Da (Mother) 79

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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

2024-1-7


Da (Mother) 79

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

 

***

 

Delivering messages was the major’s almost daily task. I had seen him around. He was a military man around thirty or so with fatigue written all over his wheatish face. There was a nobility and seriousness about him that invited people’s respect. Ordinarily he started each day with enthusiastic pep talks to the troops, calling on them to listen to Imam Khomeini and resist the enemy.

He answered the soldier’s rejection of his suggestion by saying, “We cannot, with all due respect, let the weaponry we so desperately need fall into enemy hands.”

I was astonished to see a woman jump up out of the crowd and grab the megaphone out of his hand. She stood before the crowd and said, “You are soldiers. You’re trained especially for such days as these. At this time there are men at the front fighting without your training. Now you’re refusing to take action just because there isn’t some higher-up standing over you, issuing an order? Your basic training was all about defending your homeland, the honor of the nation. Now that’s in danger….”

The woman’s brave words had no effect. The poor men had been trained to obey the orders of their superiors and had been punished for disobeying them. Now the situation called for them to act against the dictates of their training, which unsettled them. The most disoriented were the soldiers, whose faces told a story of despair and fatigue.

I felt very sorry for the major. I had criticized him myself once. It was several days before Ali died. Around noon on a scorching day, I saw several military men beside the mosque surrounded by civilian forces and ordinary soldiers. From their epaulettes I reckoned that they were officers of some rank. One of them was Major Sharif Nasab. Another man of about thirty or so, who appeared to be a lieutenant, had a nametag on his uniform that read “Aqareb Parast.” The situation at the front and the solders’ lack of purpose had made me angry. I felt I had to say something to the officers. I wanted to wait until they were finished talking, but I was afraid they would race away. I stepped forward, greeted them, and said, “Excuse me, are you from military command?”

Major Sharif Nasab smiled and answered in all humility, “I’m military, just a simple soldier.”

“Why aren’t you doing anything about these soldiers?” I asked. “The forces at the front need these men. They’ve had training just for times like these. The boys fighting now know nothing about guns and war, while the troops with training are just sitting around. Why don’t you do something about mobilizing them and send them forward?”

The poor guy didn’t know what to say. Finally he told me, “We’re doing our best. These troops are not under one command. They’re from different units.”

I said, “This time the situation is different. What you say is true ordinarily but not for what’s going on now. It makes no sense today to speak about units. Anybody calling himself a self-respecting man has got to fight and defend his country. Why else did they receive the training? Why was the money spent on them? What good is a soldier who doesn’t fight?”

Major Aqareb Parast said, “I wish everybody thought the way you do. If only the commanders showed the kind of pride the civilian militias are showing. Then things would be different. But you have to agree, sister, force is not the answer.”

I was now in front of the clinic, witness to how powerless Major Sharif Nasab was and feeling sorry for him. I wanted to go and do something but realized it was pointless. I just stood there watching. Then I heard the girls who had stayed behind to work in the city say, “We’ll help you empty out the base.” I glanced at the major, who was moved to tears. He said, “I thank you, proud sisters, revolutionary sisters. I hope the sight of you at work will make the others act.”

There were about ten or twelve of them all climbing into the back of the pickup. The major got down from the roof and, with another man, joined the driver in the front seat. The men around the mosque just stared at them, not knowing what to do. I really wanted to join them, but the need to repair weapons as quickly as possible kept me at the clinic.

The truck started to move, but it hadn’t gone far when Afsaneh Qazizadeh, who had been perched on the side with her back to the crowd, found herself dangling halfway out. The other girls quickly grabbed her legs and held on. Suspended over the road, she struggled to right herself. The girls laughed as they pounded on the side of the truck for the driver to stop. The truck halted, and the girls pulled Afsaneh back in. Humiliated by having women do their jobs, the soldiers ran after the truck saying, “Wait! Wait! Get down!” “No,” said the girls, “we’re going. There’s no need for you to come.” “Please,” begged the soldiers, “get down.” One of them joked, “Haven’t we been punished enough?”

The major jumped down from the truck and pleaded with the girls to get off. They agreed. After the soldiers took their place and the truck sped off, we all laughed our heads off. These were a very nice bunch. If I hadn’t been in mourning, it would certainly have been fun to be with them. But, though I was smiling on the outside, inside I was still in agony. The girls, of course, all had problems of their own.

Most families were against having their daughters stay in the city. The evacuee families even went so far as to send messages to the girls telling them to leave Khorramshahr on their own or they would come to get them themselves.

The first one forced to go back was Ra’na Najjar, who resisted for a couple of days. Others also couldn’t overcome their families’ objections. The whole the time she waited for her family to come for her, Ra’na was in tears. She’d choke up and say, “I’d love to stay.”

“When your family wants you to leave, Ra’na, you don’t have any choice,” we said.

She cried and said, “I know my being here won’t make that much difference, but I want to be with you and do whatever I can.”

The day they came for her I wasn’t at the mosque. When I came back and saw she wasn’t there, I got depressed. The girls told me, “Ra’na was weeping. She sent her regards and told us to say goodbye for her.”

Elaheh Hejab also was able to persuade her family a few times to allow her to stay, but finally they took her away. During this period we had become very close. Those who knew their families were coming for them said their goodbyes ahead of time. We comforted one another by saying that Khorramshahr would soon be back to its old self again.

Sabah Vatankhah’s family insisted on getting their children. I remember one morning when I was going from Jannatabad to the Congregational Mosque, I saw Fowzieh Vatankhah leaning against a wall, crying. Fowzieh, Shahnaz, and Saleheh were Sabah’s sisters. All of them were active in one way or another. I had gotten to know them during these past days. Being from the Mowlavi neighborhood, which had been shelled heavily, they moved to the mosque. Their father had been wounded several days before the move. At first I thought that something was wrong with her. I stepped up to her and asked, “What happened?”

She didn’t answer. “Are you upset about your father?”

She cried even more and said, “No, my uncle came and wants to take me away.”

“That’s not so bad. Go. What’s the harm?” I asked.

“You should talk. You can stay and nobody bothers you. Enjoy it while you can. If you were in my shoes, you’d do more than cry.”

“Fine. There’s still Sabah. They didn’t tell her to leave.”

“Sabah’s on her own; she’s got nothing to do with me.”

I touched her neck and said, “Don’t cry. Come with me to the mosque.” “No,” she said. “My uncle is there. I don’t want to see him.”

“How is it his fault, the poor man?”

“It is. He’s come with a truck to take me away,” she said.

She had said her uncle, who owned a truck, lived in Borujerd and was probably going to come for the sisters. But none of them were ready to go. Their brother was in the army. The sisters loved their brother and wanted to stay in Khorramshahr on account of him.

I took her hand and pulled her to the mosque. Seeing her uncle made Fowzieh cry even more. I said hello to him and asked, “Can’t she stay?”

He said, “If Fowzieh stays, then they’ll all want to stay. What did I come for, then? Who should I take back? Their mother will be beside herself without her daughters.”

Having to get back quickly, I comforted Fowzieh. I kissed her cheek and said, “God willing, you’ll be back soon.”

I left her standing there and left the mosque. By the time I returned that night, Fowzieh and Shahnaz Vatankhah had gone. Only Sabah and Saleheh, who was helping the army reserves, stayed behind. Having put my own thoughts about the girls aside, I saw the others were busy reliving their own memories. We worked late into to the night under the dim light of the pressure lamp.

That night a team of four or five doctors arrived from Behbehan. The next morning they took some weapons and went to the front. Before we had come to the clinic, there was a doctor/pharmacist there called Sa’adat, who also had come from Behbehan to help. He ordinarily remained at the clinic. He was a tall, thin man with greenish eyes and frizzy hair. He was soft-spoken and a stickler for rules and regulations. The doctor even brought pajamas to the fight and would change into them every night. His bedside manner was so calming and suave he made us look like clumsy barbarians by comparison. The girls would say, “It’s clear he grew up in an upper-class family. He’s never experienced what we have. Wait till the shelling gets bad, then we’ll see what he’s made of.” The doctors who had come to the clinic the first day were supporters of political splinter groups. Although they were not as chic as Dr. Sa’adat, they didn’t stay long. We waited to see how long this new group would last before they quit.

The more we got to know him the more amazing Dr. Sa’adat seemed to us. He was so humble that, if we didn’t know better, we would have taken him for a nurse. After he finished with work, he would go to an empty room, close the door, and pray and chant blessings. His chanting was so beautiful that we, listening from behind the closed door, would break into tears. Dr. Sa’adat’s spirituality had an influence on all of us. I came to conclusion that the calm Dr. Sa’adat showed in his work at the clinic was a result of his benedictions and prayers. This was contrary to the general feeling that the care and precision in his work was as a result of his aristocratic upbringing. Unlike Mr. Najjar, whom we respected and feared, we got along with Dr. Sa’adat easily. He was respectful and patient with us. We always saw him as an elder, a person we could confide in. I recall on the day of Ali’s burial, he asked me, “Where were you, Sister Hoseyni? Haven’t seen you all morning.” I choked up and started to cry. My voice quivering, I said, “Didn’t you hear last night my brother Ali died. I was at Jannatabad for the burial.” His face reddened and his eyes filled with tears. He looked down. When I said Ali, like father, had left us on our own, he burst into tears. He then walked from the room with his hands covering his face.

I asked him why he did that. After all, I said, I had come to him for sympathy.

In tears, he said, “No, Sister Hoseyni, that’s not in me. Unlike you, I lack the strength.” With that he went to his prayer room, and I heard him crying from behind the door. Unable bear any more tears, I left the clinic.

 

End of Chapter Fifteen

 

To be continued …

 



 
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