Soon we reached the yawning juncture in north Tehran known as the Parkway intersection. While stopped at a red light, the driver called down to a taxi beside us and asked if the cabbie could take me home. The driver nodded, and I grabbed my bag and jumped out. "Are you ill, ma’am?" he asked, staring at me in his rearview mirror.
"No," I said, "I’ve just been released from prison!" He looked startled. "I’m not a thief or a criminal," I said. "I was a political prisoner."
My First Day Out
He studied my face closely, then exclaimed, "Hey! Aren’t you Mrs. Ebadi?" When I said yes, he smiled brightly and congratulated me on being freed. After a polite two-minute wait, he launched into his own tale of woe. He had a master’s degree in engineering and supplemented his tiny income by renting a friend’s cab in the afternoon. He lamented the corruption and bribery, inflation and joblessness. After a while, he stopped checking to see if I was listening. He seemed even sadder than I was. I was eager to get home, but I could not resist stopping at one of the white kiosks along the way for newspapers, the daily ritual I had missed the most in prison. I surveyed the stacks — laid out on the sidewalk like a quilt, there were so many — with greedy eyes. I bought seven or eight, rolled them together, and pressed them tightly against my chest. As the taxi began the slow descent down my sloped street, I could see my relatives gathered outside the house, with a lamb ready for sacrifice. The driver rushed around to open my door and refused to take any money from me.
As I walked through the door, my daughters hurled themselves into my arms, squeezing me tight for a long minute. That night, we stayed up late, drinking round after round of tea. My husband placed before me a great stack of newspapers, all those printed during my time in prison, and I began rifling through them as the conversation buzzed around me. My daughters sat beside me, breathless from filling me in on all that had transpired while I had been gone. They were used to consulting with me on everything, from homework to friends to which way they should part their hair, and now they recounted all the decisions they had made in my absence.
They had also amassed messages from everyone who had called or faxed from around the world since the news of my imprisonment, and the bulk of the folder surprised me. My international reputation had grown slowly over many years, and it was not every day I had such a thick stack of messages to remind me just how far and wide it had spread.
Well past midnight, the relatives began leaving one by one, and a warm quiet descended on the living room where we sat. For years, I had made it a practice to keep the uglier side of my work out of the house. I never spoke much about my cases, for many of them involved defending victims of horrific violence, and I saw no reason why my daughters should be exposed to the painful details. Of course they overheard me giving interviews on the phone, and they knew my workdays were filled with trials and trips to prison to visit clients. But I felt it was important to draw boundaries around my work. Coming out of prison was just another, more challenging moment in a long-running effort to pretend I was a mom like all others. And the charges against me? They were ultimately overturned. The revolutionary court announced that since no one had officially been charged, the case was closed.
Excerpted from Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope (Random House), Copyright 2006 by Shirin Ebadi.
Originally published in MORE magazine, May 2006.