‘We are the children of death and it is death that rescues us from the deceptions of life.’
Smoke fills the car as my friend Amir and I share a cigarette and hurtle down the highway from Tehran airport to the north of the gargantuan metropolis. Thin crowns of sunlight emerge from the shadowy horizon. The urban sprawl starts to line the highway. Traffic threads into the heaving mass. Unlike many Western cities, Tehran does not conform to the dichotomy of the centre and the periphery. It is the convergence of around twenty-one villages that have enmeshed and swallowed one another. It maps a series of separate yet endlessly entangled nervous systems, a geographical allusion to the multiplicity of contemporary Iranian life.
Despite the province of Tehran having a population that exceeds twelve million, the city streets at dawn are deserted. Curfews between midnight and six am are tightly adhered to. We find a small green-neon-lit breakfast shop pouring bowls of soup from a vat of boiled sheep heads. We shovel down fleshy chunks of mutton cheek. We roll sugar cubes in our mouths and sip tea. On a serviette, Amir writes down the numerals used in Farsi, 0–10: ۰, ۱, ۲, ۳, ۴, ۵, ۶, ۷, ۸, ۹, ۱۰. I flick through my passport and decode the date on my arrival stamp. The year is 1393.