Da (Mother) 9

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


With school over we moved and got away from our nasty landlord. Then began a period of going from one house to another every so often in the Shahabad neighborhood. Each place had its advantages and disadvantages; we had no choice but to take the good with the bad. One place had a good landlord who looked out for us, while another had a nasty one who would do things to annoy us. One landlord would do everything in his power to make us comfortable, while another wasted no opportunity to harass us. For example, one house we rented had a big yard (around 300 meters) with rooms along two of its sides. On one side were the landlord’s rooms and the one room that we rented; in the other rooms were three other men each with their own families.

In the summer each family would spread carpet before their entryways and eat dinner. The hospitality families showed to one another was very interesting; when anyone cooked something, everybody in the other households got a taste. The place was very serene and genial. Every night after dinner the landlord would bring out the television and put it in the middle of the compound where all could sit around and watch it.

People stayed in their rooms in winter. The same room served as our guest and sitting room, bedroom, and our study. The only entertainment was the nightly story on the radio. My favorite was the tale of Rostam and Sohrab from the Shahnameh and other epic stories.

Mother continued to help with the expenses by cleaning dates. All of us children—even Ali and Mohsen—helped, but after a few hours, we started to drift away one by one and go to sleep.

Father worked as a porter in the market until one day he found a job with the city as a sweeper. He would get up at 5:00 a.m. every day, pray, and then go off to work. Ali and I would leave the house at 7:00 and sometimes we’d see father sweeping the streets on our way to school. We ran to him and kissed his hand. He would pat our heads and say, “Go, you’ll be late for school.” My school was called Salur and Ali’s was the 25th of Shahrivar; both were located on Persian Gulf Avenue.

That year father bought a chador for me. It was made of cheap fabric with a floral pattern of roses and green leaves on a dark background. It was supposed to be only for the house, but I liked to wear it outside so I could feel all grown up. Father would warn me, “You can’t keep it clean; one day you’ll fall in the mud and get it filthy.”

I couldn’t openly oppose him, given whom he was, but there were times I’d slip the chador to Ali, who would leave for school before me. When we got to the end of the alley, I’d take it from him and put it on. By the time I got to school, I was covered up to my waist in mud and dust, which was natural after all because, except for the main roads, all the streets in town were unpaved and whenever it rained they turned to mud. So every day I had to wash the chador and my shoes and socks in the small pool the school had for ablutions. I hung the wet chador over the second-floor railing to dry.

For a time there was a minibus to take one of the neighbors’ girls and me to school. It was cheaper than a cab, which cost five rials per person. The bus was three rials, but the driver counted us as one fare and we took turns paying two rials per trip, while the other person paid one.

For most of my school years I served as class monitor, a job I liked and did well. In those days there were free student lunches consisting of milk, cake or an egg sandwich, and, sometimes, fruit. For a time they also gave us Danish cheese, which wasn’t to the children’s liking because it would dry out once the packaging was opened. That was why we used to call the dried pieces of cheese “rocks” and would toss them at one another. On sandwich days, the teacher and I would make the sandwiches and put them in special red or blue baskets, which I would bring into the classroom. The school authorities insisted we eat lunch on the premises, but most of the students brought food home because they didn’t want to eat alone. Ali, Mohsen, and I felt the same way, so we brought our food home and ate with mother and the rest of the kids. We even kept some food for father, but when it was offered, his eyes would fill with tears and he’d say, “Eat it yourselves; I don’t want it. They give me a lot of this kind of thing at work.” But we knew that father would never eat anything without us.

In the summer of 1974 Mr. Behruzi, one of the engineers at the municipality, asked father if he would like us to live at his house. He was looking for a dependable person to look after his house during the summer when he was in Tehran. He was a charitable man and had asked his friends to recommend a needy family man for the job.

With the addition of Sa’id and Zeynab the family was complete. Father raised us never to be a bother to the neighbors or to make noise. Mr. Behruzi was very taken with us, and for that reason instead of three months we stayed in his house for a whole year.

Engineer Behruzi’s place was a spacious and attractive villa located in the area of Railroad Square. It had two doors; we entered and exited through the courtyard door, which opened on the alley, while Behruzi’s family used the main door, which had access to the avenue.

Power Authority employees and city engineers lived in the neighborhood. The houses were separated by dead-ends where people parked cars. The doors to the yards, which were rectangular gardens filled with trees, opened onto these alleys. The large gardens were divided into smaller plots by pathways paved with stones. There were also ablution pools with blue walls. At the far end of our yard was an area where Mrs. Behruzi kept chickens, and beside it was a pen for the watchdog.

In another corner of the yard there were two rooms separated by a narrow hallway. Mrs. Behruzi used the room on the left as a place to store extra tools. The room on the right, which was the bigger of the two, she gave to us. At the end of the hallway was a cement bench that came out from the wall. We put a gas canister under the bench and a three burner range over it. Father also made some wooden shelves that he nailed to the wall for our kitchen utensils. The room was furnished with a small wooden wardrobe and what people called an “under-the-bed” cupboard for dishes. We covered the floor with loose-weave carpets called zilus and spread rectangular cushions all around the room so people could lean against them when sitting on the floor. On the walls were the usual framed pictures of the great clergymen like Ayatollahs Borujerdi and Hakim, whom father held in the most amazing esteem. The holiest objects in our home were: first, the Quran, and, second, those photographs on the wall, which he taught us to respect.

After a few months, we felt at home and at peace at the Behruzi’s. There were no niggling landlords, no noisy neighbors. The engineer and his wife were good people who respected our privacy. We had the run of the compound as if it belonged to us. For the children it was great; the yard was my favorite place. Uncle Hoseyni’s children liked it as much as we did and loved to visit us; but uncle, aware of our finances, wouldn’t let them stay too long. Father, however, insisted on looking after them. It was at the Behruzi’s that we finally felt like a family again, and our corner of the compound became an open house. The children spent their time playing on the swings father put up. Among the trees in the garden was one lotus that was very special to Mrs. Behruzi. She once told us about the time she woke up in the middle of the night and saw a light coming from the tree, and, though an educated woman, she believed it was a sign there was a good person living in the tree. Acting on that belief, she dug a narrow trench around it and every Thursday night would fill it with water and put lighted candles all around, making a very pretty sight. Whenever she went on vacation, she would give me the candles, and I would light them for her.

It was also in this home that for the first time I completed the Ramadan fast. In previous years I would try to keep the fast, but I always cheated. That year Mrs. Behruzi asked mother if she could give me the breaking of the fast meal at night. Although she would normally send food around for us, she insisted that I come to her home so she could host me personally, but father said, “First break the fast here with water and dates and then go there.”

The moment they broadcast the special benedictions over the loudspeakers, Mrs. Behruzi would reply, “Say a prayer for me and my children. Your Seyyed prayers are bound to be answered.” All of Mrs. Behruzi’s children were educated and held important positions, except for Shahram, who was a bit slow; although he was eighteen, he acted like a child. The first time I saw him it alarmed me a bit, but he was the kind of boy who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Whenever anyone came to his house, he would immediately offer the guests food, forcing them to accept it. If they didn’t, he’d complain to his mother.

Mrs. Behruzi was a solitary old woman unable to carry out all her household chores by herself. I tried to help her whenever I could, but at the Now Ruz holidays, when her children visited, things got hectic. Her daughter, Parivash, who lived in Abadan, was overjoyed to see me helping Mrs. Behruzi. She kissed me saying, “Good for you! I’m really grateful that you’re looking after mother.” Then she gave me a twenty-tuman bill as a kind of New Year’s gift. I was delighted because in those days twenty tumans was real money.

The year we spent at the Behruzi’s was wonderful, but the peace and quiet we enjoyed there was not to last. Mr. Behruzi was transferred to Tehran, and we had to return to Shahabad.[1] Father found a room for us in a house on Mina Avenue near Jannatabad.[2] Though on the surface the landlord seemed decent, inwardly he was anything but, engaging in vile things like drinking alcohol. Father often tried to warn him about this, but it did no good. In the end his behavior caused us to move to another place.

Unfortunately, the new landlord was no better than the old one. He stole building materials from job sites in the neighborhood and brought them home. When father discovered this, he confronted him saying, “Why are you doing that? It’s not right to take other people’s property like that.” But again it did no good; in fact, matters got worse. One day the landlord out of spite went up to the roof with a pickax and dug a hole in the mud, sending earth and debris down on our belongings. Had it not been for the neighbors, it seems, he would have brought the whole house down on our heads. They had tremendous respect for Seyyeds and were very angry with the landlord. That night they all came by and advised father to swear out a complaint against the landlord. At first father refused, but they finally persuaded him to do it. The next day the police came and took the landlord away, but father changed his mind and withdrew the complaint.


To be continued …


[1] Several years later, mother, while getting off a bus in Tehran, saw Mrs. Behruzi, who told her that her husband had died. Mother said that Mrs. Behruzi had aged greatly, and she couldn’t get her address during the rush of getting out of the bus.

[2] Jannatabad (Heaven’s Abode) was the old name for the cemetery in Khorramshahr. Now it is called Golzar-e Shohada (Martyr’s Meadow).

Number of Visits: 399


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