The Great Escape

By Bilha Fish

The last time I saw my mother was 4 years ago when we parted at the Tehran airport in Iran. She was on her way to the USA.


I was 9 when she promised it wouldn’t be long before we would be reunited.


That memorable afternoon, which I named “The Great Escape,” felt like a scene from a James Bond movie. My mom and I used to watch in hiding in the small room that was the only place we could find peace. A place where she sang and danced without her burqa, a place I could freely read books that other kids in the world were allowed to enjoy. This was a place where we peeked into the “forbidden” world, a place where we could dream to be a part of one day.


On the way to the airport I felt like a hero. My mission to protect my mother from my father’s abuse was coming to a happy ending.


Now I’m 12, reflecting on those moments before her departure, and I remember that the joy of saving her life was mixed with sadness and anxiety for our unknown future of separation. I remember thinking: Would she be safe without me?


And I remember her looking straight into my eyes, squeezing my hand and saying: “Courage, my son. Remember to study hard. Knowledge is the answer to success. This is the road we both will be taking, that is where we will find the answers to all of our questions. Knowledge leads to freedom!”


I remember the stuffy and noisy airport lobby, gray and crowded with people pulling used suitcases, some held together with rope. Bearded men followed by their wives wearing the traditional Hijab and holding their screaming children. It looked like a sea of black mummies forming a line to the checkout counter.


My mom was waiting among them, her head always turned back toward me. Short, like most kids my age, I stood on my toes so I wouldn’t lose sight of her. I’ll never forget the last moment, when her big, brown shiny eyes met mine.


I headed toward the car, my face wet from a mixture of tears and sweat, ready for the questions awaiting me at home.


In the last 4 years I have followed my mother’s website, learning that she managed to graduate with honors from an Ivy League university in America and is on her way to a Ph.D. in no less of a prestigious institution.


Many women around the world are encouraged by her example to follow their dreams. She is persevering in her mission to modernize the education system and ensure gender equality in the Middle East.


Our roles changed — she has become my hero.


We have both became known in our respective embassies as we try to get a legal permit/visa for me to reunite with her in the USA. She even wrote a letter to the current American president, to no avail.


And so I pass the nights keeping hold of the memory of her warm smile and her tall graceful image. I fall asleep holding a piece of her jet-black hair she cut for me the night before she left.