Da (Mother) 48

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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

2023-6-6


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

 

***

When we got to the hospital, we delivered the man to the nurses, who were dead on their feet and were complaining about the volume of wounded. “Why did you bring him here?” one of them asked. “Take him somewhere else.”

“He’s in a bad way,” I said.

The van dropped me off at the mosque. I entered the courtyard, where there was pandemonium. Everyone who had come to the mosque for shelter was standing around. Some officials were speaking about evacuating the city, while the crowd stared at them in stunned silence. They didn’t know where they were supposed to go. I got closer to the speakers to hear what they were saying.

“The authorities have decided to evacuate the population from the city. All able-bodied people must not delay and leave.”

One person in the crowd asked, “Where’re we going to go? There’s no place for us to go.”

“That’s up to you. There’s no telling how long the war will last, but one thing is certain: if you stay you will perish. There’s nothing you can do. To remain means you’ll die.”

Angered by what they were telling the crowd, I shouted, “Why? Why should people have to leave? What’s going on here? What’s the point of emptying the city? So it’ll fall into the hands of the Iraqis without a fight? What good is turning all these people into refugees?”

“What do you mean? You want everybody to remain under fire?”

“No, let’s bring everybody to the mosque.”

“How long do you think we can look after people under these conditions? Don’t you think they’ll shell the mosque, too?”

“Haven’t we been fighting for a year now anyway?” I said heatedly. “Don’t you remember that fracas they started by playing the Arabsagainst-the-Persians card? You saw how fast that was over.”

“That was just some internal dispute. They got it quickly under control, but this is war. They’ve attacked us with everything they had.”

“We can take care of that. Banisadr’s supposed to be sending planes, right?” I had heard the rumor so many times, I couldn’t stop myself from repeating it, but a few of the onlookers were chuckling at how gullible I was.

The man I was arguing with said, “You can’t count on what the higher-ups say. If they were going to do something, they would have done it by now. It’s been a week and there’s no sign of them.”

“I, for one, am staying,” I declared. “Nothing’s happened to force people to evacuate. If we do that, we’ll just hand the city over to the enemy.”

Then I went to the prayer room. The mosque was cluttered with boxes and equipment people had brought in. The girls and I were sorting things when we heard the sounds of explosions and everything stopped. People were shrieking and began to rush in panic from the mosque. Shells were landing nearby, making the building shudder. Now people were running all directions. Most interesting were fiveor six strange creatures; while the world was coming to an end around them, they seemed to be going about their business calmly. God help them, I said to myself and went to see about the others. Some of the boys and I tried to restore calm. The women and children were utterly terrified, but I managed to reassure them that our forces at the front were giving as good as they got. I was just repeating what I had heard from boys I knew, people like Mohsen Baqalani, Taqi Mohsenifar, Hoseyn Ta’ynezhad, all friends of Ali. I was so worried about what was happening at the front, I threw modesty to the wind and went right up to any soldier I saw and asked, “What’s the situation?”

Some would say, “It’s bad. The Iraqis are armed to the teeth, while we’ve got nothing.”

Another said, “Today we gave them what for. If only the planes would come and bomb the Iraqi positions, then we’d stop their infantry.”

When things had died down a bit, someone called me. I went into the yard where Abdollah Mo’avi was waiting. As soon as he saw me he came over and said, “Sister, you need to come to the Abbasiyeh Prayer Hall—there’s quite a crowd there; they’re panicking and we don’t know what’s going to happen to them.”

I told the boys where I was going and that I’d be back.

Being a local boy from the Safa Market, Abdollah knew the area well, but I’d never been to the Abbasiyeh. As we passed the market, the changes I saw there made my heart break; a week earlier it was so bustling there wasn’t room to move. Now, except for a few dairy places and bakeries, everything was shut down. There were a few people peddling potatoes and onions from carts, but there was no sign of the pre-war throngs. Everything spoke of disaster. Gone was the famous Mashallah stewed meat and vegetable place that was the talk of the town. Gone also were my fellow Arabic speakers who would bring in clothing and perfumes from Kuwait and display them on cloths on the ground. The village women selling cream, local butter, and chickens; the date sellers and fish mongers who would shout out the merits of their catches—all of them had left, robbing the place of its charm.

Putting the market behind us, we headed for the Abbasiyeh. There was a young boy holding an M1 in front of the gate. We greeted him and asked what was going on, what was the trouble. He said, “There are several sick people here. Over all things are bad; everybody’s lost their nerve. They say we’re going to lose. The Iraqi guns are just across the straits from us, after all. When they start shelling, all hell breaks loose.”

I said, “You should tell them that it’s not like that. Tell them that our forces are fighting the Iraqis.”

“I say that,” he said, “but no one believes me. As soon as I try to build up their nerve, somebody comes along and says the Iraqis have gotten closer. Somebody else says their planes are in the air and bombing everywhere. So it seems worse to these people than it did before.”

I got the feeling the poor kid had given up himself, and no one could expect him to keep up morale. That morning I had heard from some of the boys that the defenders had managed to push the Iraqis back. Although I knew that they would lose any ground they took, given the lack of personnel, fatigue, and not having enough ammunition, this one piece of good news would be enough to lift the people’s spirits. And this was the news I was going to tell the people gathered at the Abbasiyeh.

I climbed the steps of the building and entered the prayer room where they held the passion plays. It was larger than the ones I had seen at other mosques. Light was streaming through its green woodframe windows. People were sitting on the carpeted parts of the floor. The ceiling was very high, reminding me of our Hoseyniyeh in Basra. I looked over the crowd, trying to gauge their mood. I was determined to raise their spirits no matter what.

It was just as the boy had said. People were demoralized and out of sorts. For want of something to do, some were lying on the floor asleep. Many were sitting with their backs leaning against the walls with their legs stretched out. There was also one person in a corner pouring tea into glasses. I could feel my heart beating madly as I got ready to speak. I was going to tell them what I had heard, not what I’d seen, which was why I was a little shamefaced. But my mind was made up because I knew the only thing that would get them into action and give them some hope was the news of the boys’ success. I stood in the doorway and, as my body shook making my voice quiver, I said, “Greetings.”

All at once everybody looked up at me. Some responded to the greeting in a formal way.

“Listen, I have good news for you.”

“What’s that?” they asked. “When is the war going to be over? When can we go back to your homes?” They kept asking questions until one voice rose above the others, “Good news? What’s the good news? Let’s hope you’re going to say the war’s over.”

“No, it’s not over, but it will end. Our boys at the front have pushed the Iraqis back. It will end, God willing.”

As soon as I said this, the people who were lying down sat up. Several came nearer to me. I continued, “There’s no reason for you to upset yourselves now. You’ll be back in your homes, we hope, back in your lives. Khorramshahr will be back to normal, I hope. Do you remember how fast the Arab-Persian thing ended?”

“There were no mortars, no planes then,” they said.

“Put your trust in God. The Baathists have thrown everything they have against our boys, but they still held their ground. They won’t let our city fall into their hands. Tehran is also supposed to send planes that will take care of their tanks.” When they heard this, the women gathered around me and began to pour out what was on their minds. “We’re really fed up; these kids are just rotting here. There’s no peace and quiet....”

I tried to comfort them and said, “God willing it’ll all work out.” After they had quieted, I asked, “Is anyone ill here?”

They pointed to an old couple. I took off my shoes and walked over to them. After speaking with them, I realized that age combined with fear and hunger had robbed them of the will to go on. They looked pleadingly at me, and I told them that the hardships were almost over and they would be returning to their homes. They blessed me.

People also pointed out a girl in her teens with a bandaged arm. I went over to her and asked, “What happened?”

“They hit our house with mortars. I was in the yard and shrapnel went into my arm.” Her bandage was filthy. I told her not to move until I brought a new bandage.

As I was leaving the building, several people told me there was no water. The children piped up, “There’s no water for us to drink when we get thirsty.”

This was heartbreaking for me. They thought I knew everything and could do anything. I said, “Okay, I’ll tell the boys at the mosque to work something out for you, but you’ll have to help one another also. Don’t just sit around waiting for somebody else to act—everyone has to pitch in. The prayer room needs a good cleaning, so get busy. Since you’re making use of this place, you’ll have to isolate the sick so that the rest of you don’t become ill. I’ll do whatever is in my power to help.”

As soon as I was out the door, the boy with the gun said, “Now that you’ve said that to the people, what do you expect to happen? Why didn’t you tell them the truth?”

“It wasn’t so far from the truth. The boys are fighting, aren’t they? Did you want me to tell them we’re losing? That we’ve been betrayed and that’s why so many are dying?”

I didn’t wait for an answer and ran toward the mosque. I got a new bandage from Mr. Najjar and told the girl at the infirmary what I had seen and said. One of the men overheard me and said, “Sister Hoseyni, it was good of you to tell people the news so long as it didn’t make them want to stay.”

“I said whatever came into my head, not caring whether it was right or wrong.”

“No. What you did was right, but it shouldn’t get their hopes up too high.”

I explained the situation at the Abbasiyeh to him. He said, “I’ll tell people to bring them water. I’ve already sent them whatever food was available these last few days, but more and more people are arriving.”

“God bless you,” I said. “At least they’ll have water.”

“As soon as we get a delivery, I’ll send a truck.”

I thanked him and after procuring a new bandage for the girl, I returned to the Abbasiyeh, where I changed her dressing. Shrapnel had stripped away some of her flesh, and the wound smelled like it was infected. I told her to be more careful. I gathered my things and left. It was getting dark when I got outside. As soon as I set foot back in the mosque, I saw that the shell-shocked people had started up again. I had originally wanted to get back to Jannatabad, but I decided to stay on account of them. The war was only six days old, but it seemed like a lifetime to me. Whatever happened, I was going to stay the night.

 

End of Chapter 9

 

To be continued …

 



 
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