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  • After we moved from temporary quarters into our permanent apartment in Tehran, our weekdays settled into a comfortable routine: work at the embassy for Fred, pre-school for the kids, Farsi lessons and household chores for me. I looked forward to the weekends when we could take short trips to explore the city and the surrounding countryside. One sunny autumn day we escaped from the hubbub of the frenetic traffic and made our way out of town with no planned destination.

    After an hour or so on a narrow, winding road Fred spotted a convenient place to pull over and park near the bank of a brook. Dakota and Tina scrambled out of the car and ran to the water's edge. They threw rocks and twigs into the stream and chased alongside the sticks that floated with the current. The four of us climbed the smooth gray boulders and rock-hopped back and forth like mountain goats. Playing in the fresh air and sunshine soothed our country-bred souls.

    "All this exercise makes me hungry." I've always been one of those people who want to eat every two or three hours.

    "Me too," agreed Fred. "Let's drive back to that little café we saw on the way up."

    "Yay!" Dakota and Tina cheered and clapped their sandy hands.

    The small mud-brick building crouched in the middle of a packed-earth yard. Faded blue paint peeled here and there on the scarred and gouged walls. Three square wooden tables with rusty folding chairs sat vacant in the yard. A rickety bicycle leaned against the wall. Five red hens, exactly like our Rhode Island Reds back home, pecked in the dirt, giving wide berth to a scruffy brown dog napping in the sun.

    Hand in hand, we walked toward the building. A short, thin man wearing an apron came out and swung one arm wide with a slight bow. At his invitation, we chose a table and sat down. The waiter greeted us and we returned his greeting.

    "Salaam aleikum."

    "Wa aleikum salaam."

    "Chehar chello kebab." I practiced my primitive Farsi and ordered a national favorite dish made of chunks of savory charcoal-roasted mutton, steaming buttery white rice, and bold raw onion. I didn't ask Dakota and Tina what they wanted because I knew. Since the first time they tried it, they never wanted anything at a restaurant but chello kebab.

    The waiter returned to the building, presumably to the kitchen. Wisps of smoke drifted from the chimney. The kids played with their forks and tablespoons as we waited for our food.

    With no warning, a strange choreography began. The waiter ambled toward us carrying four drinks. As we turned to watch the waiter approach, one of the red hens fluttered up, hunkered down right in the middle of our table, and startled us with a confident cackle. Four pairs of eyes opened wider and wider. In one fluid motion the waiter served our drinks, shooed the hen away, and plucked up her glistening wet brown egg, slipping it into his wide apron pocket.

    Dakota started to cry. Tina wrapped her arms around my neck.

    "What's wrong, Bubba? Did the chicken scare you?" I asked.

    "No! That man took my egg! I want my egg!"

    I held back a laugh. To two-year-old Dakota, this was a serious offense. He stuck to his own logic. The egg appeared on his table. Therefore the egg was his. My explanation that the egg belonged to the restaurant because the chicken belonged to the restaurant did not appeal to him in the least.

    Fred stood up to his full 5 feet 8 inches of Daddy-Hero height. He snapped to attention and executed a perfect military about-face and marched into the café. A few minutes later he returned with his hands behind his back.

    "Which hand?" he asked Dakota.

    Dakota knew how to retrieve a treat from Daddy. He tapped Fred's left elbow. Fred brought his left hand out and opened it.

    "My egg!" A delighted boy forgot his tears.

    "Which hand?" Fred asked Tina.

    Tina tapped the other elbow.

    "My egg!" She beamed at Fred and cradled her egg in both hands.
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