Da (Mother) 72

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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

2023-11-19


Da (Mother) 72

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

 

***

 

Still crying uncontrollably, uncle didn’t stop kissing me, kissing my hands, and saying, “Get up. Let’s go. I can’t take more of this. I’m begging you, let’s go.” As I rose to leave, a van pulled up with five or six Iraqi dead. Two of them were burnt badly and deformed. One of the boys in the van seemed to know me (how I don’t know) and said, “Sister Hoseyni, rejoice! Your Ali did not die for nothing. He got rid of a number of Iraqi’s. The ones you see here serviced the tanks your Ali destroyed with an RPG.” It annoyed me that he had said “rejoice,” especially when I saw there were several barking dogs circling the van. I said, “Seeing these bodies is no consolation. We don’t know who they were, how they came to be in the war. They were probably also draftees.”

The bodies were horribly mutilated, and several of the boys were sickened by the thought of burying them. “They were the ones who attacked us, after all,” they said. “Let’s dig one hole and stick all of them in it.”

“That’s not right,” I said. “They may have been Baathists, but they were Muslims—even if only in name. We have to bury them separately. I’ll do it myself.”

“No, not you; If that’s what you want, then please let us,” they said.

Leila, uncle, Hoseyn, Zeynab, and I returned to the body washers’. The old men and Maryam were sitting in a corner smoking. Their eyes and faces were puffy from crying. As soon as they saw us, they got up. Maryam came forward and hugged me. Then she took Leila in her arms and consoled us.

At uncle’s insistence, Leila and I returned to the Congregational Mosque. We sat in silence leaning against the glass doors, facing each other. Neither of us could endure seeing anyone or anything. We were in such as state that if we didn’t have to speak, our silence would last several days. While we remained listlessly grieving, I noticed a short soldier with light colored hair was sitting with his back against the opposite wall and just staring at us. This irked me, but I tried not to take notice. Finally uncle broke the silence and asked, “What do you want to do? Are you coming with me to see your mother?”

“No,” I said. “I want to stay right here.”

Uncle looked at Leila, but she also said, “I’m here as long as Zahra.” “I’m going to your mother.” Uncle said, “What should I tell her if she asks about you two? If she asks about Ali? Why do you want to stay, anyway?”

“Uncle,” I asked him, “it should be obvious why we stay. To help; From now on that’s the only reason.”

“That’s enough. Why torture your mother more? She can’t take it. I can’t take any more, either. What’s the point of making it unbearable for us?”

“Whatever happens; happens. It’s up to God,” I said.

He continued to try to convince us to go, and though I lacked the strength to argue, I had no choice but to answer him. To top it off, the soldier’s immodest staring was now adding to my grief. He looked at me as if he was searching for something or he wanted to read my thoughts. “You’re not going to say anything to this fellow?” I asked uncle.

“Forget about him, darling,” uncle said. “He’ll get fed up and go away.”

I couldn’t just sit without saying anything. I went up to him and said, “Why are your eyes on us rather than on the ground? Aren’t you ashamed? What are you doing here, you creep?”

Without taking his eyes off me, in a thick Azeri accent he said, “Your recompense is with the blessed Zahra.”

This was a shock. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“I was there when you were burying your brother,” he explained. “Even though I had wanted to leave the city because of all the chaos of the last few days, when I saw what you all did, it made me want stay to the end.”

“You’ll have to excuse me,” I said. “I thought you had something bad in mind.”

“You must forgive me, but I couldn’t help staring. What kind of people are you? Where do you get the strength, the patience?” he asked.

I didn’t know what to say and went back to where I was sitting. Uncle, who still had his mind on us but had heard what the soldier said, tried to get us to leave with him. I said nothing. Leila said, “When Zahra leaves, I will too.”

Uncle realized it was no use trying to argue. He said he would leave around noon. We came out of the mosque together and stood by a place on the wall fortified by sandbags for a minute. Uncle tried again, saying to Leila, “You, at least, should come with me.” She looked at me and said, “No, I don’t want to leave Khorramshahr. Uncle turned to me and said, “Zahra, don’t be stubborn. Why are you so intent on doing only what you want? Have some pity for your mother. How much does my sister have to suffer?”

“I’m not coming,” I said. “But if Leila wants to go, I won’t stop her.”

I looked down at some bottles they were using for Molotov cocktails and continued, “Better if Leila does go with you, then I wouldn’t have to worry.”

“No way. I’m staying on my own accord; nobody’s going to tell me what to do,” she insisted.

At that point uncle, who had been holding back his tears, began to weep. He shook his head and said, “I don’t know how I can make you go. No matter how many times I beg you to think of your poor mother, your little sister, your brothers, you don’t listen.”

“Where are you going now, uncle?” I asked.

“To find my sister and see where she’s found shelter.”

After he left, we went back inside and kept ourselves busy with work. Khosrow’s mother came by regularly to console us. A short time later Leila said she wanted to return to Jannatabad. “You go,” I said. “I’ll come by later. I want to help with dinner.” The mosque was no longer a suitable place for cooking. Around the eighth or ninth day, I had heard they wanted the infirmary and the kitchen to change places. Since the building was becoming more of a target, the windows would break from time to time, shrapnel would plough into the walls, and bits of glass and dirt would spill into the cooking pots. In addition, more and more people were coming to the infirmary. The sight of the wounded, so terrifying to the crowd in the mosque, was making the place unhealthy psychologically. Moving the infirmary also made sense from the point of view of hygiene. Mr. Najjar rightly said, “Space is pretty tight here. I’m not happy being right in people’s faces.” With all the pressure of work, we couldn’t take a break. We spent the nights behind the dividing curtain, while Mr. Najjar remained in the yard and managed to sleep despite the racket made by people coming and going.

If I remember correctly, that day at dusk Mr. Najjar announced, “I have spoken with Dr. Sheybani and he has agreed to put his offices at our disposal. We should go there today and put it into working order.

Undoubtedly it’s filthy.”

Several of the girls and I volunteered, and we went to the clinic armed with brooms and water canisters. Dr. Sheybani, a dentist, had his offices opposite the Congregational Mosque on the south corner of Fakhr Razi and Enqelab Avenues. It was only a few steps away from the mosque, and this was a big plus because the defenders who brought in wounded would know exactly where to bring them. In addition, we could stay in touch with what was happening at the mosque. When we got there the door was open. Sabah, Zohreh, Ashraf Farhadi, Maryam Amjadi, Hosayn Eidi, and I went down the step of the entrance and entered a relatively narrow hallway with rooms on the left and right side. The hallway led to a foyer with two other rooms. After that there was a largish, empty yard without a shade cover but with good sunlight.

The dental equipment and the doctor’s library were in the first rooms. We needed to brush and scrub the office floor, pack up the books in the library, and gather all the equipment in one room. This would allow us to arrange our store of drugs on the bookshelves. The cleaning took around two hours. We removed the dust that covered the mosaic tiles of the clinic and washed them. We put a bed in the main room so that the wounded could be examined there first. We made the library a dispensary, and one of the other rooms became a place where the girls could rest. I had absolutely no desire to do the work. I just wanted to get it over with quickly, then creep into a hole where no one would find me. It was completely dark when we finished. Happy to have a safe place to themselves, the girls wanted to spend the night there. I said goodbye to them and went to Jannatabad. I wanted to be near Ali.

Although I went there with the idea of being near Ali, I couldn’t bring myself to visit his grave. Every time I got up, Zeynab stopped me, saying, “What’s wrong with going during the day? It’s dangerous now.” When she saw me get all choked up, she comforted me and said, “I know you don’t want him to be alone, but it’s not right to go now.”

As long as I was awake, she didn’t leave my side. She tried to keep Leila and me from sinking into a depression by encouraging us to talk. It was very difficult to be with other people during those moments. I didn’t want anybody to see me and realize from my expression what I was feeling. Late at night, when everybody was sleeping, I sat up against the wall and wept. I knew Leila was also awake and like me was mulling over the past. I tried to bring Ali’s shining face to mind. I hadn’t seen him for three months. I wanted to remember the most recent image I had of him, but the flood of other memories broke my concentration, and his face disappeared from view. The only thing that came to mind was how he looked as a corpse—his half-open eyes and his smile. At the same time I wondered where mother and the children were at that time. What had happened to them? Had Uncle Salim reached them? Did grandfather and grandmother know about Ali? What were they doing? Finally beset by questions on all sides and with tears in my eyes, I fell asleep.

After the morning prayer, I set out for Ali’s grave. No matter how much Zeynab tried to get me to have a bite of something, I refused. When I saw Zeynab and Leila were following me, I asked, “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Well, we just want to come along.”

“No. You stay here. You can come later. I want to be alone and talk with them by myself.”

 

To be continued …

 

 



 
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