Da (Mother) 84

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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

2024-2-12


Da (Mother) 84

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

 

***

 

The soldiers laid the wounded man in the truck and put the boy at the other end. I sat on the edge of the truck with my legs dangling. We had yet to move when a mortar shell landed between the truck and the soldiers who had taken the pots. There was the sound of earth breaking open, and I saw and heard shrapnel going in every direction. This is where my head comes off, I thought, and it took less than a second for some to whizz by me and burrow into the asphalt. I looked at it. It was the size of my palm. A soldier, who was returning with us, was standing in the back of the truck. He said, “Ma’am, if you sit there, you’ll be thrown off. Let’s change places.” I gave him my place and went to where the wounded man was. The driver stepped on the gas, and we raced off as mortar shells exploded around us. As the truck jerked up and down on the hilly road, I kept my eyes on the wound in the young soldier’s neck. The bleeding had slowed, but his condition was getting worse by the minute. I prayed to God the shrapnel that kept striking the truck chassis never found the tires, otherwise it would be all over for us. Suddenly the shell-shocked boy, who had been sitting with his legs stretched out, quietly, not troubling anyone, started to foam at the mouth and his eyes went back into his head. He began to shake. I looked at him. His gaunt and lifeless body told me that he hadn’t eaten for days. His cheeks were sunken and his bony face spoke volumes about how it had been for him. He seemed to be the dockworker type. The men on either side of him tried to hold him still. His mouth foamed up again, and his olive complexion turned yellow. Going back the driver retraced the way we had come.

After we were out of range, he stopped on Forty-Meter Road. He stuck his head out the window and asked, “Where to, ma’am?”

“Taleqani,” I said. “His condition is so serious we won’t be able to do anything for him at the clinic.”

“Can he make it?” he asked.

“That’s up to God,” I said.

The truck moved so fast it didn’t take long for us to reach the hospital. Before the driver could turn around and back up, one of the men had jumped down and returned with several nurses and a stretcher. They lowered the man out and brought him at a run to the operating room. Then they helped the shell-shocked young man out. In that state, the poor kid was ready to do anything they told him. They transferred him to the emergency room.

The driver drove me back to Khorramshahr and dropped me off at the mosque. Though still groggy, I could tell things weren’t right there. It was as if an autumn wind had blown everything away. The road to the mosque, which was always the busiest in the city, was empty. There was no sign of the usual hustle and bustle in front of the entrance. The few people I did see were in their own worlds. I assumed shells had hit the area causing casualties and emptying the place. I asked someone, who was coming out from the mosque, “Has something happened?

Why is it like this?”

“Don’t you know?” he asked. “They executed some people.”

The word “executed” sent a chill down my spine. I was terrified by the word. Once, before the victory of the revolution, father had bought a newspaper that reported several terrorists had been executed. Angered by the headline, father said, “The Shah’s regime—there’s the real terrorist! And they have the nerve to call people fighting for freedom ‘terrorists.’”

Father stared at the faces of the executed people and cried silently. He was depressed and withdrawn for a few days and wasn’t able to eat. Now the word “terrorist” conjured up “Fifth Column” in my mind.

“Who was executed?” I asked. “What did he do?”

“You haven’t heard?” he said. “A guy was going through the pockets of the dead and wounded.”

“How come?”

“They caught him and Mr. Khalkhali set up his court, declaring him a ‘sower of corruption on earth.’ Then they tied him to that tree over there and shot him. Afterwards they took his corpse away.”

I looked at the tree he pointed to. It was in front of the mosque at the corner of Fakhri Razi. Then he added, “People say that in court, when they asked him why he had done it, he said nothing to defend himself and accepted the verdict.”

I left the yard and walked to the tree. It was a large, harmless thing, its trunk studded with bullets. A branch had fallen from it. Its leaves and broadbean-looking yellow seedpods lay grieving on the ground. Seeing the blood on the ground at the base of the tree made me sick.

From that time on I always had a bad feeling about the spot.

I went back in the mosque. It puzzled me that, given the conditions, a person would do such a thing when death could come any time. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel good about them executing the man.

After my nerves had settled and the wave of gloom, which had broken over me when I heard about the execution, had passed, I went to find Ebrahimi and report what I had seen at the front.

“More things to tell me?” he asked.

“What can I do? Who else is there?”

“Sister,” he said. “You’ve got to tell the commanders and the people in charge. They need to know the situation. They’re the ones who can give the orders to change things. What do you expect me to do? What are you telling me for? I’m just a flunky who answers the phone and coordinates things at the mosque.”

“Where am I supposed to find the commanders?” I asked. “Let me know and I’ll tell them myself.”

Afterward I told Ebrahimi several times that I wanted to go to the War Room. “No way,” he said.

“There’s always a way,” I replied.

It was like the first days of the war again, when I wouldn’t give Ebrahimi a moment’s peace. Finally, I was in the yard and Ebrahimi called me over and said, “Come, you want to see the commanders. These people are going to the War Room this afternoon. You can go with them.”

Terrified I asked, “Who is going?”

He pointed to a few young men and said, “Those standing by the car.” Then he said to one of them, “This is the Sister Hoseyni I was telling you about.”

I stepped forward. There were about eight young men, but the one in a military coat appeared to be in charge. The rest of what he was wearing was ordinary. He asked me, “Why do you want to go to the War Room?”

“Because of the situation we’re in.”

“Do you think,” he asked, “we haven’t told them what’s going on? That they don’t know it in the War Room?”

I looked down at his sneakers and said, “Fine, but I want to tell them myself. Maybe it’ll do something.”

He rolled a sheet of paper he was holding into a tube and, after a few minutes of silence, said, “Yeah, not a bad idea. If they see that sisters are also raring to fight, maybe they’ll give a thought to the war. Maybe this’ll wake them up a little.”

Happy now, I asked him, “So how are we going to meet up and go to the War Room?”

He said, “It’s not that simple. First I have to say something. Our commanders go to the War Room, but nothing gets done. You think you can just go there and turn the whole war around? No, sister, nobody buys anything they say. That’s the problem.”

“Fine,” I said. “What you say is true, but I feel I must go there and say something. It might make them think. Maybe if I stand my ground and press the issue, it’ll make them follow up. Everybody’s waiting for orders from above. Even if orders don’t come, at least they’ll know where they stand.”

“I keep saying it can’t happen,” he said, “and you keep insisting it can. I say don’t go, you say let’s go.”

After half an hour of bickering with his companions, he got fed up. The others were saying, “It can’t happen, sister. Happy? It’s not something you can do just like that.” “Come and see what it’s like yourself,” he shouted over them, “and stop pestering us!”

“Please, give me the address,” I said.

“What address? You think that this is like visiting auntie? This afternoon or tomorrow morning I’ll come for you at the mosque.”

“I’m always around here somewhere. If I’m not, tell Mr. Ebrahimi and he’ll get word to me.”

I said goodbye and went back into the mosque. All afternoon I kept my eye on the door, waiting for them to come. But I soon got tired of that and said to myself: Maybe they’ll come tomorrow or some other day. Fearing they would come when I wasn’t there, I didn’t dare leave the mosque area or the clinic. I wondered who would be in the War Room and how I should start the conversation. The day that Banisadr came to Khorramshahr, I tried everything I could to reach and speak with him. I don’t know which day of the war it was. After burying the dead, I brought the wounded to Taleqani Hospital, where the nurses confronted me grumbling that I couldn’t keep depositing wounded with them. This put me in a foul mood when I entered the mosque. I searched for someone to see if they could do something. They had to take responsibility for the dead and wounded and make the hospitals coordinate their work. Each had its own quota. There shouldn’t have been arguments about taking in the corpses. Eventually we would bring them to Jannatabad or they could keep them in their morgues until they could be taken to Abadan for burial. Finding transportation for the bodies and convincing drivers to take them were other problems. I had no choice but to force anyone I found to work.

That day I hung around the mosque until late afternoon. I had heard that the War Room was outside of town. I thought if the visit lasted into the night, it wouldn’t be right to go alone. I didn’t know the people. I said to Zohreh Farhadi, “Will you come with me somewhere?”

“Where?” she asked.

“I’m going somewhere. Just tell me whether you’ll come.”

“I’m coming,” she said. “But tell me where.”

“It’s not a bad place, Zohreh,” I said.

“I know it’s not a bad place. I know you’re not a member of any of those groups.”

I said, “Zohreh, I want to go to the War Room, but don’t tell anybody. Okay?”

Her eyes opened wide and she asked, “The War Room?”

“Yeah. Just keep your ears peeled; they’ll be around any time to pick us up.”

Not long after this, as it happened, they did come for us, saying, “Get in the truck, ma’am.”

Zohreh and I left the mosque. As we were about to get in a young man left the passenger seat by the driver and, in a way that Zohreh couldn’t hear, said, “Just you, sister. This other sister cannot go into the War Room. It’ll do no good to argue. So don’t. Okay?”

I was so anxious to get there as quickly as possible, I said, “Fine. Fine.”

“We first have to get passes,” he said.

Zohreh and I got into the Toyota and we left. To get the passes we stopped at Farmandari and several other places. Finally we had five passes with our names on them. Beside Zohreh and I, there were three young defenders sitting in the back of the truck talking among themselves. They didn’t seem like ordinary soldiers. From the bits and pieces of what they were saying, I could tell that they didn’t speak about the war the way simple soldiers did. Their seasoned analysis of the conditions told me that they were military intelligence.

Zohreh and I spoke while, at the same time, we listened to the young men, hoping to learn something about what was going on at the front. “Do you think you have enough nerve to go and talk to higher ups?” she asked.

“Of course. Why not? What else should I do?”

“What do you want to say?” she asked.

This made me think. Actually what did I want to say? How should I begin? All of the bigwigs would be there. I hoped to God there would be a familiar face, someone to keep up my spirits, to make it easier speak freely.

 

To be continued …

 



 
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