Da (Mother) 100

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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

2024-6-2


Da (Mother) 100

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

 

***

 

He passed me without waiting for an answer, and, as soon as he took one step away from the sandbags and reached the tracks, he blew up. I was on my knees, and the shock wave flung me to the ground and made my head ring. Now everything I saw and heard seemed like a dream. The sounds I were plain enough: the man detonating, the noises made by bits of his bone and flesh falling to the ground, and especially the crack made when his skull burst apart. After the flames and smoke cleared, everything went crimson. My eyes only registered the color of blood, as if the whole place were painted red. The air was thick with the stench of burnt powder and scorched hair and flesh.

The soldier, most likely a first sergeant, had been blown to bits. In the exact moment before the blast, I had seen a bullet whizzing by. That bullet had struck the RPG he had in his hand, sending him to his death.

I got up. Everything was a blur and still felt like a dream. All that remained of the soldier were smoldering bits of flesh. It was as if someone had dismembered him and strewn the pieces on the ground. The sight of the blood and singed body parts stunned me. My eyes were fixed on the ground, but eventually I focused on the spot where he had been standing and felt sick. I looked back at the pillar and the sandbags. Parts of the wall were perforated, and one side was totally gone. Somehow I had avoided being hit by shrapnel.

I don’t know whether it was the effect of seeing the carnage or of the blast that threw me to the ground, but my mind wouldn’t work. I was numb. How long I remained there, I don’t know, but after a while I absentmindedly put a few rounds under my arm and started moving away. I crossed the road and returned to where I had been and sat down. I looked back at the torn pieces of the corpse a number of times. From that distance it looked as if a gummy mess had been left there.

From the time we had arrived at the Sentab entrance and I first saw that man, I had been thinking about father. He looked a lot like father. I even pointed out the resemblance to the woman who was with me. Maybe it was his long face or his unibrow or the way his hair was brushed upward, but he reminded me of dad. I was unconsciously drawn to him, imagining he was father. The only difference between them was that the man was at least seven or eight years younger. More than his features, his character made me think of dad. As he ran with the forces he spoke words of encouragement to them. It was clear he was a man of faith, sure of his aims. “Bravo!” he had said. “You’re a real soldier.” Having forgotten the way he spoke and acted, without knowing it, I said to myself: “I’ll be damned! I’ve thought so much about him being like dad, now he’s gone and joined him.”

I couldn’t help saying that sentence over and over again, so many times that the woman who was bandaging the wounded with me suddenly shouted, “That’s just about enough of that! I’m going to slap you silly if you don’t stop! You’re driving me crazy!”

I thought it was all in my head and hadn’t realized I had been repeating the sentence out loud, but I couldn’t help it. I was so dazed and confused I still felt like I was in a dream. To make sure, I stared at that horrid scene again, only to find it was real. I was crazed, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

The rest, like me, were nearly out of their minds. The incident with the soldier attracted a crowd to the spot where we were. Other forces arrived, drawing more enemy fire with them—so much it prevented people from gathering what was left of the man’s body. It just lay where it was. The Iraqis were pounding the other side of the wall from the port so hard it began to shake, and I thought at any moment it would collapse, burying us. The intensity of enemy fire forced the RPG men down from the jetty. The commander had told them before the action not to stay in one place for a long time, so the Iraqis couldn’t get a bead on them. Despite that they had located our position and were bombarding it with mortar fire and RPGs.

I wasn’t myself under these grim conditions. I moved sluggishly, as if weighed down by something. My arms wouldn’t move easily. Gone was my old speed and agility. My ears were still ringing. Any moment, I thought, a mortar round would tear me to pieces. It felt like I felt glued to the spot, unable to move this or that, and was now doing things out of habit. Our forces were trying hard to answer the Iraqis’ fire. There was a horrid wall of sound around me. A few of our soldiers seemed to have gotten back on the jetty and, running back and forth, were raking the enemy with G3 fire. I couldn’t tell how much time had passed or what actually had happened. The only thing I recall was one of the boys on the wall handing his weapon down to me, saying it had jammed.

I stood up and took it. Leaning against the wall, I tried several times to free the bolt but couldn’t. As I was doing this, there was an explosion, and I was slammed face down to the ground. Now even dizzier than before, I couldn’t hear a sound. I could only feel my legs shaking. The last thing I remember seeing was Dr. Sa’adat and the other woman bandaging one of the wounded. My voice trembling, I cried, “Dr. Sa’adat! Dr. Sa’adat!”

There was no answer. I yelled the other woman’s name, which I can’t recall now. Nothing. I tried to get up, but couldn’t. My back and legs felt too heavy to move, and I was sure the cement wall had collapsed on me. It was impossible to look back and see what had happened. There was no feeling in my back and legs. I cried out for help again. “Somebody, pull me out of here!” I shouted. “The wall’s fallen on me! Help me, somebody!”

Finally I saw Dr. Sa’adat standing over me, holding his arm. Blood was streaming from it. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, though his lips were moving. I thought he had lost his voice or couldn’t raise it. Unable to make me understand, he got up and left. I called out to him again. I tried to use my arms to raise myself but was only able to raise my head. After a few moments, my field of vision cleared, and I could see Dr. Sa’adat and the other woman running this way and that attending to the wounded. I couldn’t understand why no one was trying to get me out of the rubble. My hearing was coming back gradually, and I realized there had been nothing wrong with Dr. Sa’adat’s voice.

He stood over me again. He held up his arm and, in obvious pain, explained, “You see, Sister Hoseyni, I’ve been hit by shrapnel.”

It wasn’t clear whether he wanted to comfort me or, because of his delicate constitution, to show he couldn’t stand being wounded himself.

“Don’t worry, doctor,” I said. “I’ll bandage it for you.”

I reached out and he handed me the bandage he was holding. I did everything I could to get up and bandage his arm but couldn’t. He didn’t have the slightest idea how badly I was wounded, thinking perhaps I had merely been knocked to the ground. He was looking around in a daze, horrified perhaps by the sight of so many wounded. I said, “Doctor, no matter what I do, I can’t get up. My legs are shaking.”

He was shocked when he looked down and said, “Sister Hoseyni, you’re wounded, too! Your back is drenched with blood.”

I reached around to where it felt wet. Then my fingers sank into soft, warm tissue. Part of my back, I realized, had been torn open, but even so there was no pain. The thought that they would take me back in this state terrified me. “What should I do?” I asked Dr. Sa’adat. “I don’t want to leave. I want to stay right here. What I am supposed to do?”

He said, “It appears all of us will have to go back. Everybody’s wounded.”

Then he rushed away to help another person crying in obvious pain. The doctor said, “Hurry! This man’s got to go to the hospital immediately.”

I tried to move again and managed to raise my head and chest a little, but my spine ached so much I was forced to lie back. I was determined to move my legs and though I thought I had been successful, when I looked down I saw they hadn’t budged. I called out to the doctor again and asked, “Can’t you just patch me up here? I’m not in pain.”

“No. It feels like nothing’s happened to you, but it’s really serious,” he said.

I strained my memory trying to work out what had happened to me. I remembered the wall wobbling and being thrown forward, and then the shrapnel going through the wall and entering my body. Then I recalled thinking about the size of the shrapnel and wondering how a mortar shell could penetrate a wall thirty or forty centimeters thick.

Shortly people came to carry me away. I heard the commander calling for help on the radio. He was saying fifteen or so of his twenty-man detail were in a bad way.

When the two men arrived to take me away I said, “No, no. Don’t touch me. I’m not going back.”

“We’ve got to get you to the hospital,” they said.

“No,” I said. “Tell the woman over there and the doctor to come and patch me up right here. There’s nothing the matter with me.”

I heard Dr. Sa’adat shout, “What do you mean there’s nothing wrong with you? You can’t get up. You’ve got to be evacuated, Sister Hoseyni.”

“No, doctor, I don’t want to.”

“All of us have to go,” he said. “We can’t stay here. We’re all wounded.”

Then he said, “Take her away.”

“No,” I yelled. “Nobody touch me!”

“How are we supposed to lift you then?” they asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t care how you pull me across the ground, but I wouldn’t let anyone but a close relative near me.”

“We don’t have enough stretchers,” they explained.

With no other choice, I took hold of their weapons, and they dragged me along. We hadn’t gotten but a few steps when a mortar went off nearby, and shrapnel entered my arm, causing me to let go one of the weapons. One of the men took off his overcoat and wrapped it around his arm. I grabbed it. But before we could get going again, the mortar fire became so intense the two men dove to the ground, letting me drop. We stayed like that for half an hour.

During that time, I remembered the scene from my childhood when we were coming to Iran from Iraq, and I saw father at this very port. I hadn’t seen him for a year. Now it was fifteen days since he had passed away. That day at the port was the most beautiful and sweetest day of my life, but today.… I recalled as our boat traveled across the Shatt, the closer we got to Iran, the happier I became. It puzzled me when they said we were nearing the border. Where was the land? I wondered. I had no idea the boundary could be in the water, unmarked by a sign or a flag. At a certain point the boat stopped, and they transferred us to a larger one. Petrified by the water, I almost died each time the boat lurched.

 

To be continued …

 



 
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