Da (Mother) 14

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni
Translated from the Persian with an Introduction by Paul Sprachman

2022-09-28


Da (Mother)

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

Translated from the Persian with an Introduction by Paul Sprachman

Persian Version (2008)

Sooreh Mehr Publishing House

English Version (2014)

Mazda Publishers

***

 

Four

The Invasion

On September 22, 1980, we expected the next day to be like any other, with the kids going to school: Sa’id to first grade, Hasan to second, and Mansur to the first year of middle school. Father had given us money a few days before to buy school supplies for them. I took the boys myself to the Darvazeh traffic circle and bought—as much as our budget would allow—what they needed. They were excited about what we had bought, especially Sa’id. Because they had to be up early the next day, I made them go to sleep before their usual bedtime that night. On the morning of September 23 I said my prayers, laid out breakfast, and woke the kids. I had my heart set on bringing Sa’id and Hasan to school myself. The excitement made me feel it was my own first day of school. I remembered how happy I was to go to school. I held Sa’id by the hand, looking this way and that as we crossed the street, but it wasn’t a normal day; the streets seemed deserted. When we got to the school, the doors were locked. I was about to knock when I saw one of the neighbors and asked about the doors.

“Don’t you know that the Iraqis bombarded the city last night?” she asked.

“When?” I said in surprise.

“In the middle of the night.”

It was unbelievable to me that they would attack just like that. I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t heard anything.

I didn’t waste a minute getting the kids back to the house. Then I went to the avenue to learn more about what happened from anyone who went by. As I frantically tried to find someone, I noticed Ahlam Ansari, a classmate of mine from elementary school. Her face was all red and she was crying. I went over and, though we hadn’t seen each other for ages, I got right to the point, “Ahlam, what happened? Why are you crying?”

“My uncle was killed,” she said.

“Killed? How?”

“Weren’t you in town last night? Don’t you know they bombarded the city?” she asked.

I said, “Sure I was, but I don’t understand. What happened?”

Unable to control her sobs, Ahlam said, “Uncle was visiting when they hit our house. He was killed in his sleep.”

Terribly upset by what she said, I asked, “Where are you going now?”

“Jannatabad. They took him there.”

Although I didn’t want to leave Ahlam alone at that point, I thought I would be of more help at the hospital. I said goodbye and started out for the Mosaddeq Hospital, but there were no taxis. I walked down Forty Meter Road, the main street of the city [now Ayatollah Khamene’i Avenue]. The number of cars and ambulances racing to the hospital increased the closer I got to the Farmandari traffic circle. By contrast, there were very few pedestrians on the street. The few people I saw seemed to be in shock. Having passed Farmandari, I saw a large crowd gathered behind the hospital, which was strange. I could make out weeping and wailing as I got closer to the crowd; people were screeching, beating their chests in mourning, and shouting out the names of their loved ones. There were bloodstains on some; others were covered in grime. Many of the women were sitting on the ground, beating themselves. I tried to maneuver my way through them but, as I got to the entryway, the attendants thrust open the doors and a mass of people spilled out into the courtyard, all scurrying in different directions. The only thing I could hear was the screaming. Inside the hospital all hell had broken loose; patients were lying everywhere. I went toward the emergency room on the right side of the building past the information desk. I knew where to go because I had brought my brothers and sisters there before. A guard stood in front of the door warning people who insisted on entering, “It’s too crowded in there. Where do you think you’re going? You’ll never come out if you go in.”

I waited outside the door for the guard to step aside and rushed in when he wasn’t looking. But he saw me and, crying out, ran a few steps toward me. I ignored him and disappeared in the crowd. I had never seen the emergency room in such chaos. There were blood trails on the floor leading from the entrance to the interior; people drenched in blood lay all over the floor. There were footprints in the blood. When I had been there before, the floor was so spotless it reflected the moonlight, and the only thing I could smell was alcohol. Now I smelled the stench of dirt, blood, and gunpowder in the air. Nurses were running this way and that, holding bags of serum and dragging trolleys filled with medical supplies. Ordinarily their uniforms were stylish and neat, but the volume of work gave them another look. There was no trace of makeup on their faces, and their white uniforms and shoes were spattered with the blood of the wounded. The pins holding their caps together had come undone and their hair had fallen over their faces and shoulders. Those nurses in headscarves were no better off than their coworkers. The doctors were working at a frantic pace. The rooms overflowed with the injured. The wounded people lying in the corridors were being treated with serum bags nailed to the walls. Some were on stretchers, while others were on blankets. Most were staring lifelessly into space, apparently because of losing so much blood. Some were moaning in pain. Only one person at the end of the room was actually saying something intelligible: “Help! I’m dying.”

I ran to the back of the room. The man’s wounds did not seem worse than those of the others. He was shouting out of fear, it seemed. Patients near him said, “Quiet! Let them help those who are in worse shape. Wait your turn.”

I didn’t know what to do. I was terrified seeing all those wounded people, but I wanted with all my heart to do something to help the nurses who were swamped and exhausted. Maybe I could see to some of the wounded who had been there longer. But I didn’t have any training in first aid or other skills called for in the situation. It felt so frustrating being of no use to anyone.

I left the building and stood in the yard, which was still a madhouse. A number of people were waiting outside the morgue to collect the bodies of their relatives. These people were in worse shape than the people waiting for their wounded family members. Their wails cut my heart to the quick, and seeing the children sobbing was torture for me. Then I went to the wards in the hope of doing something. They were even more chaotic than the emergency room; most of the wounded were just spread out on the floors without anything underneath them. Relatives were standing over them holding the serum bags. There was no sign of the quiet that normally reigned in these places, giving patients a sense of security. It was all heartrending cries and moans. Not knowing what else to do, I stood over the wounded and asked, “If there’s anything I can do for you, tell me. Is there anything you need?”

Most were parched from losing blood and asked for water. Some said that they were in pain and wanted me to fetch a doctor. The poor doctors didn’t know whom to go to first. When I saw them attending to people in even worse shape, I regretted having spoken to them about the others. Having noticed me there, the nurses started screaming, “What the hell is this about? Why are you making such a fuss?”

As I stood in the corridor not knowing where to go, the sound of a woman moaning caught my attention. I looked at her; she was very thin and her face didn’t seem to match her voice, which was that of a young woman. But she was so scared and bloody just looking at her made me sick to my stomach. I tried to control my feelings, and at the same time I felt sorry for her. She was in an awful state. Blood-soaked bandages ran vertically and horizontally around her head and her feet were in splints. I took her hands. She opened her eyes and looked at me. I asked her if she needed anything, if I could help her in any way. She squeezed my hands feebly and gasped, “Go and bring a doctor. It hurts. My head is splitting open, my eyes are falling out.”

“They didn’t give you a sedative?” I asked.

“It didn’t do any good.”

The way she squeezed my hand told me how much pain she was in. I told her to go to sleep so she wouldn’t feel the pain, and I would get a doctor.

She closed her eyes and feebly mouthed the words, “The pain won’t let me sleep.”

I got up and turned around to see a nurse emerging from one of the rooms with several serum bags in her hand. I ran to her. All the color was drained from her face; she was dead tired and it was clear she hadn’t slept in ages. “Pardon me,” I said, “that woman there is in a lot of pain. Can’t something be done for her?”

“What can I do?” she said. After a pause, she said, “It’s been nonstop hell for all of us since last night. We’re in agony too; it feels like were going to die. We’re short-staffed, and she’s not the only one. She’ll have to put up with it.”

I watched as she quickly receded in the distance. She seemed to be around twenty-eight or so. Her hair had come undone, which made her seem more frazzled. Her clothes were reddish-purple, not from iodine but from blood; her hose, which were torn, were hiked up her calves. It felt bad to see how tired she was and how grubby she looked. My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of child. A few feet beyond the woman who wanted me to get a doctor was a four-year-old girl with her mother sitting by her side. Each time her child shrieked, the mother raised her head from the blanket she was lying on and hugged her, trying to comfort her; but the mother was also crying. The child’s legs were in splints wrapped in bandages. Her swollen fingers were covered in bloody gauze. I went over and looked at her. She was a beautiful girl with delicate features. Her hair, which lay on her shoulders, was an attractive brown but matted. She was in a yellow dress with a blue and green flower print that had turned purple from the blood. I stood there watching her and noticed that whenever she raised her head and saw her legs, she screamed in horror. I told her mother, who had obviously rushed to the hospital without changing out of her house dress, to cover her child’s legs with something.

 

To be continued …

 



 
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