Da (Mother) 70

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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

2023-11-5


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 remember one of the nurses giving me a hug and, with tears in her eyes, telling uncle and the rest about the events of the previous night. She said to me, “You made it unbearable for us last night. You threw yourself on his body and said, ‘For three months I hadn’t seen Ali. I was thirsting for him, thirsting to see him.’ You spoke of the kids. Praised Ali. You showed me his hands. I’ve seen a lot of them, the ones who lost their fathers or brothers, but I never saw a scene like the one last night. What you said, what you did, set our souls on fire. The whole place was crying. In the end it took three people to pry you off the corpse.”

With Ali inside, the ambulance took off. I embraced his head and started pouring my heart out to him. I complained as much as I could as the tears poured out of me, “Father said that I was to be in charge of mother and the kids until you came back. What made you just go and leave me in the lurch like that? What am I supposed to do with the children? How am I supposed to tell mother, who had all those hopes? I convinced myself that you would come back and be a father to Sa’id and Zeynab.”

I caressed him and ran my hand through his hair. I spoke to him as I brushed the dirt from his head. Like a mother with her child, I held his head against my breast. Although the blood on his wounds had long since dried, when I touched them, the blood came. His tattered uniform was bloodstained. This was the very uniform that made us so excited the first day he put it on. From that moment I began to think about his impending death. I was certain it was only a matter of time. Just as he had said, we would put that framed picture of him in the room where he would spend his wedding night. At that point I told myself that we would be strong when the news came. We wouldn’t cry because he wanted us to act like Abbas’s mother. But then when I gave him my answer, Ali would say something convincing. But how could I remain calm if something happened to him? The moment when he died, I also had to be dead. This was why I was so tearful those days. Each time he would come home, I would breathe a sigh of relief and thank God he hadn’t been killed. But each time he left the house, the old dread would return. Even father, that powerful man, would get all choked up when Ali left the house. Tears would well up in his eyes. None of us dared tell Ali we were all worried about him. He’d get aggravated. One time mother said to him, “Ali, why don’t you leave the army? Everybody in the army dies. You should leave; join the Construction Corps or something else. Just don’t stay in the army. I’m always stressed about you.”

Ali became upset immediately and said, “Abbas’s mother wasn’t worried about him? Musa’s mother wasn’t in a state? Didn’t those boys have families? I’m staying in the army until I die.”

Then he charged out of the house. Mother sat down and wailed. When I remembered those scenes, I cried my eyes out. All the people in the ambulance followed suit. Uncle grabbed my hands and pleaded, “Zahra, enough! I’m dying. Don’t let yourself go like that. I can’t take any more.”

When we got to Khorramshahr, I said, “Everybody go into the Congregational Mosque.”

I had wanted to telephone Jannatabad from the mosque to make sure mother had left the city. The girls said they would call, but I was afraid they’d botch it and blurt out that Ali was dead. The ambulance stopped before the mosque. Uncle helped me get to my feet because I didn’t have the strength. It felt like my back was broken, it was so hard for me to get down. Mr. Ebrahimi dialed the number for Jannatabad and gave the receiver to me. Leila was on the line. She said, “Zeynab, Mr. Salarvand, and I took mother and the kids. Mr. Salarvand had brought his car and took them as far as the Station Twelve of Abadan. Zeynab got mother on a minibus on its way to Sar Bandar.” Then she asked, “Where are you? Are you coming this way?” It was clear she was upset that mother had left.

“I’m coming,” I said.

“You seem different today. Your voice is strange.”

“It’s nothing. I’m tired.”

“You never say you’re tired,” she said bewildered.

“Well, I’m saying it now,” I explained. “I’m worried about mother and the kids.”

With that I hung up and left the mosque. The girls, Mr. Farrokhi, Ebrahimi, and many others were standing by the ambulance looking at Ali and crying. It was difficult for me to keep from breaking down. I went to get into the ambulance. I said to them, “Why are you crying? I’m the one you should be comforting, not standing around in tears. This is Ali’s wedding day. He said himself, ‘The day I’m martyred will be the day I become a groom.’ So, you have to rejoice; Ali’s gotten his wish.”

But this only upset them more, and they started to bawl and scream. The ambulance took off. The mosque people followed. Once again I cradled his head in my lap. I thought about mother. With Ali back in town, where was she? Did she know that her heart and joy was in such a state? Did she know that she would never see him again?

We were soon at Jannatabad. Hoseyn Abedi opened the door and I saw Zeynab, who had been waiting for us, running toward the ambulance pounding her head and chest with her fists. She was crying and shrieking, “What joy! Dear Ali! Blessed be your wedding day!”

All at once I was terrified. “Leila! Where’s Leila”? I asked her.

“Don’t panic. She’s not around here. I didn’t tell her anything.” Then she started beating herself. She squatted down and clawed at her legs, struck her face, and screamed. I said to her, “Don’t act that way, I’m begging you. What’s the point? You’re just making it more unbearable for me! If you keep carrying on like this, I’ll never heal.”

They brought a stretcher and put Ali on it. Zeynab helped me. I noticed that my legs and hands were bloody from his head wounds, and my heart shattered. This told me the back of his head was also hit by shrapnel. Several of the army boys and some of the civilian forces from the mosque had gotten to the cemetery before we did. I saw some of the people from the mayoralty among them. They carried Ali to the body washers’. “Where are you taking him?” I asked.

“We want to wash and shroud the body,” they said.

“You can’t. There is no water, no shrouds,” I said.

“We’ve gotten a shroud and have some water,” they said.

“Why the special treatment?” I asked.

“What special treatment? There simply was water and a shroud. We want to wash him.”

With that they brought Ali inside the body washers’. At that point everything went blank. Unable to stay any longer, I walked away where I don’t know. Upset and confused, I just walked and walked. I didn’t know how much time passed. Someone called and I went to the door. It may have been Mr. Parvizpur or Salarvand who asked, “What do you want to do with your brother’s clothes?” “I don’t know,” I said. My mind wasn’t working. I was afraid to bring them home. Somebody might throw them out. The Iraqis would probably occupy the house, and I would never get them back.

I hesitated and finally said, “Give them to me.” I took them and kissed them. Then I decided to bury them the way I buried the clothes of the other martyrs—except I buried those clothes to get rid of them. Ali’s I would bury in a safe place so I could find them again, and they wouldn’t be destroyed. I found a plastic bag and then gathered his clothes, boots, and even the leggings he used to attach them to his trousers. The army boys asked me, “Sister Hoseyni, what do you want done with those things? Just tell us what you want and we’ll do it.”

“I want to bury them myself. No one should follow me,” I told them.

I had no idea what I was doing or how I looked. It didn’t matter that I was making people stare and break into tears. I went to stand under one of the trees in a small wood, one of the places where branches through no fault of their own had come crashing down. I sat under the tree and hugged the clothes. I put the boots into the bag, but I couldn’t bear to put the clothes in. I brought them near the bag, but then thought better of it and pressed them to my breast. I remembered grandfather and called out to him. He loved Ali so much. I called out to him, “Where are you?” “These bloody clothes belong to your Ali, your Joseph. The wolves, it’s true, have eaten him this time.”

I finally managed to let go of the clothing and put them in the bag. I marked the tree and buried the clothes in a hole nearby. It was clear from what people were saying about the front, how the Iraqis were advancing, how there were no weapons or reinforcements, the city would soon fall. So Jannatabad, a place that I knew like the back of my hand, would be the best spot to hide the clothes. We didn’t bury people under the trees, so they would go unnoticed.

I returned to the body washers’ and sat with my back against a wall. I was worried Leila would appear. I didn’t know how to tell her about Ali without shocking her. Mr. Parvizpur came by again and gave me two cartridges and Ali’s watch. “The cartridges were in his shirt pocket,” he said. Both the bullets and the watch were bloody, and shrapnel had torn the metal watchband in half. The watch had stopped at ten minutes to ten. I put the things in my pocket and got up. I told uncle and the others around me, “Let’s go and prepare the grave.” Hoseyn said, “Sister, we’ve already dug one. It’s over there.” I looked where he was pointing; it was very far from father’s grave. “No,” I said, “that’s too far away. I want him next to father.”

We walked to father’s grave, and as if God had willed it, there was an empty space next to it. It was odd given all the bodies that had been buried in the last five days since father’s death. This was the very grave that had been dug for father originally, but it had filled with water and left to dry.

Hoseyn and two others removed the loose earth people had thrown into it to soak up the water. I sat down on father’s grave and peered into the empty hole that would soon hold Ali.

A short time later they put Ali’s body into a coffin and brought it to the grave. I didn’t have the strength to stand. I wanted desperately to be alone so the fire raging in me could come out. At the mosque I saw how the soldiers whose friends had died or been wounded agonized over their losses. Their words and actions had a terrible effect on the others. Despite the torment I felt, I was determined not to behave like those soldiers. When the pallbearers reached the end of the dirt path, I rose and went to greet Ali. The bearers made way for me, and the whole time I kept running my hand along the coffin. Then I took hold of the underside.

 

To be continued …

 



 
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