The General

I’ll always remember the day his jeep first pulled up to our boutique in Tehran. I was 20 years old. It was a military jeep and I remember it pulling up slowly and I could see a very large man in uniform in the front seat. There was a cinematic quality to the moment as the jeep’s door opened, and I watched the man’s heavy boots hit the ground, the sun reflecting off polished leather.

He was big and burly and he stood there a moment in front of his jeep. Everyone saw him. Passersby would pause and move slowly and cautiously as he stood there—tall and erect and very proud looking. I was impressed.

He greeted me briefly, and I watched him as he walked methodically around the boutique, his hands behind his back as he studied the merchandise on display. He was looking for a diamond pendant, he said, or maybe earrings. I showed him a few pieces and he’d quietly nod or ask a question. It occurred to me he’d never purchased jewelry before.

The man inquired after several other pieces and when I told him the price, he would again quietly nod his head and continue eyeing the jewelry. He eventually thanked me and said he’d think about it. Then he left.

About two weeks later, that same jeep pulled up to our boutique, and as before, the man emerged from the vehicle and walked slowly and proudly toward our shop.

"I've been thinking about your selection," the man said to me. "I would like to see what you have that’s more affordable."

We began talking and he told me about himself. He was a Persian general. His wife was a schoolteacher. They didn’t have much, he said. They were struggling to live a simple life. But he loved his wife very much and they had been married many years.

Then the general told me his wife had seen the doctor. He trailed off as he told me this and stood there, staring beyond me at nothing in particular. She would lose her vision, the doctor said. She had just a few months before everything would go dark.

"She is my wife and I love her very much," he said again. "I want to buy her something beautiful while she can still see."

I was very moved by what he told me, overcome with trust and affection for the man. I could tell he was a good and honest man. He loved his country. We continued to talk and I began to feel very close to him.

Finally, I said to him: "General, I recommend this diamond pendant and earrings." I removed the pieces from the case to show him and I quoted a price. He admired the pieces a moment and turned them over slowly as he studied the detail. Then he told me very plainly he couldn't afford them. He said he couldn’t even pay me in a year.

I felt so bad. I said: "General, take it. Please. Take it and pay me any way you can."

He couldn't believe it. "How do you trust me?" he said. I eventually convinced him to take the jewelry.

Months went by before that jeep appeared again, and when it did, the general parked very quickly and he burst through the door to our boutique. There were tears in his eyes.

"A miracle has happened," he said. "My wife—she can see again. The doctor called it a miracle."

The general kissed my face. He had a look of pure happiness and you could hear it in his voice—everything about him. He was glowing. He put an envelope in my hand—the first payment—and he said to me: "You have a good hand." This is a Persian expression like a blessing, or a good omen maybe. He meant the jewelry I made was lucky.

"Since I gave my wife your jewelry," he said. "Everything has changed." He embraced me as he said it again: "Everything has changed."

* * *

Everything would change. I was living in America when revolution broke out in Iran, and as it progressed, I'd get news of the politics, the fighting, the executions.

I thought of the general often. I wondered what happened to him and his family. I hoped for another miracle. I hoped he was alive.

So when I thought of the general and where he might be, I'd try to remember him instead. I'd remember when he first came to my boutique, the pieces he bought for his wife, and how happy he was when his wife could see again. That was the last time I saw him, and I kept seeing that moment in my mind—the moment he hugged me with such joy and hope and said: "Everything has changed."

* * *

I was living in San Francisco when I received a phone call. I was working at the time, and I picked up the receiver and said hello and heard a voice immediately recognizable.

"General! Is that you? How are you—where are you? And the family?"

I was so happy to hear the general’s voice and he sounded just as I remembered: strong and warm. He said he was alive with his family in Washington DC, right here in America. I couldn’t believe it. They had managed to escape Iran on horseback through the mountains in Turkey—the general, his wife and their two sons who were just a few years old at the time.

"We are very lucky to be alive,” the general said. "But we have nothing. All we have in this world are the two pieces of jewelry you gave us. Should I send them to you?"

"Of course not,” I told him.

"We have no place to stay," he continued, his voice still strong, but now hurried. "I heard you’re living in San Francisco. Is that right? I heard you have a store there."

I told him it’s true.

"Will you hire me as your guard? You know I can do it. Please, it would mean everything."

I said: "General, please. You embarrass me."

I answered only by giving the general an address in New York. I told him to take the jewelry there. "You’ll get a good price," I said.

The New York address belonged to a close friend of mine. I called and told him the general’s story, and that he was coming with a diamond pendant that I'd made and sold to him many years ago in Tehran. I told this friend in New York to pay the general even more than the value of the diamond. I'll take care of the difference, I said.

A few days later, the general called and he was very happy. He couldn't believe how much he made from the jewelry he sold to my friend in New York. I'll never forget the sound of his voice that day—it was the voice I remembered hearing when his wife could see again.

He called again weeks later and told me he'd used the money to buy a stationary store. The store was attached to a school and he and his wife and their sons were running the store together, as a family.

I'd call the general from time to time to see how he's doing. But he'd never call; he'd only write. He wrote awhile later that his wife had been in school and was getting ready to teach again. His sons were just starting school. They had a completely new life here in America.

He continued to write me over the years, and every letter would make me cry. His letters were full of emotion, like a poem. He'd give me so much credit and so much love. It would fill me with such hope and happiness to read just the little details of his life: the weather, their neighbors, or his sons' first day in school.

The letters would arrive periodically for many years until they stopped. Some time had passed and then one day, another letter arrived with the same address and stationary. But this letter was not from him; it was from his wife.

It was ten years ago this year when the general passed away. I still wait for another letter in the mail and every day, I see that letter hasn't come.

I haven't heard from the family since. I often think about them and where they are now. Not long ago I searched on the Internet for the sons and I discovered they live back east. Both work in tech and both seem to be doing very well. I'm pleased to know that, and I know their father—the general I knew—would be proud.

I still have those letters the general sent me all those years ago, and from time to time, I take them out and read them again. My dear Shapur, he'd always say. Until next time, with love, your general.

The Return

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