Esfand |
by Vida Day

Bliss is ignorance and I am not ignorant. My life is hard to explain, but I feel it needs an explanation. I was not one of those wanted children. I was no happy accident, either. I was simply the miserable mistake of two miserable young people who took one look at me and said, "Okay, world. We have finally learned our lesson," and walked away from, not only me, but each other as well -- to start life over the right way -- the way all of us young people would like to.
And while those two people went on to continue their lives, I was left to start mine.
I cannot say I did it right, or that I did it at all, but here I am, looking the world in the eye, throwing up my arms and saying, "Okay, world. I'll play it your way." I cannot say I still do not dream of perfection, brood over what would have been better, or regret my losses, but outwardly, I accept the hand I was dealt.
People say that you come kicking and screaming into this world. I was told that I was alarmingly quiet for more than the first half of my life so far. No matter what womb I was being torn from, threshold I was being shoved through, or right of passage I was receiving, I did it without complaint. I think somewhere, deep down inside, I knew that something was wrong with my life--would always be wrong--but that there was nothing I could do to change it. Then subconsciously I decided to subside into a life of quiet desperation. Likewise, my pain has always been my secret. People in the outside world have never known what was going on in my life, my home, my heart, or my mind until now.
I used to think I was an angry, vengeful, resentful, and bitter human being. But I figured out that I am not. In reality, I see the beauty this world has to offer and I am saddened by the fact that there is beauty here I found but will never really know. I used to think I was suicidal, but I figured out that I simply wish I could start my life over and live a better one--one with less tears, less conflict, more peace, more love... I am sorry that I think humans are ultimately bad. Humans are all we are.
Us Persians have an old pre-Islamic tradition, linked to superstition and apotheca. What we do is we burn some Peganum Harmala (a type of seed, I believe--we call it 'esfand') and we let its smoke sift through the air. The smoke acts as a sort of incense in terms of its scent. Some people really like the scent while others say it makes them feel sick (I am somewhere in-between). The smoke itself is good for the sinuses; I read that it also has a calming effect on the mind. Traditionally, though, esfand is burned and the smoke is used to rid the household of "the evil eye," that old Middle Eastern superstitious belief I've never understood that is still alive and well today.
Here in a little townhouse in Bochum, Germany, my petite, beautiful, delicate-boned aunt with her long brown hair let down for bed, was burning esfand in the kitchen because Allah, rahman o rahim (God, forgiving and merciful) spared her son from being horribly injured earlier that day.
"Vida, I left some esfand to burn in the kitchen," she said, sticking her head into the living room to address me as I lay in my cot. "I am going to go to the bathroom for a minute; I'll be back." If you have ever burned esfand, or have smelled it before, you would know that it is definitely something you would like to be warned about because if the smell does not make you fall ill, it makes you think the house is burning down.
I breathed in deep, and as the room began to fill with that all-too-familiar smell that I have associated with both very good times and very bad times, my mind began to wander. I thought of my cousin--the one my aunt was burning the esfand for. I thought of how she held him in her arms as he slept, resting his small head on her even smaller shoulder. I thought about how calm and trusting he was in her arms and I wondered if I had ever been so calm and trusting in my own mother's arms. I then wondered if she had ever held me in such a way. No? Never? Not even the day I was born? I closed my eyes and saw the bleach-blonde flower; the young woman facing two unwanted daughters and her thirties. I could see how she would be angry and want to scream and run away from these two breathing examples of her own failure--and how she did--not before my father did, though.
Did they burn esfand then?


Vida Day is a freelance writer from Los Angeles, Ca. Her work has been featured in Eclipse, A Literary Journal.