Da (Mother) 69

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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

2023-10-29


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 had no idea what to do. I wrestled with what to tell my parents. Finally I said to them, “Ali was jumping over a water channel and fell, breaking his arm.” But father wouldn’t let me finish telling them, “No, there’s no doubt the boy’s been killed. I heard that there was heavy fighting last night on the border.” With that he turned green and fainted. Mother, for her part, began to keen and go into her lamentations. They raised such an uproar the neighbors gathered, each trying to say something that would calm them. “Why don’t you believe me?” I managed to ask finally. “Let’s go to the hospital so you can see for yourselves.” The whole family went. When we arrived, I asked them to stay by the door while I went inside first to find Ali. After some searching, I saw Ali lying in a bed in the emergency room. They had undressed him and placed a blanket over him. His face was extremely yellow as he lay listlessly. Soldiers were standing around the bed. I greeted them and bent over to kiss Ali’s face. “What happened, Ali?” I asked. “Everybody’s worried sick because of you.”

“It’s nothing. Don’t tell Ma.”

“Don’t tell Ma? It’s a little bit late for that. There’s an army gathered outside.” This made him angry, “Didn’t I tell Faramarz not to tell anyone except you?”

I said, “Now there’s no reason for you to get upset. Just pull yourself together so father and mother won’t get scared when they come in.”

I left the room and said to my parents, “See how you’ve upset yourselves for nothing? Ali’s in the pink lying there resting. There’s nothing wrong with him.” Despite this they rushed in and started hugging and kissing him, all the while tears were streaming down their cheeks. Ali spent two days in the hospital and, after his release, went to see grandma and grandpa, whom we hadn’t brought to the hospital. He told them not to worry and headed straight back to the border.

If this was how mother would react to a snake bite, it was obvious what would happen if she heard of his death. I took the bull by the horns and started out for the Sheikh Salman Mosque. The nurses had warned me that if we were late, the body might be handed to God knows whom. My fear was that he would be buried in Abadan. I wanted him to be next to father. I didn’t know where I got the strength even to think these thoughts. I didn’t know why I was still alive and walking around. If it had been up to me alone, I would have just succumbed and waited for the Angel of Death to take me. That “I” could not go on, but it was as if there was another person inside me, moving me along mechanically. The only thing I was conscious of was reciting dirges for the Holy Imams, calling on them to help me. The last thing I wanted was to have mother guess the truth from the expression on my face or from my mood. But when I got to the yard, I saw that she was awake and, with uncle helping, was packing her things in a reed basket. The children and most of the others were still asleep. I went into the alley wondering whether I should stay. I prayed that God would give me an answer.

I did the difficult thing and went back inside. I went up to mother with a pretend smile on my face. At that point, it was difficult and painful. I said hello. As soon as she saw me, she became terrified and asked, “Baby, what’s wrong?” I said, “What? Nothing’s wrong. Should something be wrong?”

“Any news about Ali?”

Her mentioning Ali turned my whole being inside out. I wanted the Angel to come and take me right then and there. “No. Ali was with you. When was I supposed to have seen him?”

“So, why are you here?” she asked. “What’s up?”

“Ma, where is it written that I have to have news?”

“They called up the soldiers who left the service in 1977. I’ve come to tell uncle to report to the Congregational Mosque. They need him.”

This was the best I could do on the spur of the moment. Uncle just looked at me, not knowing what to say. “Come, uncle,” I said “Let’s go to the mosque. They said everyone must go. They’re waiting. I need to return also and arrange breakfast for Jannatabad.”

This was the excuse I used to get uncle out of the mosque. When I stopped in the dead end next to the mosque, he asked, “What are you doing?”

“I lied, uncle. The mosque doesn’t need you. I do.”

“What do you mean?” he asked in surprise.

My voice quivering, I said, “I came to tell you that Ali’s also gone, too; he’s been martyred.”

Uncle slammed his palm against his forehead, then he sat and broke into tears.

I didn’t expect him to react like that. He shouldn’t have cried. He should have been above that. I expected some sympathy from him. I wanted him to comfort me, take me in his arms and soothe me, saying, “Don’t be upset. Ali is with God, but I’m here for you. Everyone else is here. It’s okay. You’re not alone.” But he did nothing of the sort. Instead, he clawed his face and pounded his arms with his fists and said, “Why? Why did Ali have to go? He was so young, only nineteen. I’m his uncle, I’m old. Why not me? He had just come back to Khorramshahr.”

I kept saying to him, “For the love of God, uncle, don’t be like this. Mother will find out. Instead of crying, you’ve got to think of something.”

“I can’t,” he said. At that point I saw the woman Zeynab coming down the lane. She took one look at the state we were in and guessed Ali was dead. She began to wail and moan like uncle. When she hugged me, I couldn’t hold back my tears and said, “Baby, not you, too. I let you know about Ali so you would think of something to get mother away from here. I don’t want her to find out. I’ve got to go and get the body.”

Uncle said, “Zahra, I can’t get over this. Is this really you? How can you be so calm?”

“I don’t have a lot of time, uncle,” I explained. “I’ve got to go and bring his body back. Think of something. If I don’t get there soon, it’ll be too late.”

Zeynab said, “You go and get Ali. I’ll find a way to get your mother away. Don’t worry. Whatever it takes, I’ll make sure she leaves the city.”

“Can I be sure of that?” I managed to ask despite the lump in my throat. She hugged me and said tearfully, “Don’t worry.”

“I don’t want her to be around when Ali comes.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said.

Then she wiped the tears from her eyes. It was impossible to get uncle to pull himself together. Afraid that mother would appear at any moment and see the state he was in, I was losing patience with him. I kept on saying, “For God’s sake, uncle, that’s enough. Dry your eyes. Mother’s liable to come out any moment, which will ruin everything.”

“I can’t,” he said again and again.

“Get up. Get up. Tell mother to go with the kids. I’ll come in after you.”

He rose and walked a few steps up the alley and returned, apparently trying to gain control of himself. He kept wiping his eyes, trying to make his face seem normal. Then the three of us went inside.

Zeynab greeted mother with her usual cheerfulness and asked how she was feeling. “We came for you,” she explained.

“Fine, but to go where?” she asked Zeynab in surprise.

“Didn’t Ali tell you to leave Khorramshahr?” Zeynab reminded her. “I came to get you into a car.”

“You’ve actually got one?” mother asked.

“The good Lord will provide,” she said. “Now gather your things and let’s go.”

As if unsure about it, mother asked uncle, “What was all that before?”

“Nothing, I just have to go to the mosque.”

Mother asked, “When will you come back?”

“I’ve got to go now to see what they want,” he explained. “You go and I’ll join you later.”

“Better get moving,” I said to him.

Even though this might be the last time I would see them, I couldn’t bear to look at the children who were now up. With Ali gone, I didn’t want to stay alive much longer. If I hadn’t considered suicide out of bounds, I would have killed myself somehow or thrown myself into the Shatt. The only way I was going to join father and Ali was to be present at the front lines. I had to get myself there and, perhaps, while tending to the wounded, a bullet or a piece of shrapnel would come my way.

Uncle started to weep again as soon as we left the Sheikh Salman Mosque. “What are you going to do?” he asked me tearfully.

“We’ve got to find a vehicle to go to Abadan and bring Ali back.”

I saw Ebrahimi in front of the mosque. The news about Ali had greatly upset him. I said hello and asked, “Do you know where we can find a vehicle? I want to bring Ali back.”

“I don’t right now, but I’ll try to arrange one for you.”

“I need one now. Later will be too late.”

“Okay,” he said.

I entered the mosque. The girls were up and Sabah and the others had decided that they would come with me.

“No,” I told them. “First, because there’s no vehicle. Second, what if they bring wounded? You’ve got to stay here.”

Sabah said, “I’m coming with you.”

Hoseyn Eidi, who was in tears, said, “Sister, I just heard. I’m coming also.”

It was decided that uncle, Sabah, Hoseyn Eidi, and Abed, the brother of Yunes Mohammadi,1 whom I had met at the mosque, would go to Abadan. There was an ambulance parked by the curb when we left the mosque. Hoseyn said, “Tell the driver to take us.”

“No,” I said. “It’s for the wounded.”

Everyone then ran in a different direction to find a vehicle. I went as far as the head of the Forty-Meter Road. All the running around was no use. We gathered again in front of the mosque. The boys said, “Now tell the ambulance driver. There are no other vehicles to be found at this time of morning.”

We approached the ambulance. The driver, who was a slim, young man, had his window down. I said to him, “Brother, pardon me. We have a martyr at the Oil Company Hospital in Abadan and we want to bring him back. Can you take us there?”

“I’m sorry, but I’m parked here in case there are wounded to be carried to Abadan,” he said.

I said, “Yes, but there are no wounded now, thank God. We can go and be back in no time.” But he wouldn’t budge no matter how much I insisted. Choked up, my voice quivering and trying hard not to cry, I said, “Look, I’ve always tried to get the wounded to the hospital as quickly as possible. I’m well aware of what your job is. I’m begging you now, for the love of God; all I want to do is bring back the body of my brother. If I don’t act soon, it’s possible that they’ll bury him somewhere else. That can’t happen, because I want him laid to rest next to my father.” With that he looked down and said, “God Almighty.” Then he rested his head on his hands, which were clenching the steering wheel, and said, “Okay. Get in.”

I motioned for the others to come. Everyone except for Abed climbed in the back of the ambulance. Unlike the other ambulances I had been in, this one was spic and span. I curled up in a corner and rested my head on my knees, speaking silently to Ali. I paid no attention to the route we took; all I knew was that we got there. I didn’t know who went to get Ali, but I do remember not crying. There were no more tears left. I felt weak and was unable to straighten my back so I stayed seated.

 

 

To be continued …

 



 
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