SABAH (80)

Memoirs of Sabah Vatankhah

Interviewed and Compiled by Fatemeh Doustkami
Translated by Natalie Haghverdian


SABAH (80)

Memoirs of Sabah Vatankhah

Interviewed and Compiled by Fatemeh Doustkami

Translated by Natalie Haghverdian

Published by Soore Mehr Publishing Co.

Persian Version 2019



Fouziyeh and Shahnaz couldn’t believe that I wanted to do such a thing. Fouziyeh said: “Sabbah, aren’t you really afraid?!” I said: “What else we can do sister?! Poor woman is left here for two days. If we don’t do it, nobody knows if anybody will be ready to do it. You can come with me and stand beside me so that I don’t feel frightened. I can see you and not feel lonely and frightened.”

The personnel of the morgue said: “May God give you whatever you want sister. Hope God helps you in all aspects of life.”

We followed him. There were mortar bombs hitting all around us and we were waiting for one to hit the graveyard. The Ladies bathroom had a separate door and also a big curtain at the entrance. When we reached the curtain, the boy said: “Wait here. I will go and grab scissors and shroud material.”

I felt shocked by what he said. I was praying to God to help me do this task well. A few instances later, the boy returned with Camphor, cedar, a few pieces of white material, one scissor and a pot of soil and gave it to me and said: “Sister, I am not allowed to come in since I am a man. You go inside. I will wait here behind the curtain and will tell you what to do in each stage. God bless you.”

We went inside. We entered a dark hall with walls made of black cement. On the left side of the hall there was a big room and there was a platform in it. The room had only a small window and was semi-dark.

The martyr that we had to wash and put shroud on, was in that room and on that platform. My friends stayed at the entrance of the room and I went in slowly and kneeled beside the body. The martyr was a woman with an average body who had a dress and trousers with black background with little red and blue flowers. The feet and upper part of the body were healthy but the quiver had harmed half of the face and had left a strange scene. The hole in the place of her mouth was bigger than normal and black. When I looked at it for the first time, I felt that it is as deep as a cave. Usually I had a strange fear from dead person and now I was facing a body that terrified the bravest. Her volume of hair covered in dust and soil and blood was so much that I felt that her hair is all covered in burnt hair. Her long hair had twisted around her head and face. Although only half of the face had been destroyed but I could not see any eye or eyebrow or cheek on the other side as well. Her nose was mixed with the hole of the mouth.

My face was towards the body but I felt that my pupils prevented from looking at the abnormal and terrifying face of the woman. For one instance I remembered Zahra Hosseini. She was very brave. How could she spend so much time in bathroom for the dead. Since the beginning of the war until the time that Jannat Abad was safe and martyrs could be buried there, poor girls did a lot. She narrated lots of stories from the washing and burying of martyrs for us.

A bitter silence was everywhere. Nobody made a noise. They had come inside and were standing at the door. I didn’t want to look at their faces. I was terrified that they might be frightened and make me terrorized too and then I can’t continue my task.

During my teenage years, death and dead people were so vague for me that I tried not to think about it. My fear was so big that I felt my fingers freezing and I became afraid of my own fingers feeling that they are dead and don’t have a soul. It took me a long time to be able to cope with this fear. The only reason I could continue to this point was that they were martyrs and not dead. For an instance I remembered Bibi. During my childhood I had heard from her that every Muslim should wash seven dead people. Her words kept my heart strong and warm and encouraged me in the task I was doing.

The boy said: “Sister first have a wish in your heart to wash this dead body, then put your hands in the pot of soil I gave you, then drag your hands on her face, then drag your right hand on her right arm and do the same with the left hand. Do these tasks and later I will tell you how to put shroud on her.”

Until that moment, I thought that I should wash her. In that case I would put water on her body and it was not necessary to touch her body but now I had to touch her skin and hands and تیمم . I relied on God and whispered in the name of God. I opened the pot and dogged my hands into the soil. It was a soft soil like clay.

I raised my hand and took it towards her face, to part which was forehead and roots of the hair. Her face and my hands were like magnets with the same name and pushed each other away. I felt that I had to push my hands to be able to touch her face. When my hands touched her hair and face skin and I felt the coldness in her body, I felt that I was electrocuted with three phase electricity. All the cells in my body froze.

I was so terrified that I decided to stand up and run away from the room. But as soon as I looked up, it seems that a group of full covered and elegant women whose faces were not to be seen, were standing in front of me instead of Shahnaz, Fouziyeh and Esmat who were wearing black veils. Without seeing their faces, I just saw a group of black wearing group. A group that made me shy and I kneeled again.

An inner voice was saying Sabbah they are waiting for you to finish the task and hand them over the body. In a normal situation I would have died of fear with this scene but this time, I was not afraid of seeing the ladies and had a strange calmness and my heart felt secure.

I dragged my both hands from up to down of her chin. Then I did Tayammum on her right hand with my right hand and I did the same with left hand. I did exactly as the boy had told me. While doing Tayammum I noticed that she had been young. Although two days had passed since her death, the freshness of the skin in her hand showed that she had around thirty years of age.

The boy said: “Sister, are you done?”

I replied in a voice coming from down the well and said: “yes, I did Tayammum.” He said: “God bless you. Now first take the camphor and put it on her body then do it with cedar. You have to rub them to the seven parts which touch the ground during prostration. Put a little bit on the forehead, a little bit on hands and toe and the rest of the fingers, a little bit on her knees.”

I said: “This poor woman has clothes on, how should I rub them on her knees?” He said: “First cut her clothing with the scissor I gave you and then wrap her in the shroud. Before binding the knots please put cedar and camphor on her body.” I said: “ok.”

He said again: “Listen well sister. First you have to use the big piece of shroud from her head to her body, then do the same with the lower part. At the end, put the part which is similar to scarf on her head.”

I wanted to keep the respect of the body as much as possible and did not want to take off her clothes in front of others. First, I spread the bigger part of the shroud on the platform besides the body and then I pushed her on it. I moved her a bit to be able to place her completely on the shroud. I lifted her head slowly and placed the part of the shroud which had a hole in it like a dress. Then I dragged the shroud down like a dress and made it proper. The first part almost covered until her knees.

Then I took the scissor and took it under the shroud to cut her clothes. Her clothes were made of cotton material but it had absorbed lots of blood and had become cracked; just like a starched net. I teared her clothes and took them off. I rubbed cedar and camphor on her body as the boy had said and bonded the knots on the shroud and tied the last part like a scarf on her head.

When I looked up, I saw Shahnaz, Fouziyeh and Esmat looking at me like astonished people. I said: “Thanks God it is done. Now help me carry her out.”

We did it. The boy thanked us a lot and prayed for us and said that she has to be buried instantly. A man who was working in the washing area, stood in front and we said death prayer behind him. Then we took the body besides a grave that had been dug for her. The boy said: “Sister you have helped us so far, please help with the rest of the process too.”

I went inside the grave. The rest helped me place her in the grave. The man working there said: “Please open her face and place her face on the soil. I want to indoctrinate her. When I read it, you move her.”

I did everything he said. When I placed Lahad stone on her, I told her in my heart: “Although I was terrified at the beginning, but everything I did for you, may be legit for you. Help me in the other world.”

While we were busy with her, Nader’s washing and shrouding had also been finalized and buried. We returned to Caravanserai. As I had touched a dead body, I had to do obligatory ablution. Shahnaz and I went to a corner of the yard of Caravanserai hotel that was not crowded. Shahnaz covered me and I did the ablution with cold water in that cold weather. I was freezing. My body was shaking and my teeth hit each other. It was thanks to God that I didn’t catch cold.


To be continued …

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