SABAH (33)

Memoirs of Sabah Vatankhah

Interviewed and Compiled by Fatemeh Doustkami
Translated by Natalie Haghverdian


SABAH (33)

Memoirs of Sabah Vatankhah

Interviewed and Compiled by Fatemeh Doustkami

Translated by Natalie Haghverdian

Published by Soore Mehr Publishing Co.

Persian Version 2019

Chapter Eight

It was the morning of late September. It was still dark when a house near the mosque was raided. Elaheh and I ran towards the explosion site. The explosion came from Fakhre Razi Street. There were many old houses in that street. We entered the street. A few meters away, the door of a house had fallen off and landed a few meters away. At the entrance of the house, a few children and an old man were crying loudly. We went inside. The floor of the yard was covered in rubbles and bricks and we had to pass a pile of soil.

The old man, who was crying at the entrance, came into the yard and said crying: “my wife and daughter-in-law had gone to the kitchen to prepare breakfast and all of a sudden the explosion sound filled the house.”  

The mortar bomb had hit the ceiling of the kitchen and there was smog and soil everywhere. I had not gone to the kitchen yet but considering the intensity of the explosion, I knew that I would not face a good scene. I moved forward. There was no kitchen left anymore. The ceiling had fallen down on the bodies of the wife and daughter-in-law of the old man.

Elaheh, the old man and I along with his son who had just arrived and was quite shocked, started moving the rubble. A few minutes later, the face of an almost forty year old woman covered in soil and blood emerged. She was in a bad condition from chest down and her body was full of shrapnel. It was as if all her bones were mixed together. Only her head and chest were sound and the rest of the body was in bad shape. We were terrified to pull her out. We were afraid that her body organs would fall off even with the slightest force. The cry of the old man and his son was bothering me. When I saw the daughter-in-law already martyred and we can’t move her, I told Elaheh to move to the old woman.

We did not know where she was. We started moving the rubble. We were busy and we noticed a black piece of fabric among the rubble. I assumed that piece of fabric to be the old woman’s Sheileh[1]. I extended my hand to move the Sheileh and see how the old woman is. As soon as my hand reached the Sheileh it was soaked in a wet and smashed moist. I pulled my hand back quickly. The small particles of the brain of the old woman were stock on my fingers. I felt like electrocuted. My spine prickled. Generally, under such circumstances I would scream as hard as I could and run away but in this cases the old man and his son were counting on us. But it was not fair to make them more miserable. I rubbed my hand against the soil and rubbles and cleaned my fingers and pulled back.

What I was witnessing was very weird; weird and hard to believe. The wave of the explosion had twisted the head completely. The old woman’s head was twisted like a piece of cloth, and had become in the form and size of a sugarloaf. There were no signs of the organs of her face. Her hair and black Sheilah were webbed together. Her hair had turned white with the load of soil and chalk falling on her head. It was a shocking scene. The old man and his son moved two steps back when they saw the old woman and started shouting and hitting themselves in the head. The crying sound of four five small children, who apparently were the grandchildren, was heard from the yard.

I was terrified to go near the body and touch it. It was an awful feeling; the feeling of my fingers soaking into the old woman’s head. I told her husband: “the body is heavy. I cannot move it. You and your son should help me.”

The old man, whose life had turned to rubbles in a snap, said in a crying tone: “ok lady. Tell me what to do?” I said: “go and grab a blanket. We have to put her in a blanket.”

I was not feeling well. I had nausea. My hand was covered in blood. There were still small and white particles of the brain of the old woman among my fingers. The old man returned with no blanket. He was not feeling well. He had gone inside the house, walked around and came back with nothing. We went near the body. The hand and foot of the old woman had been twisted in her stomach and waist; no organ was in its place and we had to deal with a pile of meat covered in soil and blood. The old man did not have the courage to come close to his wife. He was right. The face of the old woman was really frightening. I told him: “help me bring her out.” He just looked at me without saying a word. His son came forward and said: “I will help lady.”

I knew that her body is in no better condition that her terrifying and twisted face. Her body could be torn apart no matter which part we touched. I looked around. The door of the kitchen had fallen off in the corner of the yard. I told the son: “bring the door of the kitchen so that we can put your mother on it.”

He went and brought the door without uttering a word. We moved the twisted and bloody body of the old woman on the door like a stretcher. I did not want her grandchildren to see her in that situation. If it was up to me, I would not take the body of the old woman out of the kitchen in front of their eyes, but I had nothing to cover her. I wished I had my chador to cover her with it. When we moved the body of the old woman outside, the sound of mourning and crying of the old man grew higher than before.

The children were looking at the twisted body of their grandmother shocked. After taking the first body out, Elaheh had gone to look for transportation to move them. A pick-up truck was at the door. We embarked the body of the old woman into the truck with the help of the old man, his son and Elaheh. The old man was crying and saying: “oh my brother, my life is ruined, my house is ruined!”

We returned to move the body of the daughter-in-law. Her husband was shocked and looked at the body of his wife with terror and shock. He shed no tears and did not scream. We moved the rubbles a bit. We placed the door under the body and pulled the body over the door until we had moved all the body out of the rubbles. We took the body out of the yard and into the truck while the terrified children were looking. As their faces were covered in mud, their tears left a mark on their faces. The intensity of the explosion from one hand and the smashed bodies of their grandmother and mother from the other had nailed them; they just stood still and did not bother us while we were working.

The old man and his son got into the pick-up truck and went to Jannat Abad with the bodies. Poor children had to stay alone until their return. We were both silent on our way back. The horrifying face of the old woman was in front of my eyes all the time. I was not feeling well. I felt weak. I looked at my hand; looked at the dried blood of the old woman; an old woman who was supposed to be sitting at the breakfast table and feed her grandchildren with small bites[2].

We were in the mosque yard that a few Toyota vehicles arrived. Mr. Khalkhali got out from one of the vehicles. I had seen him in TV before. After the Islamic Revolution, he had been assigned to the position of the Head of Combat against Narcotics and Smugglers. His severe and candid action with drug users and smugglers had made him famous everywhere. Khalkhali got out of the vehicle with a few armed guards. He entered the mosque and stood right at the corner of the yard. The rest of the people in other vehicles who were accompanying him came inside the mosque and surrounded him. A few reporters, who seemed to be foreigners considering their appearance, also joined them. Khalkhali cleared his throat and said: “dear sisters and brothers! We are returning from one of the front lines of Khorramshahr. We conquered the enemy in a conflict which happened a few moments ago. We moved the Iraqi forces away from that area.”

The public started chanting “Allah is Great!”. Khalkhali looked at the foreign reports and told the reporters in an epic and paean tone: “the enemy should not think that we cannot fight them. The whole world must know that we are always winners.”

His epic words did not impress me. I could not understand why people were blessing and praising him. When he saw that the public is overjoyed by his words, said: “I want to give you good news and that is a member of the fifth column force who was stealing from your houses, was arrested today. I will order for his execution according to the war regulation right now and will execute him right in front of your eyes.”

Then he gave the sign to his men with his head. They went and brought a young man whose hands were tied in the back. Khalkhali pointed to the young man and said: “he is the thief of your houses and living and your honor and should be punished.”

The people who were forced to leave their houses and gather in the mosque, cheered at the news that the thief has been arrested. The public were so happy that when Khalkhali ordered for the execution on a tree outside the mosque, nobody objected.

Based on Khalkhali’s order, the young man was blindfolded and fire squad shot him in less than a few minutes! All these happened in less than fifteen minutes. His lifeless body fallen on his knees and his head tilted forward, was released from the tree and sent to Jannat Abad. After the execution of the young man, Khalkhali and his men left Khorramshahr. I did not feel well after seeing the execution of that young man. I could not understand if nobody had any objection to the act or did not dare to object to Khalkhali!

Inside the mosque everybody had their own interpretation of the event. Some said: “serves him right. He should not have taken advantage of the situation and steal from the houses.” A small group believed: “it is war era. Maybe he had been desperate and hungry and had stolen out of misery. He shouldn’t have been killed for that!” some said: “The law is the law. No exception. He should not have stolen. According to the law, those who steal in the time of war should be executed!”

I was really depressed. I was thinking about the young man’s family. I was thinking about their whereabouts and if they knew what had happened to their child?


To be continued …


[1] Sheileh is an Arabic scarf, the kind that Arab women use to cover their head, hair, neck and chest. They fix it with a small hook called Chellab.

[2] For many years I had this nightmare of a woman wearing black like a sugarloaf of three or four meters. She would follow me everywhere I went in my dream and would bring her sugar loaf face of hers into my face. I felt like she wanted to tell me something; something that she never got the chance to say.

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