I put my lips on hers, only not with the intent of kissing her but, instead, to breathe life, to share some of my own with her. I had never seen her like this before. There were times she had become paler than usual, but never like the shade of ashen blue that had now spread across her face. Sure, I’d heard her labored breathing before, but gasping violently as she did now, never. She’d been fine. She’d been walking next to me, chatting, living her life alongside mine, like always. And then suddenly, everything changed. Silently, as if in a single moment, she fell and darkness overcame her.
Today, the air was different. The sky seemed grayer than usual, almost foreboding. It felt like a colorless ceiling, low and dark, stretching above our heads, above this city. With each breath, I could sense a strange stinging in my nose, as if the air had become heavy. Today, even the billboards were difficult to see. At first, I assumed this was a “heavy mist” or “smog”, recalling phrases I’d heard as a child during the weather forecasts on the radio, though I’d never before felt any morning weather conditions as tangibly and intensely as I did today. But I knew it had to be close to noon, despite how badly the smog obscured the sun.
My mind was racing. I was aware that she had been diagnosed with a mild form of asthma. But I doubted that her condition alone could account for the attack she was having now. Only one thing was clear to me: she was in dire need of help. She needed air and she needed it now. It was the one thing that even money couldn’t obtain easily these days. I was reminded of an old neighborhood doctor and the efforts he had made during a time we had almost given up hope for my dying grandfather. The doctor had been able to extend my grandfather’s life by several months, and by doing so had forever secured his own place in our hearts.
I set myself to task. I was scared but knew my fear didn’t matter much. I wasn’t sure of what I needed to do but figured that this might be the best option. Granted, hailing a taxi on the side of the highway in the middle of an emergency wasn’t exactly a simple thing to do in this city. When a driver finally decided to slow down and pull over, it was apparent where his priorities lay as he began to negotiate a fare. A bit later, I’d find out that there is no exit for the MILAD Hospital on Chamran Highway. In fact, there isn’t even a pedestrian overpass that can conveniently lead hospital goers in that direction. Or even, for that matter, a paved road. So it is for these reasons, apparently, that on any given day, distressed people can be seen running across the highway and maneuvering their way down a steep, crumbling trail in the dirt bank that divides the highway from the hospital -- a path that is clearly unsafe for any normal person, let alone one who is ill.
The driver had turned the radio on. The broadcaster was reading the news, calling attention to the fact that schools in Tehran were closed today due to pollution-related reasons. Although I don’t really remember clearly . . . it could be that he was just announcing the extension of an existing closure. This kind of announcement was so standard and normal these days, that it faded from our minds as quickly as it had been uttered by the anchor, who droned on about other briefs and developments -- like the latest figures indicating that number of cars being added daily to streets in Iran has reached 1,400, or recent studies that show that an unprecedented record number of people have immigrated to Tehran in the past 10 years -- unremarkable news about which the same could easily be said.
* * *
When we arrived at the hospital, the nurse received us with such calm bordering on indifference that it was as if the patient was simply suffering from a common cold and that my alarm was completely unwarranted. As my eyes wandered to the corridor leading to the emergency room, I was surprised to see a number of patients who were obviously there for reasons very similar to our own and it dawned on me as to why the nurse had reacted in such a way. I let my hope rest on the capabilities of the oxygen they attached to my girlfriend, wondering if her life was really contained in that small tank. And, despite this burden, I tried to find some comfort.
Translated for TehranAvenue by Kianoush Naficy.