A Bottle of Milk

Sara Jafari

Article, Issue One

"Sara went to buy milk from the shop today," my Grandma later said both proud and weary.

           And it was a big deal; I had to beg my uncle to let me go. My mum gave me their address on a piece of paper and put it in my coat pocket. Three times my uncle got up to go himself, insisting that buying milk was no problem.

           "But I want to go," I pressed in my broken Farsi. "I'm so bored here, I've been stuck in this house for days!" I said in English to my mum.

           "I know, I'm sorry," she said, persuading them that I would be fine, that I could call if I got lost walking the straight, three minute line to the local shop and back.

            Eventually, they let me go. This is what triumph feels like. I pulled my long coat around me tightly, fixed my hijab so that a little bit of hair showed but not too much. I didn't want any attention but my round face did not suit the hijab.

           This is not the story of a seven-year-old. This is a story of a twenty three year old girl visiting Tehran where her relatives live.

           It isn't that women are forbidden to go outside alone, or that every family wants the girls to stay inside, but they fear that I will get lost and never find my way home, and/or that someone will kidnap me (which happened to my mum once).

            The walk to the shop was both liberating and uncomfortable (and hot). Being alone for the first time in days was much needed - something I took for granted living in London. I put my headphones in, stopping every so often for cars to pass me; the street my grandma's house is on doesn't have a pavement.

           A young boy stood by his house gave me a weird look as I passed. A look that read 'you do not belong', which is funny because I have also been given this look many times in England. Does my face somehow give away that I do not belong? It is strange because in Iran I felt I visually belonged; people here look like me and I look like them. They have similar eyes, usually crooked noses (nose jobs are common in Iran), and a general look not easy to describe but easy to detect. And, of course, they speak the language I grew up hearing my mum and dad argue in. This said, I felt strongly that I didn’t belong.

           Turning left onto the main road there were groups of boys, I could feel them looking at me, seemingly judging me for an unknown crime. I questioned my outfit choice. Underneath my just-above-ankle length coat, I wore a dress with black tights. Could they see my legs in the tights? Was it my fault they stared? Did they think badly of me because of it? I tried to look confident. I look like you so leave me alone.

           Both shopkeepers fell silent as I entered.

           "Salam," I said weakly. Did they even say hello to shopkeepers here? Maybe not because neither of them said hi back.

           I walked straight for the fridge, picked out the milk and handed it to the cashier. He said nothing. I said nothing. I gave him the notes my mum gave me.

           "You don't speak Farsi?" He asked.

           "A little, not a lot," I said with a nervous smile.

           He gave me my change and I left.

           How embarrassing. All I had said was hello and he guessed that my Farsi was weak/near nonexistent.

"How pretty," a man said, stopping his car by me, his head out of his window.

           I looked around, milk in hand. There was no one here but me. Seriously? With a hijab and my long ass coat, which left a lot to the imagination, I was being cat called? I rolled my eyes, muttered "fuck off" and walked on.  

           This happens in England. But I had imagined that in my grandma's religious area it would not. What exactly was pretty? My long black coat? Black hijab? He couldn't even see my face when he drove towards me, so it wasn't my face.

           Another driver in another car spoke at me. I didn't understand, but from his tone I knew it to be of similar intent to the first man.

           I blamed myself. Was the 4cm of ankle under 40 denier too risky? Was I asking for the comments? Why could I not just follow the rules and wear trousers under my coat in 38 degrees like all the other women? Was this happening because I was an outsider and dressed inappropriately, or are these men just perverts like the cat callers in England?

           I returned to my grandma's house deflated and defeated. I couldn't tell them what had happened, it was infuriating.

           A seven minute journey (it lasted two songs), and these men had treated me like meat. Why? Because I am a woman, I was walking alone.

           I did not get kidnapped, nor did I get lost, but my confidence was shattered. I had reverted to a child-like state: five years living alone in London made redundant in seven minutes. I didn't go to the shop alone again because it was clear that I didn't belong, that I couldn't blend in as I’d hoped. I didn't want to deal with the shame I was made to feel for having a vagina. Knowing how much persuading it took to be let out made the triumph bitter.

           All this for a bottle of milk.  

Syrup 2022