Da (Mother) 42

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 all my heart I wished Ali and some of his friends were there so they could chant for father the same songs they chanted for the martyred soldiers. But I knew this was impossible; the mourning would have to go on in silence. I couldn’t possibly chant something for him myself—not out loud. So I began to recite something I had heard at the recitals for the martyrs at Karbala:


O campsite of father of Abdollah, why do you lament?

They have abandoned us both to everlasting pain and sorrow.


The men piled earth on the grave and brought a jagged piece of stone on which Parvizpur had written with a marker: “The Martyr Seyyed Hoseyn Hoseyni, Felled by Shrapnel, September 27, 1980.” Then I found myself chanting:


O forlorn, O Hoseyn, O Martyr, O Hoseyn, O Karbala, O cruel to us, O forlorn, O Hoseyn, O slaughtered, woe unto us, O forlorn, O Hoseyn


I neither saw nor heard anyone now. The whole scene was shrouded in mist and dust. I had no idea how they managed to move me from the gravesite and get me back to Jannatabad building. All I heard was the chant asking Hoseyn to intercede for us.

The woman Zeynab took the children by the hand and we got under way. It was getting dark by the time we reached the Sheikh Salman Mosque. People from the neighborhood and those in the mosque came forward gathering around us. All the aunts came by to embrace mother and the children, kissing them and offering their condolences. All of them were weeping. The mother of Reza said, “The last time I saw the Seyyed I had the feeling he was a goner; he had that special glow about him. I could tell by the way he acted he wasn’t long for this world.”

With tears streaming down her face, the wife of Uncle Gholami agreed, saying with her Bandari accent, “Yeah, that’s right; when the Seyyed came to the door of our home, it dawned on me that the man wasn’t going to be with us long.” She turned to me and said, “Your uncle’s hurting badly now that his brother’s gone. He felt alone before, but now it’s worse.”

Mother and the children were seated on some carpeting people had spread in the yard. The neighbors kept on grieving for them, but mother, who was now squatting in a corner, didn’t even have the strength to cry. I heard her moan feebly from time to time, but it wasn’t clear whether she was mourning or just weeping.

I felt terrible and couldn’t sit still. It was like I was choking but I couldn’t clear my throat. I remembered father telling me not to lose hope no matter how bad things got. “It’s true,” he said, “that the Iraqis outnumber us, but we have the Imam. We have faith on our side. Let the whole world come and stand against us. History is about to repeat itself. The Prince of Martyrs also faced overwhelming forces.”

His words helped ease the pain a bit for me, but what about mother? I felt very sorry for her and called on God to give her the strength to go on. I recited from the Quran, “You we worship, and to You we turn for help,” and puffed air in her direction to try to calm her.

After a time just sitting there didn’t seem right, so I rose and said to mother, “I’ve got to go.”

“Where to?” she asked without emotion.

“The Congregational Mosque.”

The woman Zeynab asked, “Where do you think you’re going, dear? What good will it do?”

She said “dear” so tenderly that I wanted to kiss her face. “We need to get back to work. How long do you think we can sit around here?”

“Don’t leave me,” said mother almost begging me. “Till now there’s been your father, but.…”

I didn’t let her finish the sentence. “Don’t worry, Mom, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be right around here.”

The two women, Leila and Zeynab, also stood. Zeynab whispered to mother, “I can’t say how sorry I feel for you. If only a few of your kin were here.” She turned to the neighbors and said, “Don’t let her be by herself, I beg you. I’ll drop by regularly and see how she’s doing.”

The three of us left the mosque together. I separated from them in the alley and headed for the Congregational Mosque. As soon as I got there the women surrounded me, offering their sympathies. I tried as hard as I could to keep calm responding to them. The girls were all choked up as they consoled me. Ra’na Najjar was especially devastated. I turned to them and asked, “You all knew that father had been killed. What kept you from telling me?”

Zohreh Farhadi said, “You’re right, but it was hard, because we didn’t think you’d take the news as well as you have. The way you are coping is helping us stay calm.”

Struggling to keep my emotions in check, I said, “I thank God father got his wish. He said there’s nothing wrong with death, so long as it’s a good one, a death that pleases God. It’s worth it to die on God’s path.”

“You’re almost acting as if your father’s death hasn’t affected you at all,” said one of the girls.

“This was his choice. For years he’s been hoping he’d die that way. By the way, he’s no different from other martyrs; they’re all my father and brothers.”

When the call to prayer sounded I left them, washed, and went into the prayer room. Wanting to be alone, I stood behind a pillar. First I prayed, then I sat down with only God as company. I couldn’t stop thinking about the responsibility father had put on my shoulders. It was weighing on me. I began to cry as I thought: How was I supposed to take his place as the head of the family? I turned to God for help.

But there was no escaping the conflict raging within me. I argued back and forth with myself and finally reasoned that since father had died in a way that pleased God, God would now help us get through this. How could the God who won’t allow a tiny plant in a vast wasteland to perish forget us? If that happened, I thought, then where could we turn?

I felt a bit better after prayers and entered the compound where they were serving people supper. I helped take portions of cheese from the 17-kilo tins and placed them in plastic bags. Then we bundled flatbread and handed the bundles to people waiting in line. We also gave out tins of tuna, canned eggplant, and broad beans to both the soldiers and civilian militiamen who, covered in grime, were in a hurry to get back to the front.

As I worked I couldn’t help reminiscing about father: the time when he banged his fist on that sign saying that Banisadr had betrayed us by not sending troops to the front. The more I thought about him the more I hated the traitor.

I was so busy that I didn’t pay attention to what was happening around me. Suddenly I realized the girls were standing around me, expressing their sympathy and love. Mrs. Purheydari, one of the more hard-working women at the mosque, kissed my cheek periodically and assured me of her affection. But I found this a bit annoying. Their pity, I felt, was based on the assumption that father had merely died rather than become a martyr in the true sense. This was why I chose to keep my distance. At the same time I was heartsick about mother and the kids. So when there was a lull in serving dinner, I stopped and headed back to the Salman Mosque.

It was now pitch black outside, and anybody who had gone from the mosque was now back safely inside. Several people were standing guard at the entrance. Inside the compound families were bunched in small groups by the wall, which had regular indentations like prayer niches. This allowed the families to have a modicum of privacy.

Still grieving, mother huddled against the wall, resting her chin on one hand while she stroked her head with the other. The children, also still mourning, were gathered around her. The only one not near her was Mansur, who was walking in the yard. It broke my heart to see them like that; it was a scene that I wanted to avoid. When I drew closer, the children got up and I took Sa’id and Zeynab in my arms and caressed them. Seeing this, mother burst into tears. I let the children go, took mother in my arms, and kissed her face. “What am I supposed to do without your father?” she asked between sobs. “What can I do with them with him not around?” Her words struck me to the quick, despite the immense grief I already felt; even so I was able to keep my emotions in check. Mother’s show of grief caused the children, whose eyes were now on me, to begin crying again, and I knew I had to keep myself from breaking down in front of them. There was enough pain to go around that day, after all. I said to mother, “Why are you being like this? Would it have been better that father had died in a car accident or from being sick?” All she could manage was a feeble “Praise God. Praise God.”

“So why are you going on like that?” I asked.

“Nothing stops the pain I feel in my heart,” she explained.

I spoke to her until she calmed down and finally said, “Zahra, I don’t know what it is about what you’re saying, but your words give me strength.”

Seeing her in that state upset me nevertheless. She had lost her own mother when she was a child and had to endure a lot because of it.

From the day they were married, mother and father’s problems never stopped, but they were happy together. As she rested her head on my shoulder, I recalled that father was forever declaring his love for her. Even after having eight children, they doted on each other like newlyweds. Whenever father would come home to find mother out, he’d get all wound up and pace up and down until she returned. Whenever he came home from work, he’d sit down with her, and they’d talk and joke. When I was a child, it struck me how much more attractive and how much younger father looked than mother, and I tried to figure out what made him love her so much. But as I grew older and saw how kind and patient she was, I understood that father was right. Mother’s understanding and good sense were more precious than good looks.

Father never lost his temper with mother no matter how bad things got financially. Even when he came back from work empty-handed, ashamed that he couldn’t provide for the family, mother would comfort him by saying, “So it’s not like the end of the world. God will provide; thanks to Him we won’t starve.” Then she would whip up some dinner to show that the larder wasn’t bare. Mother never mentioned our money problems to grandfather or to her brother. But even when her family did bring it up, she would defend father by saying, “The man’s a hard worker who’d never dream of stealing.”


To be continued …


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