Da (Mother) 65

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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

2023-10-2


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

 

***

 

I pulled myself together and said, “No, but I’m pretty banged up.” The pain shot through my body, and I couldn’t straighten my back. Water was gushing from one of the canisters that had overturned. I bent over and righted it. Half the water had spilled. I couldn’t find the lid. One of the ammunition boxes, which had been open, was on its side and all it would have taken was one shell to send everyone to kingdom come. Several boys came by to view the wreckage. When they saw me, they protested, “Why did you bring this woman with you?”

“We didn’t bring her, she came by herself,” the boys in the van said.

“Don’t worry,” said another. “She’s as tough as any of us.”

This sort of talk did not give me a good feeling. I gathered myself and said, “What’s it to you? I came on my own.”

After I had answered the first group, another bunch showed up and asked, “What’s she doing here?”

I said, “I wanted to come. Aren’t you here to fight? Well, I know how to fight.”

“Sorry, Ma’am, that isn’t what we meant,” said one.

During a lull, I asked, “Do you know the military boys around here? Seyyed Ali Hoseyni is one of them. Do you know him?”

The boys, who were mostly gendarmerie or the civilian forces, said,

“No.”

They unloaded the ammunition and the water and said, “God bless you. You’ve done us a real favor bringing water.” I asked, “Any wounded here? I have medical supplies with me.”

“No, there were a few, but we evacuated them. There are probably some at the front, but too much is going on up there to bring them back.”

“Let me go and see,” I said.

“No, stay here. You promised that you would listen.”

I was afraid that if I didn’t do what they said, they wouldn’t let me come again. Besides, two of them were responsible for the daily mess run to the front. Two-by-two they grabbed the ammunition boxes and followed the soldiers, who made a mad dash zigzagging across the road. Then they ran along the row of truck-weighing ramps and shops on the other side of the road. Those not carrying anything strapped their ammunition belts to their bodies and, spacing themselves, ran across the road. I watched them until they were of sight, then I looked around. There were prefabricated houses behind me, the police station to my left, and the gas station at Dieselabad to my right. The thought that a shell would come whizzing over my head and hit the van made me move away. I thought I would take shelter in the prefabricated houses but changed my mind.

I could clearly hear the dreadful sound of tanks as they ploughed through the sand. I could also make out the voices of the boys trying to stop them. They were shouting, “Make sure you have them in your sights. We are out of RPG ammo. Take care when you fire.” They were trying everything they could to stop the Iraqis from taking the Ahvaz-Khorramshahr Highway.

I also heard voices coming from the direction of the police station, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. At times I saw boys bent down zigzagging their way across the road. They would run, then roll on the ground, get up, and dive to the ground on the other side. I prayed to God not to let anything happen to them. Any moment, I thought, they could have their brains blown out because the Iraqis would concentrate savage machine gun fire on whatever moved on the road. Everything around me was damaged or completely destroyed by the wild strafing. It seemed that they had taken up positions on the second story of the police station, which allowed a good view of the area. I can say with certainty that the volume of rifle fire, RPGs, and Kalashnikovs, which I later learned to distinguish, was so great it sounded like a rainstorm. The bullets strewn over the road or embedded in it shone so brightly in the sun I could actually count them. The Iraqis must have had all the ammunition in the world to be so generous with it. I got up and took cover by a cement wall. I felt like I was burning up and fanned myself with my headscarf and chador, but, unable to sit by idly, I decided to move ahead. Now that I had come this far, I thought, I had to do something. The whole idea was to find Ali, but now I was pinned down.

The boys showed up a half hour later to collect the ammunition clips strewn on the floor of the van. They gave them to a soldier. “What next?” I asked.

“Nothing. There’s no more for us to do here. We’ve got to go back.”

“But I have all these medical supplies,” I objected.

“Yes, but there were no wounded,” they said.

“Not here, but definitely up front,” I said.

“No,” they said, “no way are you going forward.”

“So, why did I come here in the first place?” I said angrily.

“Your being here has been a morale boost. Maybe you don’t realize it. All the men here knows how much the sight of a woman at the front makes them feel like real men and helps them fight the enemy. Your presence has raised spirits tremendously.”

That was no consolation; I was still upset, having come all this way with no word of Ali. I felt it had been useless for me to come.

I didn’t know whether to leave the supplies or bring them back with me. I separated out some of the bandages and disinfectant and said, “Give these to the soldiers to take to the front lines.” One of the soldiers who had taken the ammunition across the road said, “Give them to me and I’ll handle it.” He took the box, bent down, and hurled himself to the other side of road. Waiting for him to return, the others began to talk about how we were going to escape the shelling. Finally the driver said, “God will take care of it. Everybody get in, we’re going back.”

They told me to lean against the cab; it would be less dangerous that way. Everybody else found a corner to huddle in. The driver put the van in reverse and drove along the dirt path by the prefabricated houses. We hit so many potholes we had our guts in our mouths. Backs aching and bones bent out of shape, the boys protested, “We’re dying back here.” Another shouted, “Step on it!”

The driver floored the accelerator right at the Ring Road crossroads, sending the van up the embankment and straight onto the road. The gunfire began to concentrate on us again. One of the boys lay flat on the floor, while the rest of us were curled up into a ball. Once out of range, we all breathed a sigh of relief. The driver went back the way he came. When we pulled up in front of the mosque, I got out and once again asked about Ali. No one had seen him.

A couple of hours later I went with the girls to find mother. Entering the yard, I saw the wife of Uncle Gholami was crying like a baby.

“What happened?” I asked.

In her Bandari accent she said, “Your uncle says we have to leave Khorramshahr. I don’t want to go.”

“God is great,” I told her. “Maybe before you get ready to go, He’ll settle His accounts with them, or maybe He’ll end the war some other way.”

Still bawling, she said, “From your lips to God’s ears. Pray that we don’t have to leave. How can I leave my home? It’s impossible.”

The neighbors stood around and comforted her saying, “Don’t worry, if things go on like this, we’ll all have to leave.” I wanted more than anything to send mother on with them. They had pounded the area around the Sheikh Salman Mosque several times, and a mortar had even landed in the yard. Once, when I saw that shrapnel had hit the wall, I asked mother about it. “The children had gone into the alley to play and I went after them. When I got back, I saw that it had been hit. Several people were wounded also, one of them so seriously they took the person to the hospital.”

Another time, when everyone was asleep, a mortar landed in the yard and they woke up terrified. Even after seeing all this, mother still refused to talk about leaving. Every time I spoke to her, she would say, “Where am I going to go? Aren’t you here?” I said, “I need to be. You should go. It’s a sin to be here with the children.” She said, “Are my children’s lives any less valuable than other people’s children? We’re staying. So long as everybody else is here, we’re staying.”

But everybody didn’t stay. The crowd at the Sheikh Salman Mosque was always coming and going. A number of people would leave and then another group would take their places. Many of our neighbors—like the wife of Uncle Darvish, the wife of Ali Salari, their daughter and her husband, Naneh Salimeh and others—had gone. Mother was the only one stubbornly refusing. I passed by the wife of Uncle Gholami and walked toward mother and the children. Zohreh Farhadi had Zeynab in her arms. The rest were talking to mother and the boys. Embarrassed, Hasan and Sa’id had their heads down and were turning colors. As soon as she saw me, mother said, “What good friends you have! How kind they are. When you’re not around they come and look in on us.” I saw Mohsen, who was looking very down and upset.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“What’s up?” he repeated sarcastically. “There’s nothing to do. This sucks.”

“What with all the work in the mosque? Why don’t you find something and do it?” I said.

“Sweeping. Fetching water from the Shatt. That’s work? I want to go to the front. I want a gun.”

I knew Mohsen hadn’t made any friends despite his time in the mosque. He had no military training, so it wasn’t likely that anybody would give him a weapon. I said to him, “You don’t know how to handle a gun. With all the shortages, do you expect somebody’s going to hand you one? Come in the mosque and do some work. The people at the front need the support of people behind the lines.” When I finished with Mohsen, I asked mother about Ali. She said, “Nothing new.”

It was time for the call to prayer, and the general uproar and shelling of the city made me worry about Leila. I raced to Jannatabad. She seemed very happy and, when she saw me, said, “Zahra, Ali came back again.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I swear. He came back.”

“When?” I asked. “I’ve been running after him so much, I don’t know what to do. Where has he been between yesterday and now?”

 

To be continued …

 



 
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