instruction to cut irregular edges into their bangs. Encouraged, the boys, similaly objected to painting their faces. They quoted religious sources as prohibited them from wearing women’s colorings. All of his actors raged at Raahil, literally screaming that it was ridiculous for them to mark themselves with tonal inversals to guarantee safety.
While dealing with those tantrums, Raahil also faced down the reality that he could not, no matter how many rials exchanged hands, get an accurate list of which products the government offices used to block spyware. He worried.
In the end, the young people acquiesced. Raahil had hammered them with reminders of the disassociation between those who led and those who executed justice. He reminded his actors how unbearable it would be for police to threaten their families and for them to have to rely on outsiders’ organizations such as the International Campaign for Human Rights.
Behind his back, Dastiaar gave him the finger. She had nothing better to do than to rub it up with rich girls. Maybe, after the video was released, she’d be able to flee to Europe. Until then, she helped the sisters alter their appearance and took it upon herself to make sure they remained in their hijabs when not filming.
Haarisa and Maaz, in balance, after the shoot, stopped coloring their faces and stopped wearing the weird European-style hats that had disguised their features. Face paint was emasculating. Head coverings ought to protect from wind, not look clownish. Haarisa was already in trouble with his kin and Maaz was preparing to clerk at a government office.
Additionally, Haarisa and Maaz expressed no remorse when Raahil’s video became a YouTube sensation, tying with a similar posting made by youth in Singapore, for the third most viewed version of the song. When police appeared at their family’s estate, they said no words of regret. They were sport enough, nonetheless, to text Raahil a warning.
Within hours of reapplying concealer to his chin and dark powder to his forehead, Rahill was arrested. All of his remonstrations about honoring Iran in the international arts forum played as nothing in the ears of the clerics deciding his fate. Equally, his claim about making the semifinal round for funding from the Delfina Foundation Fellowship and his assertion that such a stipend would empower him to document the ruling regime’s glory, was as dust in his persecutors’ eyes. They spat at him that he had strayed and that he had caused other innocents to stray. No present or future creative endeavor could be sufficiently meritorious to warrant his release or to clear his name.
Raahil’s father applied bribes. He used the funds that he had saved for Raahil’s wedding and made payments, through a third party, to select gaolers.
Upon their release, he sent Raahil and Maaz directly to Urmia, where they were put in the custody of drug smugglers. On horseback, the transporters and the cousins made their way into Turkey. It is rumored that the cousins were forced to go without food and to serve as drug mules. Currently, nothing definitive is known about those youths’ whereabouts.
Even so, their fathers have been recorded as traveling more frequently to Europe. It’s been rumored that Haarisa’s ex-girlfriend, for a sum in the six digits, helped the boys enter France under France’s Right of Asylum. It’s also hearsay that those youth had traveled with the drug dealers to Algiers and that Raahil’s Copenhagen connections came to their aid. No one who knows is telling.
Conversely, Haarisa was left in jail. His family felt that he would bring them no further shame if left there. Supposedly, he’s now missing a few fingers and most of his toes.
Labiba and Qaabilah were quietly, but quickly, married off to middle-aged business associates of their father. Both girls’ husbands resided far from Tehran and were possessed of multiple, older wives. Those other women, in turn, delighted in imposing injunctions on their newest cohorts.
As for Dastiaar, who was last seen at Qaabilah’s wedding, it is rumored that somehow she managed to immigrate to Toronto. At the time of her escape, her father was permanently laid off. Later, when the authorities came to imprison him, it is said that he shouted at the gathered onlookers not to fear man or machine.