Da (Mother) 38

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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

2023-3-14


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

 

***

 

Nine: The Death of Father

We arrived in Khorramshahr around 4:00 p.m. I got out of the van on Revolution Avenue and headed straight for the Congregational Mosque.

It was less crowded than on the previous days; there were no wounded people in the clinic. Contrary to what I had imagined, the girls were busy doing their own work. I said hello, and they greeted me warmly. The reaction was very different from the way they had behaved toward to me the day before. Gone was the familiar teasing: “Here comes the grouch” or “You look like a cadaver.” They couldn’t have been more genial or endearing, and there was no edge to their voices. This surprised me and I thought something was going on, because, in addition to the warm reception, they kept stealing glances at me and whispering. I also got the sense they were not really working, but pretending to be busy. Zohreh Farhadi was fiddling with a G3. Sabah was preparing cotton swabs. The other one was wiping down the table. I said with a laugh, “So what’s up? You seem busy, but nothing’s happening? No wounded?”

“We’re straightening up,” they said. “We want to be ready for them.” Again they seemed affectionate, which made me curious. I had to ask, “Would you please tell me what’s going on? How come you’re being so nice?”

Zohreh said, “Nothing’s going on. It’s just that we haven’t seen you since morning and we missed you.”

“Okay, you’ve said it and I believe you,” I said.

I suddenly heard them calling my name over the mosque loudspeaker. I went into the courtyard. Ebrahimi was sitting behind a table with a microphone in his hand. I said hello and asked, “You called me?”

He got up from the table. Very calmly and respectfully he said, “A man had come here wanting to see you, but you weren’t here so he left.”

“Who?” I asked.

“He didn’t say his name.”

“Did he say what he wanted?”

“I can’t exactly say,” he added. “One of your family has been wounded, it seems.”

This was puzzling. If somebody wanted me, they knew where to find me. It was odd that a stranger would have come. I had expected them to tell me that the Soleyman Mosque had been bombed and mother and the kids were hurt or even that father had been wounded. But to have a stranger come and say that one of my family members had been hurt seemed farfetched. “Which member of my family?” I asked Ebrahimi. “Everybody in my family has gone from the city. Nobody’s left.”

“He didn’t say,” said Ebrahimi.

I got the feeling Ebrahimi was keeping his answers short to control his emotions. There was clearly something bothering him. As we spoke he kept fidgeting, which made me sure he was holding something back. I was losing patience, but I tried to stay calm. “What did he look like, this man with the news?” I asked.

“He was little pudgy and bald as a coot.”

“As far as I know there is no such person in my family,” I said irritably. “Tell me the truth. What’s happened?”

“Nothing’s happened. Believe me,” he said feebly.

The quiver in his voice was terrifying to me. I said, “For God’s sake tell me what’s happened. I can take it. I’ve seen a lot these days, done a lot of things that I never thought I’d do.”

As I spoke, Ebrahimi didn’t say a word. He looked down and kept running his hand through his hair. I realized from his stubborn silence that it was very difficult for him to speak, so I decided to ask Leila, thinking they would have definitely tried to contact her. “I’m going to Jannatabad to check on things,” I announced.

Ebrahimi got up and begged me not to go. I ignored him and left. I had wasted enough time. On the way I had a strange feeling, which I couldn’t shake. Without thinking I remembered a very disturbing dream I had had a few months before.

I saw that a pomegranate tree had sprung up in our garden. It had new leaves and was full of the bright fruit that shone through the leaves. Two of the red orbs were brighter than the others; they hung from the tree like lanterns lighting up the yard and shedding a mysterious glow. Entranced by the sight, I saw a neighbor woman of ours in the yard. I knew her husband was ill and unable to work. She wanted me to give her the two dazzling pomegranates, explaining that they would be a tonic for her ailing husband. Knowing of my father’s generosity and wanting to help the old man get better, I plucked the fruit and gave it to her.

I had no idea why the dream suddenly popped into my head. My gut feeling was that something terrible had happened, someone in the family had been killed and that I would soon have to face that horror. The slaughter at Karbala also appeared in my mind, and I felt I would soon be witnessing the same dreadful thing. I walked faster, and the closer I got to Jannatabad the louder the turmoil in my heart became. I thought about the family. Don’t let it be mother and the kids, I told myself. I wish I had looked in at the mosque where they were before going to Jannatabad. I hadn’t seen them since the day before. Little Zeynab with her unibrow and big almond-shaped eyes appeared in my mind first. It hardly seemed possible that the last in father’s line was now five years old, so spoiled by one and all you couldn’t even say “boo” to her. Then I remembered when I said goodbye to father. I had entrusted Leila to Zeynab. Then I thought: Maybe Ali has come back; he’s definitely heard news about the war and decided to return. Which one would it be? Ebrahimi is certainly mistaken. But why should I think the news is about martyrdom. Ebrahimi said someone had been wounded. So stop, I told myself. The road seemed never to come to an end, no matter how fast Iran.

I caught myself speaking aloud, talking to God and begging Him for the strength to go on if indeed somebody from the family had been killed. Up to that point we hadn’t lost anyone, and I didn’t know how I would react. I saw the dramatic ways grieving relatives behaved at Jannatabad, and I didn’t want my hysterics to sap the will of the people around me. Ali’s advice echoed in my ears: Be like Zeynab, Abbas’s mother. Whenever they recited what happened to the martyrs at Karbala, I would sit at the foot of Alaviyeh, a Seyyed woman, who told of Zeynab’s composure in the face of tragedy. Ever since those days, the mother of Abbas was my role model par excellence. Alaviyeh would tell us of how Zeynab’s heart was etched with grief at the sight of the slaughter of her most cherished relatives; how she endured all the torments of imprisonment and, when finally she confronted her tormentors, stood up and said defiantly, “On the plains of Karbala, I saw nothing but beauty.” I admired Zeynab for the way she stood up to cruelty, and asked myself: How could a human being reach such a state of wisdom that she could look beyond the obvious horror and see the blessings in her son’s and brother’s torments?

When I got to Jannatabad, I looked around but didn’t see many people in the graveyard. Several people were standing outside the body washers’ building. There was a woman sitting in the yard, wailing and digging in the ground and throwing the loose dirt on her head. Then she keened and clawed her face. It was mother. I could never stand to see her upset; but what, I wondered, brought her to this state? I was afraid of what was in store for me. What was I about to hear?

The suspense was so terrible it kept me from walking further. It was a strange sensation. Though I wanted to go to her, a force held me back. I felt like running away, getting as far from the place as I could. Then I also had the feeling I was having a terrible dream, like the nightmares of the past few nights.

But suddenly I found all eyes—including mother’s—turned toward me, and my heart sank in terror. Her wails grew louder, and she walked unsteadily toward me. She had poured so much dirt on her head and shoulders that her face and clothes were unrecognizable. She appeared to be stooping and, after her cloak had slipped from her head a few times, she gathered it up and pulled it tightly around her face and clasped it to her chest.

As if pushed from behind, I stumbled forward, but before we got close, she said in a way that made my blood curdle, “See now, your father’s dead. SEE?”

I couldn’t believe what she said. A huge lump formed in my throat. I began to tremble and hugged her. All I wanted from the world was some privacy; that way it would be easier to comfort her. Then I began to weep out loud, with my entire being, and I tried to dislodge the lump in my throat before it strangled me, but I couldn’t. The soldiers, a few guards, and the rest of the people there had their eyes on me. I had to calm mother. I didn’t want anything we did to shake their spirits. While I was hugging mother, I kissed her and caressed her head, saying, “Mom, you have to bear up—dad chose this path for himself. Why upset yourself? Isn’t it what he wanted? Wasn’t he the one who said he’d end up martyred or in prison or wounded? With his arms and legs amputated?”

After I said this, she started to claw at her face again and tear her clothes. She tried to rip open her chest, but I grabbed her hands and said, “Don’t do that. You’ll make God angry and his soul will be the worse for it.”

She didn’t seem to hear me—didn’t have the strength to hear me. She only shrieked and beat herself. She had a right to—after all the misery and grief she had experienced in life, she finally experienced some relief, but then everything fell apart. It was as if this woman was fated never to reap the rewards of all that pain. Between fits of weeping she managed to say, “How can you know what I’m feeling now with all that happened in Iraq and what’s happening now?”

It occurred to me—how I don’t know—I should just worry about her and not myself. I said, “I understand, but you have to manage somehow. Let’s go to the children.”

 

To be continued …

 



 
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