December 3, 2007

Layla reached her house in Searle Street and opened the door saying

“Hello, I’m back, anyone home?”


Up stairs and from behind another door, her mother, Afsaneh says

“Hello Layla baba, how are you? How did your talk go today?”



“It vent vell mom. The priests and nuns can’t believe how they’ve being missing out. They are very interested and the bishop is thinking of declaring next week after confirmations.”


[Mrs Parkin]:

“Hmmmm…. You are a cheeky girl. Sholeh just rang.”



“OOOOHhhhhhhh, Can I ring her back?”


[Mrs Parkin]:

“Okay, if you play with Alex and Shirin afterwards. They’re out the back. And stop teasing me.”



“Thank you, I vill esstop immediately.”


You wouldn’t believe how messy Layla’s room is. She is healthy, smooth and clean-lined but her room is oppressive. Tops, knickers and socks strewn all over the carpet. Unaligned books and pieces of paper on every exposed surface. There are two massive posters on her walls. One is of Collingwood star Nathan Buckley, the other is of 400m champion Cathy Freeman.


A desk, computer and chair scrunch in a corner surrounded by sports bags and other accessories such as teddy bears. The teddy bears and their like used to adorn her pre-teen bed. Now they lie, deposited like layers of sediment along the path from her big bed to her computer.


On her dresser drawer is a strange double picture of Einstein. In one, his brain is gangrenous with worms, in the other, healthy.



“Hello Sholeh, how are things in Melbourne?”



“Layls! Yeah, good thanks. Thanks for calling back. Hey, you know I was at a youth conference in Canberra last week.”



“I didn’t know. I’ve not been paying enough attention to the Bulletin I think. Do tell.”



“Oh look it was pretty good. Lots of cute guys and dynamic speakers. Those Sydney Baha’is though, those Sydney Baha’is really get on my nerves.”


[Layla, laughing]:

“And why’s that Sholes?”



“Oh man, they are so stuck up. You know the ones I mean. The ones on the National Youth Committee. They are all from bloody Sydney. The ones that have parents with pedigree. That’s true, all their parents are either Counsellors or on the NSA. They don’t want to know you unless you are related to a Hand of the Cause.”



“You are so funny Sholes. Mind you, that’s not a bad idea – pedigree parents. Maybe they can be encouraged to breed more, we could put them out to stud – you’d get a better quality Baha’i show dog. A new batch every year. Hey, it’d add a load of spice to those high level meetings. I tell you I’d think twice if I was ever asked to attend an NSA or NYC meeting. I’d certainly bring some protection – yuuuckkk.”



“Oh Layls, do you EVER think about anything else? Yeah, no, like they had this guy from South America who had like taught a whole pile of people to be Baha’is and they had a concert and feast in his honour. You know what those stupid Sydney-siders did? They compiled the seating arrangement so that the most important people were next to him and the further out your seat the less auspicious you were. Of course, THEY were all on his table.”



“He he. I’m surprised you managed to sit down at all. Were you a waitress?”



“No joking, it was shit house. And no, I don’t think I’d be there at all except I was playing the guitar.”


“Oh nice. Did you play ‘Summer Breeze’? I love your ‘Summer Breeze’.”



“I did of course. But anyway, Layls, this isn’t the reason I had rang. It’s just very hard to say it to you. Very hard. It’s Tahirih, Tahirih Johnson. Unfortunately she’s been diagnosed with cancer. It’s not treatable and it’s… quick.



“Oh God no. Oh nooooo, noooooo. I don’t believe it. That can’t be. Where is she?”



“Well that’s just it Layls. It is very quick. She passed on to the Abha Kingdom today. About, about lunch-time.”






“I’m so sorry Layls. I wish I could have told you earlier. It all happened so quickly. Tahirih felt very sick last month and was sent for tests. We were told last week that it was cancer and she had not too long left. We didn’t realize it might only be a week though. I know we should have called. I’m so sorry. It’s been frantic.”



“Yes, yes, I see. Sholeh, when is the burial?”



“Well, when can you get to Melbourne Layla? Tahirih wants you to lead the prayer, it’s in her will. She gave it to my mom. It says ‘I do not deserve it in any way but if Layla Parkin would lead the Prayer for the Dead I would happily die each day’. I know it is unusual but we felt we needed to ask you. The Erfanians are already here from Haifa. They are at the hospital at the moment arranging for Tahirih to be moved to the funeral home. The current understanding is that the burial will be tomorrow morning at ten. Can you come Layla, can you?”



“Oh my God. Yes, I think I can Sholeh. I’ll ask mom and give you a ring later. This is a real shock isn’t it? And Matthew, and little baby Shane?”



“Yes, they are all here. And as well as can be expected. Or maybe not.”


In 1987, Tahirih Erfanian came to Australia from Haifa to live with the Parkins. At that time they were in Ballarat, Victoria. She was young, just seventeen. She attended the Ballarat College of Advanced Education to study Fine Art. She stayed with the family for ten years and was Layla’s big sister as well as a little sister to Afsaneh. She put Layla to bath, bed and told her stories. She had introduced toddling Sholeh and Layla at a Baha’i summer school when they were just three.


She met Matthew Johnson in 1997 as she was completing a PhD at Melbourne University, married him and had baby Shane just six months prior to her passing. And they had settled in Camberwell, Melbourne just four doors down from Sholeh’s family.



“Thank you Sholeh. I’m shell-shocked. I’ll talk to mom. Have you already told her?”



“No. No way. I couldn’t do it.”



“Yes, it didn’t seem like you had. Okay dearest Sholeh, speak to you soon. Bye for now.”



“See you soon Layla.”


Layla, sitting on the bed, now fell on top of it. Very angry. Oh Very angry. Nuclear. Ready to rip into all involved in this debacle. And that’s you God. What’s the point then? What’s the point of it anyway? If I had known, if I had known, then a glass of water could have cured her. I didn’t so it doesn’t. Is that all there’s to it? Does it matter what happens and who it happens to? Why this and not that? The only thing she did know is that she didn’t understand.


I will change this. Tahirih come back, come back and take care of your baby! And Tahirih came to her and said ‘Layla, I really do love you. Do your best.’ You look so wonderful Tahirih. Come back to us. ‘I don’t know how to do that Layla. Please give Matthew and Shane a hug, one of those hugs of yours, a hug to change their world. I am fine Layla. I’ve been blessed to know you so well.’ Oh Tahirih wait, wait, may my life be a sacrifice to you. Tahirih beamed angelically and was gone.


Layla pushed herself off her bed and prostrated herself on the carpet. Still angry. Very angry until gradually subsiding she felt sorry, so dreadfully sorry for her anger. Oh God, forgive me. She recited the Tablet of Ahmad. Bahá’u’lláh had said that if a person in great distress did this with absolute sincerity, God would resolve the sadness, difficulties and afflictions.


Mrs Parkin had been looking in at the prostrate Layla. She initially thought she was praying but she had been down for far too long now.

“Goodness me coochaloo. What’s wrong.”


Layla, despondently sobbing, lugged herself up and draped herself around her mother, hugging her tightly.

“Mom, we have to go to Melbourne now. Tahirih, she’s dead. She needs us. Let’s go to her.”


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