His family told him he was no longer permitted to drive. His eldest daughter sat him down that morning and said, “Baba, I am sorry to have to say this, but it is no longer safe for you to be driving.”
He could see her struggle as she held back her tears. He remembered that struggle well. When she was a little girl and her mother was serving time in prison, she learned how to grow up quickly. She hardly ever cried. She cleaned up after everyone, did her homework, and was so mature that Baba forgot she was not even yet a teen.
He looked at his daughter now with awe and sadness. He had no words to sum up his grief. He had lost the battle to retain the one thing that gave him control: the wheel.
Moments later, his son Hamid walked in to the kitchen and sat next to him. “Baba, we love you so much. We don’t want to upset you but this is important. It’s for everyone’s safety.”
Baba nodded his head but still said nothing. A long moment of silence passed before anyone spoke.
“Excuse me,” Baba said softly and rose from his chair.
“Baba…” Ra began but didn’t finish her sentence as Hamid motioned her to let Baba go.
Baba heard them whispering as he left. He tried to mute the sound echoing in his ears: “You’re nothing. No one loves you anymore,” the voice said repeatedly.
It was time to seek his special friend. Baba had discovered something in the attic that had become his savior and refuge in times like this when his family violated his freedom, when he felt defenseless. He admitted that at 80 years old, he was no longer as good a driver as he once was in his younger days. But he was tired of being punished for his age.
Baba slowly and gracefully went up to the attic. He had the key to himself and everyone was too busy and never bothered to see what was up there. Still, he locked it every time and kept the key in his left pocket.
Inside the attic, in an old wooden box, lay a mask. His special friend. When Baba wore it, he felt not only omnipotent, but also immortal. He resembled an eagle, with a distinct fierce face, big eyes and a defined jawline. He looked like he was ready for battle. He wore the mask at least twice a day, sometimes for hours. He forgot the passing of time. He forgot the tainted past, the years his wife spent in prison while cared for his children alone. He forgot that his body was decaying and that time would only prove his mortality.
“Baba! Baba!” he heard. Ra was yelling his name and the sound was getting closer.
“Oh no! I must remove the mask,” he said and began fumbling with it.
“Coming!” He yelled after he successfully took it off. “I will come back for you,” he said to his friend as he put it away in the box.
“Baba, you looked flushed,” his daughter observed. “Are you alright?”
“I am fine,” he said, slightly embarrassed.
He could still feel the power of the eagle’s disguise on his mind, his body, even his soul. It was as if he were elevated toward the sky, above earth, looking below down at his weak body. When did he lose his ability to focus? When did he lose his grip on the wheel? Could he have controlled it? Had he detected his weakness earlier, could he have prevented this?
“Baba…Baba, are you listening to me?” Ra asked as they walked back into the kitchen.
“Azizam, I am tired,” Baba said with fatigue.
“I am sorry. I don’t know how to say this, but I need your license,” she said.
“Oh,” that was all Baba could manage to say back.
He reached into his wallet and pulled out his license. He placed it on the counter and fought his tears. Baba did not cry. But he recalled the night of his wife’s arrest. The night the guards barged into his home and took her away. He had cried then, along with his eldest son, who was bellowing loud sobs in his room.
Baba never forgot that night.