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Babak listened. He liked how much he felt a part of this place, this neighborhood that he had helped to populate by building affordable housing. "I can't give houses away," he used to tell families of Pakistani immigrants, "but I'm doing as close to that as I near possibly can." Most would not believe him but would buy anyway. Many of the men in these families that he met were immigrants who were, as Babak had once been, hungry. They had some savings in their family bank accounts, but not enough to become full. "A place to sleep and come home to, not to show off." That was what Babak had sold because he knew that was what they had needed.
He turned the corner to the block behind the funeral home and suddenly remembered that the poster that once hung in Navid's room had "P. Diddy" printed in bold red across the center of the image, not "Big Dane." So he had heard the name from someone else, possibly not even from Navid.
A radio station van painted with pink balloons and dollar signs double parked at 177th Street off East Tremont. Babak heard a side conversation between a DJ and a guy selling bootleg movies. "When we were all younger, I had to have at least one Big Dane song played at every party or else you'd have a riot on your hands." Babak almost envied their connection to Big Dane, and wished that he too had some story that he could share, wished that he could tap the shoulder of the woman in the light blue jacket ahead of him and begin to reminisce. It had been like this for him in his home in the outskirts of Tehran; he had often been able to find some commonality that would allow him to unite with a group of strangers. Babak's old neighbors in Iran, the Beh-Amins, used to bring out their mostly domesticated tiger on random occasions, and let it roam through the settlement. Everyone came out, from all over the village when they heard that the tiger was roaming the neighborhood. After a few minutes of initial excitement, Farshad Beh-Amin would put her back into the outdoor cage. Instead of retreating back to their dwellings, the people of the town, men and women, children and elders, stood outside and remained wound up. Babak could just walk up and down, door-to-door, talking to old family friends before it got too cold. But in America, even New York America, it was different.
The line looped around, bringing Babak back to Tremont Avenue. The hearse, parked out front, now had its hazard lights on. Flashing lights gave Babak headaches, migraines even. He closed his eyes and considered stepping out of line but no, he could already hear the jeers of the crowd accusing him of faithlessness during such a sacred event. Babak's breathing quickened; he felt as if his heart had something stuck between its teeth.
Babak walked through the door of the funeral home, past a man he assumed to be one of the Santiago brothers. The silence of the place seemed almost impossible given the number of people crammed inside. But the quiet and the coolness were rejuvenating for Babak and he shuffled down the aisle, his eyes fixed on the shiny maroon coffin propped open at the altar.