The Homa Hotel in Tehran has twenty-four stories and only two pre-revolutionary lifts.
I was running slightly late, and had been waiting ten minutes on the twenty-second floor. This was summertime and it was hot. I was reluctant to use the stairs, as I did not want to arrive at the meeting in a sweat.
The lift arrived and the doors opened. Inside were three teenage Iranian girls, apparently sisters. I hesitated briefly, but did not want to wait another ten minutes for a lift, so I stepped inside. It was a mistake.
The doors closed, the lift went down, and the fun started. The eldest girl made a loud kissing noise. All three dissolved into giggles.
I focus on my own reflection in the mirrored walls of the lift. I watch my face go red. I am in a dangerous situation.
There are always ten or fifteen male hotel staff in the lobby of the Homa. There will be serious trouble if these girls complain about anything I do or say to them in the lift.
Now all three join in, giggling:
“We love you, Mister Bean!”
“Marry me, Mister Bean!”
Agonizingly slowly the lift rattles down. Eventually we reach the ground floor. I stumble gratefully out into the fresh air of the lobby.
How can I have been so stupid? In Iran, a man on his own never gets into a lift with only females, unless they are family.