After living in the US for a number of years, I returned to Iran in the early 1990’s. During my stay, I managed a software company in Tehran . Here’s a memory.My Accounting Manager informed me that our bookkeeper, Mr. Alizadeh, was continuing to show very poor performance. He was making numerous mistakes and was not making any effort to improve his performance. She had given him several notices over an eight month period, and she was sure now that Mr. Alizadeh lacked the skills and drive to perform his duties. She said she wanted to release Mr. Alizadeh from his employment with our company. I reluctantly agreed. Naturally, firing people was one of the worst and saddest things I had to do. Mr. Alizadeh was a very polite young man with a young wife and two small children. He was tall, handsome, and extremely pleasant. I had to accept, also, that he was a lousy bookkeeper! I agreed to five months’ severance pay for Mr. Alizadeh, and a promise to give him good references for his future employment. The Accounting Manager went off to fire Mr. Alizadeh.When the Accounting Manager returned to my office shortly thereafter, she informed me that she had gone through the dismissal process with Mr. Alizadeh, but that he had insisted he wanted to talk to me. I asked her what he wanted to see me about, and she said “He says I want Ms. Kaviani to fire me. If she tells me to go, I will.” Oh brother! I told her to bring Mr. Alizadeh in, so I could fire him, too.As the two people sat in my office, I went around my desk and sat in the chair next to Mr. Alizadeh. As is customary in Iran , the coffee table in my office had a plate of fruit, serving plates, and a jug of ice water and some glasses. I told Mr. Alizadeh how sorry I was about this whole business; how I wished there had been a way to save his job and to keep him on the team; how I had watched anxiously over all the months he had been put on performance track by his supervisor; and how sorry I was to see him go. I told him I would do everything within my power to help him find another job.Mr. Alizadeh looked so crestfallen and so sad. I was so miserable, too. He said: “I understand, Ms. Kaviani. Now that I have heard it from you, I believe it. May I ask for a last favor before I go?” I said: “Sure, Mr. Alizadeh, what would you like me to do?” He said: “May I have a cigarette?” A cigarette?!! Phew, I was so relieved! Sure, no problem! I said: “Of course, Mr. Alizadeh!,” offering him one of my cigarettes. I even started to light his cigarette, but he took the lighter and lit his cigarette himself.The Accounting Manager and I were exchanging anxious glances throughout this time, trying to pass through this very uncomfortable meeting. The two of us watched Mr. Alizadeh while he took one long drag on his cigarette. The inhale was so strong and so long on that drag, I swear half of Mr. Alizadeh’s cigarette turned into ash before our very eyes! We were also making small noises, saying some insignificant things to fill the uncomfortable silence while we waited for Mr. Alizadeh to enjoy his “last wish,” like a convict on death row or something. Mr. Alizadeh was not engaging in any small talk with us. His face had assumed a very dramatic look of sadness and perplexity. He was frowning and kept a stoic smile on his face. Mr. Alizadeh took his second drag, which was just as strong and long as the first one and it looked like the cigarette ended right there. I was feeling so bad about this whole meeting, wishing it to end for all of us to be free of the awful episode.
At this time, Mr. Alizadeh opened his left hand and put his cigarette out in the middle of his palm. Oh My God! What the hell?! I saw this first, so I stood up and took two short steps toward Mr. Alizadeh, while screaming “Nooooooooooo!” I could also hear the Accounting Manager’s echoed “Nooooooo” in my wake. By the time I made it to Alizadeh, he had tightened a fist around the cigarette butt in his palm. Without thinking, or remembering that in the Islamic Republic of Iran, women aren’t supposed to touch men in public, I reached for Mr. Alizadeh’s fist, trying to pry it open to retrieve the cigarette butt and check out the undoubted burn spot on his palm. Nothing doing. He had his fist closed tightly and won’t let me open it. All the while I kept saying “That was a really stupid thing you did, Mr. Alizadeh! Let me see your palm!” In the few seconds which in the super slow motion of bad events always feels like an eternity, when I realized that Mr. Alizadeh wasn’t going to let me open his fist, I reached over the coffee table, picked up the ice cold water jug, and poured water on top of Mr. Alizadeh’s clenched fist. He yelled and jumped out of his chair, because the cold water quickly seeped through his crotch where his hand had been held nearby.At this time, the staff outside my office, who had heard the commotion, the two women’s screams and then Mr. Alizadeh’s yelp opened the door and came in. The sight of me and the Accounting Manager each on one side of Mr. Alizadeh and his standing in the middle with his soaking crotch must have been so confusing to them.….I had a few other encounters with Mr. Alizadeh before he left our company, though none of them were as dramatic. He did get another job elsewhere and came to visit me periodically for the rest of the time I worked in that company.I changed Mr. Alizadeh's name.