Firoozeh and François move into an apartment in San Francisco. Shortly afterwards, there’s a big earthquake, and all the pictures François has hung on the wall fall to the ground and break. Firoozeh and François are unharmed, but Firoozeh wants to call her parents. Firoozeh’s parents are “highly evolved worriers”—when she was growing up, her parents would warn her about absurd possibilities, such as being bitten by deadly spiders. To Firoozeh’s dismay, the phone isn’t working.
In this interesting passage, Firoozeh ridicules her parents for worrying about her so excessively, but also wants to call them in order to reassure them that she’s okay. In other words, Firoozeh knows that her parents are irrational to worry so much, and yet also humors their irrational behavior.
Firoozeh goes downstairs to try another phone. There, she encounters an elderly woman who seems to be having a heart attack. Firoozeh calms the woman, and then asks if she can use the woman’s phone. The phone seems to be working, and the woman seems to be okay, so Firoozeh calls her parents. She explains to Kazem that she’s just survived a big earthquake, but Kazem cheerfully says, “No problem.”
Amusingly, Kazem worries about hypothetical, extremely unlikely problems (such as being bitten by deadly spiders) and yet finds the prospect of an actual, real-life problem—an earthquake—to be “no problem.”
Since getting married, Firoozeh has hoped that François’s side of the family will begin to be happy for them. After the earthquake, she calls François’s mother. When she explains what happened, though, François’s mother just asks if any of her china broke.
François’s mother, like Firoozeh’s father, seems unfazed by the earthquake—but unlike Kazem, she comes across as cold and unfeeling, more concerned about material things than her own daughter-in-law.
A few days later, the elderly woman who Firoozeh comforted shows up at Firoozeh and François’s apartment. She introduces herself as Golda Rubenstein and tells Firoozeh that she saved her life. A month later, she shows up again, this time bringing chocolate cake. Every month after that, she shows up to deliver cake, always weeping.
While it’s not directly explained, it would seem that Firoozeh was able to calm down Golda and prevent her from having a heart attack on the day of the earthquake. In return for her good deed, Firoozeh gets chocolate cake every month thereafter—showing that “what goes around comes around.”
François and Firoozeh decide that they have no use for the china dishes (which haven’t broken, as it turns out). François proposes giving the dishes to a hospital auction to raise money for children. The dishes turn out to be very valuable, and for years to come François and Firoozeh are honored guests at the hospital’s galas and fundraisers. In a way, Firoozeh’s mother-in-law’s gift ends up bringing great joy to Firoozeh’s life.
By giving the expensive china dishes to the hospital, Firoozeh and François kill two birds with one stone—they get rid of an unpleasant reminder of François’s mother’s rudeness, and they also get to go to various galas and fundraisers for the hospital (and do a good deed in the process).