after Azar Nafisi


Smuggled across the fierce chasm

between us and the US, and then


hidden, stuffed between Farsi

and Science textbooks in my school


bag, the illegal and sacrilegious

cassette-tape of Thriller, ready for


revelation to the sheepish, ignorant

kids on the bus to my primary school


in war-stricken Tehran. My plan:

to expose the forbidden thing, exhibit


my courage, rebelliousness, etc. Autumn

of ’83, desperate for attention/approval


from the other kids. My copy of

dangerous Western ‘art’ would


unsettle the boring, Islamic world

of my classmates – and elevate my


cowardly, chubby, unpopular

self. I whispered to the kid next to me


if he had ever heard of  ‘Billie Jean’

and ‘Beat It’; if he knew anything at all


about the number one famous

star of our wicked enemy. “I love


Thriller! Aren’t the zombies so scary

in the music video! They’re so ugly!” His


boisterous words echoed. The bus

vibrated with the singer’s name. Another


shouted he had a Thriller poster, and

another, a ‘Billie Jean’ T-shirt, a gift from


Turkey. Silenced, robbed of my planned

stardom, I sank in my seat; later threw out my


Thriller tape, the fetish of Great Satan’s

useless, ubiquitous popular culture.


Originally published in Ashes in the Air, by University of Queensland Press.