Da (Mother) 66

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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

2023-10-8


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

 

***

 

“The front, Railroad Circle. He came and I gave him your message. Then he went to mother. I was so happy.”

“Thank God, Ali’s okay,” I said, adding, “When did he leave, Leila?”

“Just before you came,” she said.

“Then I’m going.”

“Wait for me.”

“I can’t.”

I began running as fast as I could. As soon as mother saw me, she ran to hug and kiss me. “Where’s Ali?” I asked her.

“He just left.”

“Well, what did he say?” I asked.

“Nothing. Just that tomorrow the kids and I should leave.”

“Then, Ali said so and you’re going, right?”

“Yeah.”

“What do you want to do now?” I asked.

“Nothing. Tomorrow I’m leaving. Ali told me not to worry about you and Leila. He would be here for you. He said to take the children and go. To stay here would be dangerous. It would be sinful for the kids to die.”

I thanked God that Ali had convinced her to go. Wanting to hear more about Ali, I asked her, “It’s the right thing to do. What else did he say? Where did he say he was off to?”

“He didn’t say much. Said he was going to the army. He was with that friend of his, Hoseyn Ta’i Nezhad. He said he had gone back to the Congregational Mosque, but you weren’t there.”

I felt sick. I looked at mother, wanting badly to tell her not to count on him being around much longer. But seeing her in such good spirits, delighted by his visit, I couldn’t bring myself to spoil her mood. But that was impossible; I had to tell her what I felt. I looked at her and said, “Ma.”

“Yes, darling, what is it?”

“Ma, make your peace with Ali.”

She didn’t take her eyes off me. I continued, “Tell him you forgive him for anything he did to you.”

“What do you mean by that? What do you mean ‘make my peace’?”

“Ma, Ali isn’t long for this world.”

She got angry and said, “What do you think you’re saying? It’s like you hope to God something happens to him.”

“No, Ma,” I said. “I swear it’s not that. But everywhere I went today I couldn’t find him. I’ve been looking high and low for two days, but couldn’t find him. That must mean something. Ali’s a hothead. He’s come back to say his goodbyes.”

She hated what I was saying, and I could tell that on top of that she couldn’t stand me either. She looked me straight in the eye and through clenched teeth snarled, “I’m warning you. Don’t ever speak that way again, you little louse!”

“Ma, you can say whatever you want to me, but tell your baby boy you forgive him.”

I couldn’t wait any longer. I tried to swallow my tears, and before they spilled out, I said goodbye and ran. I couldn’t imagine how she felt then. The last thing I wanted was to upset her. I didn’t know what made me say Ali was not long for this world, but I was certain he was about to die.

Ali, with all his injuries, had managed to get back to Khorramshahr. Even though no one expected him to fight, he had made a beeline for the front, leaving behind his magazine and a shirt as keepsakes. And there were other indications he was destined for martyrdom. As soon as I got to the Congregational Mosque I made a beeline for the things he had left for me on top of the armoire. I took them and went to a corner where I could be by myself. I hugged and kissed them, breathing in his odor. I said, “Where are you Ali? Why did you disappear? Why is it that wherever I go to find you, you’ve just left?” Later as I searched for him, steadily losing hope of ever seeing him again, I would console myself by smelling his shirt. This reminded me of the story from the Quran about Joseph and his brothers that Grandpa used to tell us.

When he got to the part when Joseph’s brothers gave Jacob the bloody shirt and lied that a wolf had eaten him, he would cry and say Jacob knew they were scheming. Joseph hadn’t been eaten; he was alive. In the end Joseph’s shirt opened Jacob’s eyes so he could see the truth.

The tenth day, a very busy one after all, finally was coming to an end. But even in the dark of night, the Iraqis continued to shell the city, particularly the streets around the mosque. The shelling was so intense I said to the guys, “If I’m not mistaken, it looks like they’re honing in on the mosque. What’ll we do with the wounded if they hit it?”

I even posed that question to the higher-ups at the mosque. “What can we do?” they said.

“At least,” I said, “find a vehicle so we can send them away.”

Gradually we managed to evacuate all the wounded to hospitals in Abadan. Then we cleaned the floor of the infirmary. It had been days since, except for prayer time, we had taken off our shoes. Dead on my feet, I prayed the dusk and evening prayers. It was pitch black inside. We had put out all the lamps. I removed my shoes and lay down on the floor next to Sabah. The shells seemed to be landing farther from the mosque, making us feel safer, but the Iraqi artillery never let up.

They had evacuated a number of others from the mosque. Even Genoa and the shell-shocked people were gone. The only one I missed was Abbas; the others had gotten on my nerves. The day before I had told Mr. Mesbah and others I was fed up and had little patience for their antics. Pondering where they had sent them, I closed my eyes.

As Maryam, Zohreh, Ashraf, and Sabah talked, all I could think about was Ali. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t fall asleep. I kept wondering where he was and what he was doing. Would God ever let me see him?

I didn’t know how much time had passed, when I finally drifted into a kind of sleep. But even then, Ali would appear before me, jolting me awake. I opened my eyes wanting to run toward him, but he wasn’t there. I was on the verge of going back to sleep when I heard two horrifying explosions. They were so powerful I felt the ground shaking beneath me, and the windowpanes shattered. A few minutes later, screams echoed in the yard, “Please help us! They’ve killed the boys. They’ve killed the guards. They hit the army base....”

As soon as I heard the word “guard” I sprang into action. I was shaking from head to foot. I hiked up my chador and groped my way through the dark, stumbling over some of the people on the floor. I ran barefoot into the yard. In that pitch black I was able to see a young man bending up and down and grabbing at his legs. He was clapping hands and shouting repeatedly, “They’ve killed the boys. They’ve massacred them!”

Frozen with fear, I asked him, “Brother, where did the shells land? Who was killed?”

“They hit our base and killed everybody!” he said in tears.

“Where is your base?”

“Darya Bod Rasayi School[1], behind Hezb-e Jomhuri.”

I wasted no time. I knew no matter what, I had to get to the base. Ignoring the Iraqi forces or the Fifth Columnists that might be operating in the area, I just ran. The streets were deserted. Still barefoot and unable to see the holes made by the mortar shells, I tripped several times. But I was in such a hurry I didn’t care. There was a storm raging in my heart. Could Ali have been there? I asked myself. Then I reassured myself: No, he wasn’t there. He’s at the front. But then I would scream at myself, Zahra, don’t the other soldiers have sisters, too? Their brothers are as precious to them as Ali is to you. What’s the difference? That second I came back to the present and saw a large ditch in front of me. I had forgotten there were foxholes in the area. I leaped over it and after a few minutes I was on Hezb-e Jomhuri Alley. I looked around for a second but saw nothing, only thick smoke and dust that burned my throat. I rushed on as broken glass cut into my feet, but that didn’t bother me. I wanted to find out what had happened as quickly as possible. Where was Ali? The school was at the end of the alley on the corner of a three-way intersection. Light from the lamps soldiers were carrying gave me a vague picture of the scene. The boys carrying the dead from the school didn’t seem to be in very good shape themselves. They were crying. Some were screeching and writhing in pain. In the chaos I saw Jahan Ara, the commander. He was silent and calm, but grief was etched into his features. Amid the howls and wailing I made out some of the troops calling to him, “Mohammad, what should we do? Mohammad, the boys are gone.”

I felt sorry for him. Everybody was looking to him for support. Even I had become as crazed as they were. I passed Jahan Ara. If it had been any other time, I would have stopped and said hello. But now everything was a blur to me. I felt dizzy. I started to walk backward and bumped into an obstruction. There was a red Blazer parked where the three streets came together. I saw them trying to load the bodies into it. With the back seat removed, it had as much room as an ambulance. I approached it and looked into the window, but it was dark inside, and I couldn’t see anything at first. Then somebody held up a flashlight. It was Jahan Ara, with one hand on the car and the light in the other.

I could now see into the Blazer. Five or six people were piled on the floor. I looked at them carefully. None were moving or moaning. They were all dead. One who was near the side caught my attention. There was a piece of cloth wrapped around his head and his eyes and mouth were half open. Some of his upper teeth were also visible. His beard and eyes were so covered in dust I couldn’t make out his features. It was only because of the cloth and his teeth that I could tell how much he looked like Ali. Ali had a habit of tying a cloth around his forehead when he would weld or work in construction. At that moment I shuddered, wondering whether it was Ali. Then I thought, no, everybody said Ali had been at the front.

The resemblance was very upsetting just the same. I didn’t bother looking at the others and ran into the schoolyard. Though the light was fading, I could see parts of the school were in ruins. I felt broken bricks and other debris under my feet. A half hour had passed since the attack. The soldiers had retrieved as many of the dead and wounded as possible from the rubble and laid them out in the yard. I looked for Ali among the wounded men. I wished then I had looked at the body in the car more carefully. I had to be sure it wasn’t him.

 

To be continued …

 

 


[1] A boys’ school, now called Martyr Fahmideh Konuni.



 
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