Da (Mother) 74

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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

2023-12-3


Da (Mother) 74

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

 

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Chapter Thirteen:

Where Ali Died and the New Clinic

It was the morning of October 5, 1980. I went with Hoseyn Eidi and Abdollah Mo’avi to the Congregational Mosque. We got some bread and cheese and returned to Jannatabad. On the way we were passing Islamic Republic Lane when I had the idea of looking in at Darya Bod Rasayi School. I said to Hoseyn and Abdollah, “Let’s visit the place and see what’s happening.” They agreed and we turned into the lane. The door was open and we went in. It was just like the day of the accident; the place was a shambles. Mortar shells had hit the compound, and it looked like the ground had been ploughed. The windows were broken and bits of brick, stone, and metal littered the area. A bomb had landed in front of the entrance, leaving a deep crater. We passed through the door. There was a relatively large foyer and then two classrooms on the right and left, followed by a wide hallway onto which other classrooms opened. There was a stairway that, after six or seven steps, became a spiral staircase that led to the second floor. The sides of the staircase were glass to allow light to come in. A bomb had smashed through the right corner of a class, creating a large hole in the wall and finally burrowing in the floor. The door of the room was knocked completely off its hinges, but some broken bricks kept it from falling to the ground. We passed by the class and entered the hallway. The floor was littered with earth, broken glass, unexploded bombs, etc. The destruction was so great one would think a truck had dumped a load of dirt on the floor. Piles of debris were everywhere. The burn marks on the walls indicated something horrible had happened.

As we went further we saw more blood on the ground than there had been in the hallway. In several places, the blood was dry but in others it was smeared and appeared fresh. At one point, I was not watching where I was going, and I slid across the floor. I began to feel unwell, as the smell of dirt, blood, and powder filled my nostrils. Though I felt dizzy and was about to faint, I walked on because I wanted to see the whole place, the place where Ali was taken from me. I waded through the rubble, looking everywhere. The walls were dotted with the skin and flesh of children. There were even pieces of brain, which, after two nights, having lost their sponginess, were dry and brownish. Worse still was the scene in the part of the building where a great deal of munitions had gone off. The walls in that part were covered in blood to the ceiling and so thoroughly plastered with bones, brains, hair, and shrapnel there weren’t any bare spaces. I pointed to that part and asked Abdollah, “What do you think caused this?”

“It appears that a shell entered the classroom through the yard and hit the wall.”

Then I said, “Let’s go to the first class and see what happened there.”

The three of us went back down the hall. The door of the classroom was open about twenty centimeters, and, although it had been pulled off its hinges, it wouldn’t open. It was as if someone were holding it closed. Hoseyn and I tried and tried, but we couldn’t budge it. “Hold on a second, I’ll fix it,” Abdollah said.

After managing to enter the class through the hole made by the shell, he said, “It’s blocked by a mountain of dirt and debris.”

As we pushed on the door, he cleared the dirt on the other side. Suddenly Abdollah in a terrified voice shouted, “One’s in here! One’s in here!”

Hoseyn and I pushed on the door and, with some effort, entered the room. There was a toe sticking out from the one of the mounds. “Don’t be scared,” I told Abdollah. “It’s nothing.” Then I sat and pushed the earth aside. It wasn’t an entire corpse, just a severed leg emerging at that point from under the earth. The three of us grabbed the leg by the ankle and managed to pull it out. It was heavy, apparently the foot of a fairly large person. We were sick to our stomachs. Without food for two days, my stomach was in my mouth. I asked Abdollah, who was as white as a ghost, to help me lift the leg. In a crazed voice, he said, “No way am I touching that thing.”

“Abdollah,” I insisted, “come and help. It’s very heavy.”

He came forward grudgingly, and the three of us dragged the leg into the hall. “Let’s go back in. Maybe we’ll find something else.”

Hoseyn said, “Come on, sister, leave it. Let’s go.”

Thinking that the leg belonged to Taqi Mohsenifar, I said, “It makes no sense. These are the limbs of martyrs and must be buried.” We began to search again everywhere: in the debris, the blankets, the RPG rounds, the uniforms, the boots, the loose earth. We found a hand so mangled it looked as if it had been chopped off with a cleaver. We didn’t give the second floor a look, worried there might be an unexploded mortar round up there.

Hoseyn picked up the severed hand and Abdollah slung the leg over his shoulder. We went out into the yard, where we found a nylon sack. “I’ll wrap the leg in this, and you find something for the hand,” I told them.

Hoseyn went back inside and returned with a leg severed from the knee and an army shirt. He put the leg on the ground and said, “Look, I found another one.”

I put the severed hand and the newly found leg in the shirt and tied the sleeves together. Abdollah asked, “Sister, what’s the point of making us heave our guts out the first thing in the morning?”

“Abdollah,” I said, “if these things remain here, the dogs will get a whiff of them and eat these poor souls.”

“But why wrap them up now?”

“To keep people from seeing them before we get to Jannatabad,” I said. “Say an ‘In the Name of God’ and let’s go.”

Hoseyn pointed to the nylon sack with the leg and said, “Abdollah, you take that and I’ll take the bundle.”

I saw them hesitate and said, “Give it to me. I’ll help carry it.”

Their male pride hurt, they said, “Are we dead or something that you have to carry it? We’ll do it.”

“Fine,” I said. “So each of you take one now, and you can switch when we’re halfway there.”

Then I went to clean my hands by rubbing dirt on them and picked up the sack containing the breakfast food. Finally we left. As we walked Abdollah pretended to shout like one of those peddlers who go door to door. “Severed legs and hands!” he bellowed Hoseyn laughed out loud. Although I was really upset, I had to laugh, too. When I saw them dragging their feet and fumbling with their loads, I grabbed the bundle from Hoseyn’s hand and said, “You two take the sack.”

But this didn’t stop them from arguing. Abdollah said, “Come and take this end, it’s heavier.”

Hoseyn laughed and in his thick accent teased, “I got the easy part.” They kept on joking and laughing until I said, “It’s not right. Allow the dead some dignity. What’s gotten into you two? Carry them the right way.”

“Lord forgive us,” they said, but soon they were joking again. The funniest thing was to see several stray dogs and cats had joined our caravan, stopping whenever we did. I had a very bad feeling when one of dogs began to bark. I turned around and shouted, “You keep that up and I’ll strangle you!” As if he understood the threat, the poor animal lowered its head and whimpered.

The sound of shelling and mortars scattered the dogs. I kept looking back toward the end of the street, hoping a car would appear and give us a ride. But nothing came by. So we continued walking until we reached Jannatabad, where the dogs ran to the graves. Then they went into the wooded area to sniff the ground, as if looking for something. At first I wasn’t paying attention to them, but then I remembered Ali’s clothes. I was suddenly afraid they had gotten wind of them. Luckily they scattered a few moments later. My mind at ease about the clothing, I went back to the rooms.

The body washers had just woken up and were groggily waiting for breakfast. With obvious concern in her voice, Zeynab asked me, “Are you okay, sweetheart? You’re looking a bit better today, God be praised. Run and throw some water on your face. Then come back and have a bite to eat.”

Seeing the dismembered corpses had robbed me of my appetite, so I said nothing.

As soon as she saw the bundles, she said with a laugh, “So what’s new in your bridal trousseau today?”

“Nothing, just a hand and some legs,” Abdollah said.

“What?” Zeynab gasped. “Hands and feet? From where?”

“The Darya Bod Rasayi School,” I said. “There was a base there.”

Looking surprised and hurt, Zeynab asked, “Why did you go there? Without me? You could have said something.”

“We didn’t intend to go initially, but when we passed Hezb Street, I thought let’s stop and see what happened there.”

Zeynab gave me an understanding look, and then she brought some tea. I had no idea where Leila was or what she was doing. I said to the boys, “Go and wash for breakfast. I’m going to visit father and Ali.”

When they began to follow me, I said, “Don’t come with me. I’d rather be alone.”

Before I got to the graves, I greeted them, “Nice to find you two so happy together without a thought for us.”

Now at the site I didn’t know which grave to sit by. Because father was the older, I thought I would sit by his grave first. I bent down and kissed the ground saying, “Had a good night with Ali by your side, didn’t you?”

I crawled over to Ali’s grave and kissed the ground saying, “You shouldn’t have bothered to come back, Ali. It only incinerated my soul is all. I waited and waited for you to come so I could loosen the knot in my heart. But now all you’ve done by dying is to make it tighter.”

“God! Why did you leave me behind?” I said bitterly. “How much more do I have to take? What else do I have to bear? I called on you to give me patience and on the blessed Zeynab for strength, but now I can’t take any more. How long are you going to test me with all these calamities? She was the blessed Zeynab, after all. But me? I am nothing compared to her.”

I stopped talking; the more I complained the more it stoked the fires inside me. I could no longer find solace in logic. I even lost interest in Leila and, the truth be known, began to dislike her, and, jealous, even started to hate her. Why, I asked myself, should she have been the one to see Ali and not me? Was she better? I so desperately hoped to see him. Just one look would have been enough to raise my spirits and, perhaps, help me endure his passing.

I put these thoughts aside and lay down to rest between the two graves. I stared fixedly at the sky and said to father and Ali, “The least you can do is show yourselves to me. It’s the only thing that would comfort me.”

I waited in vain. At that moment death to me was the most important and inviting thing. I hoped it would come calling. I closed my eyes and said, “I’m tired of living. I want to die.”

I don’t know how long this feeling lasted. As I lay there I felt someone kiss my forehead and cradle me in her arms. I opened my eyes. The lump in my throat burst. It was Zeynab. In tears I said, “Where did you come from, dearest?”

“I was worried about you from the start. When I saw you leave, I followed you, but I didn’t want to disturb you. But seeing you lying on the ground like a corpse, I couldn’t stand it.”

“I want to die, love,” I said to her.

I pressed my head against her chest. It was as if I had been waiting for a chance to do it, as if I had needed to do it. Then, still weeping, I yelled, “I want to die!”

Zeynab caressed me and said, “Don’t say such things. You’ve got to take the place of your father and Ali for your mother’s sake and for your sisters and brothers. Your father and Ali left them in your care.”

 

To be continued …

 



 
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