Ashgar is twelve years old. After school most days he helps out at his father’s food cart in the square. The offerings are simple: coffees and teas, pastries and baklava, a rotating menu of hot food items depending on what ingredients are available. His father has a few friendly contacts, and sometimes he also has Western goods available. Though they are not wealthy, his father does enough business to see the family provided for.
Lately it has been especially busy. Crowds gave been gathering in the square in greater numbers, and today is the busiest of them all. Throngs of people waving signs and chanting protests. The cart has no space, and people could easily grab what they want and disappear into the mass, but everyone is respectful, everyone pays. They are so busy that his father has twice sent Ashgar off for more supplies. Protestors need food too.
Ashgar doesn’t really understand what the protest is about. Politics aren’t generally discussed in their home, and while the family dutifully prays and visits the Mosque, they aren’t particularly devout; Ashgar prefers playing pick-up football games with his friends to anything else. But the word “revolution” makes him curious.
Still, he asks. “What are they all protesting, Papa?”
His father shakes his head. “It isn’t a protest. It’s a harvest. The season’s come around again.”
Ashgar doesn’t understand this answer. They are in the middle of the city, not a farm in the countryside, and none of these people look like farmers. He wants to ask again, but they are doing too much business, and his father has neither the time nor the inclination to explain further. They work long into the evening that day, and by the time they return to the family home Ashgar has lost interest. He falls asleep in front of the television, watching a broadcast of an English football game.
Ashgar watches the square through the window of his café. His shop is a modest one, though he is proud of it. He serves the best coffees and teas he can get, sells only the finest pastries he can find. Through a few select contacts Ashgar occasionally gets ahold of Western goods, mostly chocolates and candies, and while these are technically contraband, because Ashgar pays his taxes, remains devout, and stays out of politics, no one really minds.
His father did well during the Revolution, well enough to send Ashgar to study in France for a while, and when he returned Ashgar used what remained of that money to open the café where the food cart once stood. The menu is limited, but the food and beverages are good, and Ashgar and his wife enjoy regular clients.
Today, though, the customers are mostly his daughter’s age, young people all dressed in green: t-shirts, hijabs, coats, or even just a strip of cloth tied around one arm. They don’t stay, just buy a couple of coffees and teas to go before rejoining their friends outside. He’s heard them castigated on the news as lawbreakers, an unruly mob that smashes in storefront windows, but the young people who enter Ashgar’s café are all unfailingly polite and pay for all of their purchases.
Ashgar is not a political man, but he remembers all the years he could not legally watch football games on television, and at the end of each day gives away the leftover pastries and whatever hot coffee remains to the young people continuing to protest in the cold night.
They’re calling it “the Arab Spring” in other parts of the world, and looking now at that sea of green, Ashgar understands why, but also knows this is wrong. He understands now what his father was referring to all those years ago. What he is looking at in the square is the crop grown from seeds planted in the wake of that last harvest, seeds which require many seasons to come in.
But autumn is harvest time, not spring. As he turns away from the window to serve another entering protestor, Ashgar hopes that this season’s harvest bears better crops than the last one.