Da (Mother) 71

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



As we neared the grave, Ali’s words to mother when she asked him about his marriage echoed in my mind: “My wedding day will be the day I’m martyred. My first night with my bride will be in the grave. My blood will be my wedding henna.” Although these words set fire to mother’s soul, he was sincere. The memory made the moments I spent by his grave unbearable. Then again, when I realized they were the best moments in Ali’s life, the time when he was on his way to the One he worshipped and adored, I told myself I ought to share in his joy. Paying no attention to my surroundings, I spoke to him as we neared the grave. I was oblivious to everything around me, and occasionally tripped over my useless feet but managed to maintain my balance.

They laid the coffin beside the grave. I wanted to open it so I could see his face, but the people standing there wouldn’t allow it, saying that decorum had to be observed. I sat there clasping the wooden box. Uncle Salim was not himself. He would sit by the body, then get up and move about, all the while crying out, “Ali, you were younger than I am; you should be burying me. Why me? Why should I be the one standing over your grave? What am I supposed to tell grandpa? Grandma? And what can I say to your mother? Shah Pasand, where are you? Your son has gone on without you!”

I raised my head for a moment and was about to say something to uncle, when I saw Leila coming from a distance. I tried to pull myself together. If she saw me in that state, so close to the body, she would immediately realize that the martyred one was a relative. I didn’t want that. I got up and walked some distance from the grave. Leila came closer and, when she saw me, said cheerfully, “Hi. Mother’s gone away.” “Hello,” I said. She studied my face and asked, “What’s wrong?” I said nothing.

“Have they brought someone?” she asked.


“Who is it?”

I hesitated and said, “A soldier.” Leila craned her neck to look at the people standing around the grave. Realizing that all of them were familiar faces, she asked, “Do I know him?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I think you do.”

“What’s his name?”

I couldn’t open my mouth but only stared at her. I struggled to find a way of uttering “Ali,” when she asked, “It’s our Ali, isn’t it?”

I nodded and said quickly, “For God’s sake, Leila, I’m begging you, watch what you do. Ali always wanted it to be this way.”

We sat down across from each other. Leila was looking up at the sky and keening, “Hoseyn!” Then she covered her face with her hands, and the tears poured down.

In a quivering voice, she repeated the Imam’s name again and again, so much her entire being seemed to be in flames. This made the people nearby cry even harder. Zeynab arrived at that point and tried to comfort her with hugs and kisses. Now Leila was silent, but her body shook and her tears flowed. She looked down and pulled her headscarf low on her head so no one could see her face. Only her tears were visible as they trickled down. Uncle came near. He was worse off than Leila, constantly beating himself in the face, pounding his arms, wailing. All this was even more heartbreaking to me. “Uncle, uncle,” I repeated, but he was in such agony he didn’t hear me. I got up and said, “Uncle, you’re the man here, you should be comforting us. Do you really think it is right for me to the one to calm you down?” “I don’t know. I can’t help it,” he said.

Seeing they had taken Ali from the coffin and laid him next to the grave, I left uncle and Leila and moved toward him. Apparently they had to put the body a short distance from the grave to remove the large amount of earth in it. I took advantage of the opportunity to take his head in my arms and open the tie in the shroud. Although they told me not to, I ignored them and pulled the shroud aside exposing his face. It was free of grime, almost glowing; they had washed it. His complexion was so natural, ruddy almost, that it seemed he was sleeping and nothing had happened to him. He was only a little gaunt and there were hollows under his eyes due to the operation. I pressed his head to my chest and went on kissing his face and stroking his beard until they took him from me. This was exactly how I would greet him after he came from being away for a time. I would kiss and hug his head and stroke his beard for a while.

Uncle could take no more of this. He swore to me he would come to grips with it, but said, “That’s enough. It’s killing me. Stop, I beg you.” But I couldn’t let these moments slip through my fingers. I no longer cared how it looked to the others. There were times I could control myself, but there were others when I was so weak I would welcome the inevitable. It didn’t matter anymore. Finally Zeynab pulled me aside and began to hug and kiss Ali herself. She spoke to him so fondly and naturally you would think she was his own mother. This made my heart break for mother, who would never see her Ali again.

I was staring at Ali’s half-open eyes and the smile on his lips, when Hoseyn said, “Let’s have the body.” I stepped back. Hoseyn, an old man who was reciting the Quran, and one of the body washers were in the grave. I said to them, “I want to put him in there myself.” Hoseyn got out and I took his place. Zeynab changed places with the body washer. They lifted the body, and I took the head, while Zeynab took the feet. It felt like my back was about to break, not from the struggle to support his weight but from the burden of losing him. I thought I would never get up again. I no longer wanted anything from life. That bitter feeling was with me once more. I wanted to rip my heart from my chest and tear it to shreds so I wouldn’t feel anymore, not grief or joy, warmth or cold, nothing.

In tears, uncle said, “You should bring her out now, this is too painful for her. I beg you. Out of the grave!” As if he hadn’t said a word, I went about the business of putting Ali in the grave. I managed to sit down and hoped I would never leave it. I hoped to die and be buried with him. Although the sun was shining, I was flailing about in an unholy darkness. It was as if the world was frozen solid and Ali’s body was the only source of warmth. Afraid I would go to my death if I left his side, I kept bending down and kissing him, fondling him. I wanted nothing more than to stay with him and speak to him.

Zeynab had already climbed out, and she and the others were urging me to leave the grave. They were saying “Come out!” so much I got fed up with it. Finally Zeynab and uncle took my arms and pulled me out. The old reciter began to say the two oaths and other verses. When he mentioned the names of the Imams, I thought I heard Ali joyfully respond, “Hallelujah.”

Now I was lying in the dirt at the foot of Ali’s grave. Having completed his recitation, the old man began to arrange the gravestones from bottom to top. Although I never took my eyes off Ali’s face, I can’t express how hard it was to lay these stones. With each stone it seemed the end of the world grew nearer. I felt that a giant storm would come and crack open the earth after the last stone was laid. With me now was that same bitter, incredible vision I had when they buried father. I half expected Ali to rise and tell me it was just a nightmare, but with the final stone in place, my eyes went blank. I couldn’t see a thing. I wanted to flee but didn’t have the strength to run. My entire body became a solid block, and all of a sudden I was torn from the face of the earth and hurled into the air. I was in a blackness, hurtling toward the bottom of a deep well, and all around me the dark walls reaching up to the sky raced by. I had felt from the way Ali’s hand was cramped that it had broken when they washed his body. While I was flailing about in the blackness, the sound of his bones breaking echoed in my ears. I put my hands over them. The bitterness in me grew by the minute.

I remembered when Ferhan Asadi was martyred, I felt truly happy for his mother. How much does God love this mother, I thought, that He has taken her son while on His path. Her sacrifice has been accepted. After that I prayed that God would enroll us among the martyr families. And now this was indeed true; nevertheless it was still hard to have a loved one taken, very hard.

When the old man got up from the grave, I don’t know what I did to keep them from putting earth over it. But all of a sudden I came to and noticed that everyone’s eyes were on me. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “What are you waiting for?” They looked at me. I began to fill the hole with dirt using my hands. Hoseyn asked innocently, “Sister, should we start shoveling?” “Yeah,” but as soon as I said this I wanted to go and lie down on the slabs of stones once more and be buried.

I remembered the dirges mother would sing at the women’s gatherings on Ashura mornings. She sang of Ali Akbar and the women would beat their chests. When she got to the emotional parts of the passion, she would lose control and tear at her collar and beat her breasts. Where was mother now, so she could recite the passion for her own Ali Akbar?

They smoothed the top of the grave and Zeynab poured water over it. They had written on a part of a cement block:


The Martyr is the Heart of History

Seyyed Ali Hoseyni

Martyred 10/2/1980


This they put at the head of the grave. Leila sat by the grave hugging it and moaning. I remained kneeling at the foot of it. I bent down and put my head on the earth. In my heart I wanted all the young soldiers to gather at the grave the same way they did when Abbas, Musa, or Seyyed Ja’far Musavi were martyred. That day the boys circled the graves singing anthems and renewing their pledge to their ideals. It was too bad they weren’t there to be a source of comfort for me.


To be continued …


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