Tyler was last with a man three weeks ago. She has forgotten his name, but when she passes someone on the sidewalk who is smoking, she is reminded of him, his hands, what he wanted from her. She can see him with someone else, a woman, someone who wears a coat, someone who ties his tie for him and picks his shoes. This woman is blank but for what she wears - she is an accompaniment to him, a type of clothing herself. Tyler dreams of this woman all the time. But she has forgotten the man.
Majid Sardar is the name of a real man in prison in Iran. He moved to Canada from Indonesia because he had a job offer from a university for a tenure-track teaching position. Majid teaches avionics and once dreamed of being an astronaut, but it was a strange dream for a man so tall and prone to hypertension.
Tyler is reading about Majid on the computer. Above her head is a banner containing his full name, and a photo of him from a vacation in Hawaii. He is wearing a hat, and he has a light beard, but nothing hides his smile. Tyler is typing about this man, a letter that she has written a hundred times before on behalf of both Majid and the people that came before him. They are a line, she tells herself, assembled before a gate that no one is willing to open. Tyler knows the feeling of the bars that form that gate: they are cold and heavy, and they are rusting in a rain that never stops.
Majid fell in love with another professor, but the affair did not last long. She was married, and when the marriage ended, she did not turn to Majid. He spent five years walking the halls with this woman, and Tyler often wonders what it must have been like to be so in the presence of a former lover. The woman is still there, teaching, and perhaps she in turn wonders what has become of Majid, if he would still be a free man if she had kept her promises to him.
In 2007, Majid was arrested for possession of marijuana. It is the only blemish on his record, the only incident that speaks of Majid's failings. But that does not mean Majid is innocent.
It is a quiet office, Tyler thinks, as she opens a window to Toronto rain. This is the greyest fall, and like a rat Tyler goes underground to avoid the wetness. It is in the tunnels of the city that she feels the closest to people, those that bump against her on the train or walk the subterranean shopping malls. She is dispirited by the rain, but the office is fine. The space is fit for one person and a phone, and a chair for a guest that has constantly failed to materialize. She would like company, she thinks. But the work has to continue, for it, like Toronto rain, pelts hard and drives her underground every time she tries to lift her head or attempts to convince herself that the blue of sky is not a made-up colour. They are all made up, these colours - the dark ones, the bright, those in-between that rattle at the corner of her eye, seeking her attention much like that parade of lovers she has rejected by default.
Majid did his first sabbatical at a university in Australia. There is a photograph from that time that reminds Tyler of the path this man has taken from Toronto to Iran. It was during the year in Australia that Majid's father died, and he had to go to Indonesia to bury him. He inherited money, more than his brothers. Perhaps he could have prevented their alienation from him by correcting his father's favoritism. Majid's brothers are not university professors. They do not have tenure and a good salary, all those things that make fathers proud. Majid could have fixed it, but there is something in the photo that says this was not part of his thinking. And yet this does not mean that Majid is guilty.
In 2009, Majid was back in Toronto and dating a woman who would become his wife. They were four months pregnant when Majid received a letter from the University of Tehran requesting that he present a guest lecture as part of an international panel sponsored by the government. Tyler has photos of Majid from that time, too. His wife Julie gave them to her, wrapped in a rubber band. They show a Majid who was in a perfect moment of existence, the type of moment by which entire human lives are memorialized - he had a career and a wife, money, a child on the way. Tyler has seen that child - Jilan is his name, and he too has photographs of his father. They look at them together sometimes.
Majid agreed to the lecture. He boarded a plane for Iran on December 5th, 2011. There is a record of his entry into that country. There is a call from a cell phone to his wife establishing that he arrived safely.
The coffee is overcome by milk this morning, thinks Tyler, as she listens to lightning. She expects the power to cut out, even though the storm is not that bad. A couple of years ago, Toronto was hit by a freak storm that flooded portions of the city and cut power for eight hours. She went home early that day and worked in her garage amidst the smell of paint and the sound of rain on the metal roof. Tyler found herself in the garage the next morning, her head on the desk. She read what she had written the night before, about a stranger that she was never going to meet, a woman who had been removed from the confines of her perfect life and deposited into a purgatory that humans sometimes make. In Iran, Tyler discovered, it hardly ever rains. There are no floods there.
Majid fell into an abyss of mud, about the size of a hatchback. Tyler has seen photographs of the place, its cots made of leather that have deteriorated to foam, its windows blocked up by silt. The Canadian government sent a letter, so polite, so Canadian, asking that the Iranian government release the unfortunate soul that had inadvertently stepped into a predicament certainly not of his making - while hardly knowing if Majid was guilty or innocent, if he was tall or short, if he beat women or pretended to advocate for their rights. But the Iranians insisted that Majid had betrayed them, Majid who had grown up in Indonesia and spent time in Australia, Majid who had married a white woman and made a son with her.
Majid is still there, thinks Tyler. He is in a cell. He is far away from his child, the one that he has never seen. There are no photographs in Majid's cell. Tyler has never been there, but she knows this to be so.
Toronto rain, Tyler believes, is the progenitor of Canadian snow. It is the same stuff, just a different colour, as though colour matters and is more than just a perception. It is that man, the one who left her or that she left, the one that is walking the streets to this day, unaware of where she is and what she does with her life. The improbabilities circle, the rarest of chances that bring some lives to pain and others to sacrifice. It is the crack of lightning, the failure of electricity. It is the ringing of the phone.
It hardly ever rings. Tyler is carried on the sound, to a place on the other side of the line. It is a faraway place, with white chairs and a ceiling fan, black filing cabinets and a man smoking as he watches another handle the phone. This is what Iran looks like, so hot and bastardized with revolution. It is exactly like that man she let go, she thinks, the one she gave to the rain. They will speak broken English to her on purpose, as they explain the nature of imprisonment and freedom, and ask what kind of cell she finds herself in, what confines encircle a Canadian woman in 2015. She will tell them. She will tell them what they wish to hear, as she stares at photographs of Majid when he was in the sun, and the light said that he once knew a perfect moment, a preeminent feeling that, if Tyler could take it from him, is the only payment she would ever want for all that she has given to a man she will never know.
(photo credit: Violet Lark Chin-Douma)