Da (Mother) 82

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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

2024-1-29


Da (Mother) 82

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

 

***

 

Chapter Eighteen: Eggs

I don’t remember what day it was, but it was around 11:00 a.m., and I was busy sweeping the mosque with the long-handled wicker brooms they had recently brought. They were always telling us the mosque was the house of God and to let it get dirty would be a sin. We took up the carpets in the prayer room and swept everywhere. It was difficult to handle the new brooms because we were used to the Arab sa’afs, which were made with date palms. We hadn’t quite finished with the cleanup, when Mr. Mesbah asked me to come into the yard.

I put the broom down and followed him. He showed me a man in the yard and said, “Gather some sisters and go with this brother. There’s work for you in Kut-e Sheikh.”

“Do you think it’s necessary?” I asked him.

“Yes.”

Having complete trust in Mr. Mesbah, I went back to the girls and said, “Let’s go. There’s work to do.”

“Where to?” they asked.

“On a mission” I said with a laugh.

We quickly spread the carpets and left the mosque. As usual Maryam Amjadi stayed behind. Ashraf, Zohreh Farhadi, Sabah Vatankhah, a girl from Abadan, and I got in a waiting pickup and we drove off over the bridge.

The truck pulled up in front of a factory at the end of Kut-e Sheikh and we got out. When we entered the building, we saw it was an egg farm. Two women in work uniforms approached us. One of them asked, “Have you come to help?”

“We don’t know exactly, but they told us there was work to be done here.” One of the women explained, “Many of our workers have left. During the past few days the eggs have piled up, and if they’re not boxed and sent out, they’ll spoil.”

The girls and I walked around the factory. One of the halls contained white chickens in cages with food and water in front of them. In another hall were eggs spread out on conveyor belts. They told us to put them into cardboard beds, crate them, and tape the tops of the crates. Because of the lack of personnel, eggs for breeding hadn’t been separated from eggs for eating. We had to hold the eggs up to the light, and, if there were no embryos in them, we put them in the beds. As we worked I began to regret coming to the place. The other girls also seemed to feel the same way, and I don’t know who it was who told one of the workers, “It seems strange to be doing this, given what’s going on outside.”

“We want to provide eggs for the people in the city or to those who’ve taken shelter here from surrounding areas.”

Around 3:00 p.m. they stopped work and told us to wash up for lunch.

They had spread some carpeting on the floor and unbundled flat bread. Lunch consisted of hard-boiled eggs and the bread. Seeing embryos in some eggs reminded me of the aborted fetuses at the body washers’. The thought made me queasy, but the idea of having eggs for lunch made me feel even worse. I stood aside as the girls greedily peeled the eggs and wolfed them down. They kept insisting I join them, but I refused.

They offered me bits of bread and egg, but not wanting to tell them the reason why I wasn’t eating, I could only say I wasn’t able to keep it down.

They laughed and said, “For the last few days, it’s been bread and cheese. Now that we’ve got eggs, come and eat. It’ll do you good.”

“No,” I said and walked into the lush flower garden. Seeing lantana there reminded me of mother. Father always planted many kinds of flowers, especially lantana, in the months before the New Year. With the first day of spring they bloomed, filling the air with the perfume of roses and snapdragons. Just before the New Year, when the weather turned warm, father dug up all of the plants except for the multi-colored lantanas. Because I adored flowers, I cried and asked him why he did this. “I want to plant tomatoes, eggplants, and broad beans,” he said.

“So why not pull up the lantanas, too? Is it because mother’s maiden name is Shah Pasand?” I asked.

He laughed and said, “Because lantanas eventually grow into bushes, but the other flowers will wilt and die after a few days in the hot sun.”

I strolled in the garden thinking about this quiet little refuge from the war. Luckily the Iraqi batteries had not found this spot, but the devastation wreaked on the homes told us the area had not been spared the shelling and rocket attacks.

My thoughts were interrupted when the girls called me back to work. The factory closed at five. The vehicle that had brought us was waiting to return us to the mosque. The driver arranged to take us back the factory the next morning.

I had decided not to return but didn’t say anything. With all the work at the mosque, why was it necessary to gather eggs?

Back in the mosque I telephoned Jannatabad to see if someone had brought them dinner.

“No,” they said.

I picked up some tins of fish and bread and took off. Not wanting Leila to leave Jannatabad for food, most of the time I brought it to them myself. Naturally, with everything going on, the women sometimes forgot to set aside food for Jannatabad. Sometimes there wasn’t enough, so I would bring them something else. On days when there was nothing but bread and cheese, Leila would let it get to her and complain to me, “You couldn’t find anything else? I’m dopey from all the bread and cheese I’ve eaten. You pass a watermelon patch on your way. Couldn’t you have brought one of those?”

When she saw the tinned fish, she said, “Amazing!” She had a right to be sarcastic. Before coming to Jannatabad she had always been plump. Often she wouldn’t wait for mealtime and, whenever she felt the urge, would prepare something for herself. Now with all the work and the lack of food she had slimmed down; her face was especially drawn. There were dark circles under her eyes. Often, when I was busy working, I found myself worrying about her mental state. I could only imagine the kinds of things she was seeing at Jannatabad. How would she react? After father and Ali died, my relationship with her changed from sister to mother.

Leila did not speak about her own inner turmoil, the pressures at work, or the aggravations at Jannatabad. Once or twice, when we were standing by father’s grave, she said to me, “Zahra, the faces of some of these corpses are really terrifying. They’re so mangled that I’m afraid to look at them.” I didn’t know what to say. The only thing I could think of was to invite her to leave the place and come to the clinic. She refused. “At least come to the clinic so we can sleep near each other,” I suggested. “No,” she said. “I’m not that friendly with the girls there. I’m closer to Zeynab.”

For the most part she put up with the psychological stress at Jannatabad, but there were times when she would let it get to her. I would ask her to take the head of a corpse, and she would refuse, saying that she had had it. “From morning till night,” she said, “it’s been nothing but washing or shrouding or burying.”

“Isn’t that what you wanted from the beginning—to work at Jannatabad? No one forced you to come. It’s not as if you’re working for me. You don’t have to lift a finger again. So leave,” I said.

“It’s true. It was my choice, but I’m only human, and I’m dead tired,” she said.

She had a point, but there was no other choice. We were drowning in work, and if we broke our word, what would become of the corpses?

I was skin and bones compared to her but managed to race around without getting as exhausted. Leila would gasp and break out in a sweat whenever we lifted a heavy coffin. If I moved too quickly for her, she would complain, telling me to slow down.

“Hurry!” I would say. “There’s work to be done.” Sometimes I would joke, “Leila, I’m not the one in a hurry. It’s this martyr; he can’t wait to get into heaven.”

 

End of Chapter Eighteen

 

To be continued …

 



 
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