Da (Mother) 64

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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


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




Twelve: The Death of Ali

In the early morning of the tenth day of the war word came that Iraqi tanks had advanced to Railroad Circle and the Slaughterhouse Circle. There was a fierce battle going on and the wounded they brought in by droves kept us extremely busy. I worked, but my mind was on other things. I was busy with bandaging and taping, but my eyes were fixed on the door. I had been expecting Ali since morning. Each time the city was shelled, we got into cars and went searching for wounded, ferrying them back to the infirmary. When I got back, I would ask about Ali. At around 10:00 they brought in another load of dead and wounded; a few had been severely wounded by shrapnel. Mr. Najjar ordered a vehicle for them so they could be quickly brought to the hospital.

I wanted to accompany them, but Mr. Najjar wouldn’t permit it, saying, “Today it’s really busy. I need everybody here. As many as possible.” He hadn’t even finished speaking when the Iraqis began to pound Fakhr Razi Avenue. Then they went after Twelfth Circle. That must have been a sensitive target. Every two hundred meters dust and smoke would shoot up into the air, and there would be the chilling sounds of explosions and whizzing shrapnel. A few minutes earlier I had seen an army van race by the mosque toward the front. One of us said, “Hope to God they haven’t been hit.” I wasted no time and ran toward the circle with a few of the girls trailing behind. When I reached the circle, I saw that our worst fears were realized. The van had been hit, and the blast had knocked out a rear tire. It had skidded along, leaving long black marks on the asphalt. The passengers had all been thrown from the van and were moaning on the ground. Some hadn’t been hit by shrapnel but were groggy from broken limbs or blows to the head. I thanked the Lord that the back of the van had not exploded; otherwise they all would have gone up in smoke. There were a few passersby lying on the road in bad shape. We wasted no time getting all the wounded into another van. Those who could sit took the seats. Not one was ready to give up his weapon, cradling them so tightly that you would think they were their newborn children. After the van went, I ran back to the mosque.

Mr. Najjar weeded out the severely wounded and attended to them himself. Under his supervision we hooked up the others to serum drips and bandaged their wounds. A couple of boys who had been with us during the past several days helped with transferring the wounded to Abadan. We were able to send about eight of them by coordinating with Ebrahimi and convincing the drivers of passing cars to take them. Earlier the occasional Red Crescent ambulance had been going to Abadan, but at this point there weren’t any around. The situation at the front was on everybody’s mind. The large numbers of wounded showed how intense the fighting was. I asked each person they brought in from the Railroad Circle and Slaughterhouse Circle how it was going. To a man they said, “Their tanks advanced, and we stopped them.” No more than that. I insisted on hearing more, promising them that I would keep it to myself. They didn’t have to worry. But they would just say, “The situation is good. Nothing out of the ordinary.” Only when they were sure of the person they were speaking to, did they open up. The higher-ups had ordered them not to say anything that would weaken morale. “No one is to say anything about what was happening at the front,” they instructed.

The psychological and emotional pressure on everybody was intense. Some of the soldiers couldn’t take it; they were so terrified that they would pound themselves on the head. Just back from the front, they would stand in the yard of the mosque and howl. Sometimes we had to sedate or evacuate them from the sector.

I wanted desperately to ask the wounded they had brought in about Ali, but they were in no shape to answer. I would, though, ask those in better shape, “Ali Hoseyni wasn’t with you, was he?”

There was one, a soldier in the Aqajari Division, who said, “I saw him at the Railroad Circle.”

“What was he doing?” I asked.

“I only saw him for a second.” I sensed he knew more but wouldn’t say it.

My patience had run out. I couldn’t keep still any longer. I went back to Jannatabad that morning, but again there was no word of Ali. I raced back to the Congregational Mosque. A van was parked outside the door. Several people were in the back loading boxes of ammunition and water jugs into it. Mahmud Farrokhi was showing them where the ammunition was stored in the mosque. I knew some of the boys. I went over to Farrokhi and asked him, “Where are they taking the ammunition?”

“The front,” he said, “for the boys.” I asked him, “Which front?”

“The area around the police station.”

“Can I come along?” I asked.

“What for?” he said.

“Just want to. Maybe there’s something I can do.”

When he hesitated, I quickly added, “Maybe I’ll see my brother there, too.”

He turned to me and said in surprise, “You haven’t found your brother yet?”

“No, haven’t seen him.”

Everybody at the mosque knew that Ali had returned and that I had been searching high and low for him.

Despite his rigidity, Farrokhi seemed to soften, “I don’t know whether they’ll take you or not.”

“If you give them the order, they might,” I said.

“Fine. I’ll talk to them,” he said.

“Just let me run and get some medicine,” I said. I dashed into the mosque and asked Mr. Najjar for medicine and supplies.

“What do you want them for?” he asked.

“To take to the front,” I said.

“Why do you have to go? In any event, we don’t have that much in the way of supplies for you to take to the front.”

“The truth is I want to go and find Ali,” I said. “So far I haven’t been able to find him. Maybe he’s out there.”

“Be patient, he’ll be turn up. The word is that he’s coming.”

“Yeah, but he hasn’t shown up yet. If I go I’ll probably see him sooner.”

“Okay,” Mr. Najjar said and then told me what things to bring. I took scissors, bandages, Betadine, syringes, sedatives, and a variety of disinfectants and put them in a box. As I was leaving the infirmary, he warned me, “Don’t do any surgery out there. Just bandage their wounds so they don’t bleed to death, then send them back here. Okay?”

“Fine,” I said and ran out.

One of the girls—her name escapes me—followed me and asked, “Should I come with you?”

“No. I’m not even sure they’re going to take me, let alone someone else.”

I went to the van where the boys were still busy loading the supplies. Realizing that they were the same ones who had refused to take me before, I began to plead, “For God’s sake, it’s been months since I’ve seen my brother. He is in Khorramshahr, but we keep missing each other. I beg you, let me come! I have to see him.” They were not more than twenty years old and were in no mood to bargain, but I was so insistent that they finally gave in. “Come, but don’t do anything unless we say it’s okay. You’re going to have to listen to us and not go wherever you want.”

“Okay, don’t worry. I’ll just follow you.”

They took an ammunition clip and a G3 from a box and handed them to me. “Do you know how this works?” they asked.


“Keep it with you then and use it when necessary.”

Delighted, I got into the van. I sat down on one side of the hump and held onto the panel. A couple of armed boys were in front; others were in the back. The van started with a jerk, sped away and sent me sprawling over the boxes and the equipment. After falling several times, I had no choice but sit on the floor.

The driver took Forty-Meter Road, and we passed Jannatabad. I peeked out but saw no one there. I said hello to father, telling him that I was on my way to find Ali.

We passed Jannatabad and entered Ring Road. Near Taleqani Avenue there was heavy fighting. Bullets, shells, and RPGs were flying in all directions. Shells landed in the desert to our right, in the asphalt, and on people’s homes. I ducked and rolled myself into a ball, but I was still dying to see where the firing was coming from. It was impossible to make out the enemy positions. Opposite the homes on Taleqani where the road widened into something like a traffic circle, a mortar round had hit an electric pylon, knocking it to the ground. If it had been a live wire, we would have been fried in the explosion. In the past when there was a windstorm in Khorramshahr, the electric lines would break and wires would slither in the sand like snakes.

As we got closer to the Ahvaz-Khorramshahr Highway, the firing became fiercer and the van sped up. The blasts reached the vehicle, smashing a side mirror. Bombs whizzed above us, making me duck again and cover my head with my hands.

The driver stopped for a moment at the end of the Ring Road. He seemed to be debating which way to go on the highway: right to the killing fields or left to the police station? As we waited, the firing seemed to focus on the van. This sent the driver into a panic, and he floored the gas pedal, making the van lurch forward with terrifying speed. It flew off the road and rolled down the dirt embankment. The panic-striken driver lost control by stepping on the accelerator rather than the brake. We were hurtling toward a cement wall, and I felt it was all over, but the driver found the brakes and we stopped short, sending me sliding along the floor until I banged my head against the cab. I ended up squeezed between the cab and the boxes of ammunition I had been leaning against. Dazed, I heard someone ask, “Nothing broken, I hope?”


To be continued …


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