Nick, an Indian, believes in destiny. When he sees Shirley, an attractive blue-eyed American, at Pittsburgh airport, he is immediately infatuated. He feels as if the cosmos has pre-ordained this encounter and he must take the initiative. Sitting next to her on their flight to Nashville, they get to know each other. He tells her about his job in Tabriz, Iran and she tells him about her job at Vanderbilt University. When she offers to spend a few days with him in Tabriz, he readily accepts her offer, feeling that his karma is good.
Back in Tabriz, Nick arranges for Shirley’s visit despite warnings on the risks involved in a country embroiled in political turmoil.
When Shirley arrives in Tabriz, they spend a night together and Nick falls in love with her. Both are soulmates, driven by their professional ambitions and goals. Yet, at another level, Nick is sexually attracted to Shirley who gets turned on by his ardor. While Nick feels that there is more to their relationship than lust, Shirley is non-committal.
They meet over the years in different cities in Europe and the U.S.and the book describes the obsession of a man involved in an inter-cultural relationship.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Having lived through the 1979 revolution in Iran, I wanted to write a book to capture the memories of a world that got turned upside down overnight. I felt that a romantic story set against the backdrop of political turmoil was worth telling.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My main character is a composite of several American women that I met over the years. Having been a fan of Hollywood movies since my early years, I have had this fascination about American women and their behavioural patterns. The other characters are based on expatriates that I met during my years in Iran.
When we boarded the flight, I manoeuvred my way to sit one row behind the lady that had caught my eye. After a few minutes of mental tussle, I finally mustered the courage to make the first move.
‘Can you recommend an airport hotel in Nashville?’ I leaned over and touched her shoulder. She had been looking out of her window and jumped with a start.
She had turned around to look at me. ‘I cannot understand what you’re saying.’
The fear of rejection arose within me. ‘I asked about airport hotels in Nashville,’
Although it was a clumsy way of chatting up a female, I hoped she saw me as a tourist in dire need of help.
‘Why don’t you come and sit next to me?’ She patted the headrest of the seat next to her. I could not believe my luck, but the seat belt sign was switched on. Hesitating for a moment, I quickly undid my seat belt. Seeing that there were no stewardesses in sight, I ducked and moved to the row ahead to sit beside her.
‘Boarding completed.’ The stewardess’ crisp announcement meant that there were no more passengers coming on board. I was relieved that we would not be disturbed.
‘Hi, I’m Shirley,’ she said, holding out her hand. ‘I’m from Nashville.’
‘I’m Nick.’ We shook hands and I fastened my seat belt. Deep down, I was grateful for her spontaneous gesture. I had not thought that she would be the inviting type.
‘You don’t look like you’re from here.’ She had a questioning look. I answered that I was from India and made no comment.
‘I hope that you do not mind my company.’ I still could not believe my luck at being invited to sit next to her.
‘Not at all. You were asking something, but I didn’t get what you were saying.’ Up close, she looked even prettier with her large blue eyes and rosy cheeks. I repeated my question and she looked unsure.
‘There are a number of good hotels near the airport. However, I can’t recommend any particular one.’ She brushed a strand of hair behind her ear and I found her copper red hair attractive.
‘Why are you flying to Nashville?’ she asked.
‘I heard that the city is known as the music capital of the USA,’ I replied.
‘How wonderful. That’s true. Tell me more about why you’re visiting us.’ She giggled, her body shaking with excitement. She was apparently flattered that her home town was world renowned.
‘US Airways has this special offer for ten days unlimited travel on their network,’ I explained. ‘Nashville is the southernmost city served by the airline and I wanted to get my money’s worth for this pass.’
‘Where else have you been?’ She smiled, giving me a brief glimpse of her small even teeth.
‘After landing in New York, I flew to Baltimore and spent a day in Washington.’
‘Did you visit the Capitol?’
‘Yes. I took a one-day tour that included a cruise on the Potomac River. It was marvellous,’ I replied.
‘I’ve never done a river cruise,’ she sighed. I told her about the family from Seattle that I had met on the cruise. The husband worked for Boeing and they got a special discount on their flight to Washington.
‘Regular airline tickets are still quite expensive,’ she remarked.
‘I saw that you were also on the earlier flight from Baltimore to Pittsburgh?’ I was curious about the reason for her trip. ‘Were you there on business?’
‘I had gone to Washington on a mission.’
‘How did it go?’ She looked stunning, with the air of someone who could be a political lobbyist.
‘I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to Washington.’ She looked out of the window as if she did not want to talk about it.
‘I suppose that you’re truly a Nashville girl.’ The word ‘girl’ had slipped out my mouth, but she did not seem to take it amiss. Instead, she smiled.
‘You can say that.’ She nodded her head. ‘How long will you be staying in Nashville?’
‘Just today. Tomorrow I’ll be flying on my US Airways ticket to Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Providence.’
‘You have quite an itinerary,’ she exclaimed. ‘Do you always travel in such a rush?’
‘Well, I’m trying to pack in as much as possible within ten days,’ I explained. ‘The next time, I’ll probably spend more time in some places.’
‘Please do visit Nashville again.’ She gave me an imploring look and I melted.
‘Now that you asked me, I’ll. This time I have just one evening in Nashville. How should I spend it?’ I hoped that she would volunteer to show me around.
‘What would you like to do?’ She answered my question with her question.
‘I’d like to listen to some live country music.’
‘The best place would be Printer’s Alley. They have a couple of cocktail bars where you can have a drink and listen to live performers.’
‘That would be a good idea.’ I wondered if this was a good moment to invite her to join me.
‘How come you like country music?’ She changed the subject, seemingly curious why I, a foreigner, would like the local folk music.
‘During my student days in West Berlin I used to listen to the American Forces Network radio. Their morning broadcast would start very early in the morning with almost thirty minutes of country music.’
‘Is that how you became a fan?’
‘I used to look forward to the Saturday night radio broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry from Ryman auditorium.’
Shirley gave me an incredulous look. ‘You mean they actually had the Grand Ole Opry on radio in Germany?’
‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘Thanks to those shows I got to appreciate Chet Atkins’ guitar playing, the bluegrass music of Earl Scruggs and songs by Kitty Wells and Johnny Cash.’
‘Frankly, I don’t care much for country music,’ she said. ‘But I’d be happy to give you tips in case you have anything you might want to see during your short visit.’
‘Thank you,’ I said. ‘Would there be any museums or something of that sort?’
‘There is the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the tour includes a visit to the RCA Studio B,’ she suggested. She went on explain where these places were in relationship to the airport.
‘I would prefer an airport hotel since I’ll be taking an early morning flight out of Nashville to Philadelphia.’
‘They have courtesy telephones to hotels at the arrival hall and we should be able to book a room for you,’ she suggested.
‘How far is it from the airport to your place?’ I asked.
‘I live about ten miles away and will take a cab to my home.’
‘Are you married?’ I had been itching to pop this question ever since we started talking.
‘No. I got divorced a year ago and am living with my son.’
‘How old is your son?’ I was relieved to know that she was single.
‘Chris is six,’ she replied, smiling fondly at the thought. ‘He stays with my neighbour whenever I go out of town.’ I asked a few questions about her son’s schooling to be polite.
‘I drop him at school every morning before I go to work.’
‘Where do you work?’
‘I’m a research coordinator at Vanderbilt University.’
Before I could ask her any further questions, the stewardess came past with the drinks trolley. Shirley asked for a tomato juice, while I opted for a glass of Coca-Cola.
‘You were saying that you’re a research coordinator.’ I was curious about her job.
‘I’m on Professor Larry Murray’s team at the Sociology Department.’ She paused to take a sip of her tomato juice.
‘What does a research coordinator do?’ I was surprised that somebody who looked like a glamourous model was working in the academic world.
‘I’m coordinating the activities of six undergraduates participating in Larry’s research project.’
‘What sort of research is your team doing?’
‘We’re evaluating the progress made by black school children being bused from inner city schools to all white schools in the suburbs.’
‘It sounds like a worthy project,’ I commented.
‘The team is soliciting white parents to sponsor black children being bused to their children’s schools.’
‘How is it working?’
‘We’re not finding many parent-volunteers.’ She made a wry face.
‘The busing project isn’t working out. Many white parents have pulled their children out of the public schools and enrolled them in the private schools that have sprung up almost overnight in Nashville. Other white parents have moved outside of the city limits so as not to be part of the busing plan.’ She stopped to collect her breath.
I decided to be provocative. ‘It looks as if racism is slowing down integration in schools.’
‘Not all whites are racists.’ She looked indignant. ‘Many parents are opposed to busing because they believe it destroys neighbourhood schools.’
‘Where do you stand on this issue?’
‘I wish there was more progress, but there are broader social issues involved.’ Her voice trailed off as if she did not want to elaborate on the subject.
‘You haven’t answered my question,’ I persisted.
‘Our research is showing that busing is not the ideal solution for integrating schools.’
‘When will you release your report?’
‘Larry sent me to Washington to present our preliminary findings to our sponsors, the Rand Corporation.’
‘How did it go?’ I could see that Larry had selected the right person to lobby for his cause with the Rand Corporation.
‘I’m afraid not too good.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘They weren’t too happy with our findings and will now let us know if they’ll provide funding for the next year.’ She looked regretful.
‘What happens if the funding doesn’t come through?’
‘Larry will have to shut down this project and I may have to look for another job.’
‘Does this happen often?’
‘This is the problem in academic research. Half the time is spent in getting funding and just the other half in doing the project.’ She sounded exasperated.
‘By the way, how about telling me something about yourself.’ She turned to me after taking another sip of her juice. ‘Where are you from?’
‘I’m from India and presently working in Iran as a consultant to a state-owned machine-tool company,’ I replied.
‘How long have you been there?’
‘I’ve been there for almost two years and will probably work for another year.’
‘Do you like it there?’
‘I live in Tabriz, in an apartment provided by the company, and like my life there.’ I told her about the eleven-storey building on the outskirts of the city where most foreigners working for state-owned manufacturing companies were lodged.
‘Have you travelled outside the United States?’ I asked.
‘No,’ she admitted.
‘You should see Tabriz,’ I suggested. ‘It is really something different.’ I described this city, located at a height of four thousand feet, near the Russian and Turkish borders.
‘I might go to London in the fall if Larry takes me for a conference on child education. If you send me an air ticket, I’m willing to spend a few days with you in Tabriz,’ she said, looking out of the window. For a moment, I was taken aback. It was so unexpected.
‘We can work something out,’ I replied, excited beyond belief. We had just met, hardly knew each other, yet this attractive woman was already willing to visit me. I instantly saw her as an adventurous person, ready to give anything a try.
‘Let me have your contact details,’ I said, taking out my small notebook from my pocket.
‘My family name is Lawson.’ She spelled out the letters.
‘5500 Country Drive,’ she said and then gave me the ZIP code.
‘Do you have a telephone number?’ I was surprised when she gave it to me without hesitation.
‘You can give me a call if you want company for the evening. Maybe I’ll be able to join you.’
For the rest of the flight, we talked about the various flight options from London to Tabriz via Teheran. I could hardly believe my good luck. Apparently, Cupid was favouring me today. It was now up to me to take the next step in linking up with this very desirable woman from Nashville. Having just made her acquaintance, she was already available to go on a date with me. It was my belief that that this was not just a random encounter but one preordained in my destiny? Had I met my soulmate?
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