Being born in a country like Iran, in which women are forbidden from doing so many ordinary things, has made me yearn to do those things I believe are my certain rights. For example, in many cities in Iran, women are not allowed to ride bicycles. Perhaps it is considered immodest for a woman to straddle a bicycle while she is dressed in a chador? I am 20 now, and it’s been years since I rode a bicycle, but I have never stopped dreaming about the feeling of flying through the air as I watch the grass blur into a streak of green beneath my feet.
In childhood, I rode a purple bicycle my parents bought for my brother. Every afternoon I would ride with the neighbor children up and down our alley. In time, my mother grew confident in my skill and let me roam beyond our small alley, even allowing me to venture out alone and explore the city. I relished the sweet feeling of independence that swept over me each time I straddled my purple bicycle and set out on a new adventure.
As I grew older, my purple bicycle became too small for me. I asked my father to buy a bigger one, but he was afraid for me and refused, reminding me that in the city of Isfahan it is illegal for a woman to ride a bicycle in a public place. But my father’s fear did not deter me: I could not stop dreaming of owning a bicycle and traveling the windy streets and alleys of Isfahan, just following the desires of my heart.
So I decided to save any money I earned to buy a new bicycle for myself. That year, the price of everything seemed to go up each day. It took all my salary just to survive. I wondered if I would ever be able to afford a bicycle. After one year, I was forced to admit: I might have to wait years before I owned my own bicycle.
Then, a few weeks ago, I visited a nearby park with three of my best friends. One of them — a boy — had brought his bicycle with him. I asked him if I could ride his bicycle, even if just for a few minutes. My heart filled with joy when he told me that I could use the bicycle as much as I liked.
I decided to take him up on his offer right then, so I mounted his bike and set off down the path. I whizzed past people who stopped and stared at me. Three women in chador huddled together to talk animatedly, pointing their fingers at me. But I didn’t stop: I just increased my speed. The wheels revolved faster and faster. I felt like a bird freed from its cage.
I could hear nothing but my own voice singing and behind it, my mother’s voice as she recited these familiar lines from Rumi to console me when I was depressed about my lack of freedom, “Oh, bird of my soul, fly away now, / For I possess a hundred fortified towers....” I wanted to shout with happiness because my dream of riding a bicycle had come true, even just for a few minutes.
As a twenty-year-old girl who has been deprived of riding a bicycle for more than eight years, I draw strength and hope from the memory of that afternoon I flew down the paths in the park. I even dare to imagine many more hours racing past green lawns. The long years of dreaming and yearning almost fade away when I think that one day I will own a bicycle of my own. I hoard the thought of my freedom sailing down the streets of Isfahan, and I whisper to myself, “Why should I be unhappy? Every parcel of my being is in full bloom.”
I have ridden a bicycle. I have traveled to the moon.