A Storyby James D. Houston
I have been trying to remember the name of this fellow I knew in college. I think it was Ferad. I have looked through the yearbook. His picture isn’t there. He didn’t belong to any clubs. He was an exchange student, a few years older than me. I will call him Ferad. He came from Iran but preferred his country’s older name. If you asked him where he lived he’d say, with pride, “I am a Jew from Persia.”
I once came upon him sitting alone in the sunlight, reading, on the steps outside our dormitory. In the moment before he noticed me behind him, I stood gazing at his cap, a small bowl of cloth held in place by coils of thick black hair that reached up around its edges. From above, you could see the pattern of intricate circles, some made of tiny squares, some made of triangles, rings of interwoven reds and blues and golds, all layered around a central wheel with eight spokes. Nowadays I would recognize its mandala pattern. Back then it held me for reasons I couldn’t fathom. The yarmulke had once belonged to his father, a devout man who lived in the city of Shiraz. His cap had the same beguiling design you see in Persian rugs.
The college was a small, private Christian school on the outskirts of Los Angeles, and I have often wondered what Ferad was doing there, having to contend with people like me, or the way I was in those days. They had a generous budget for foreign students. For a bright fellow like Ferad I suppose it meant a tuition stipend along with a chance to taste a bit of the wider world. I see now that he may well have felt safer in our midst than in the Muslim land he’d left behind. I’m just guessing. Though we talked about many things, we never talked about that.