Da (Mother) 91

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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

2024-3-31


Da (Mother) 91

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 Twenty Three: Sar Bandar

Several days had passed since mother and the kids left, but I still had no word from them. I didn’t know where they were or what they were doing. I was very worried about mother, especially because she might have heard about Ali. This was always on my mind. If she found out, I thought, she’d definitely have a heart attack or go mad and run off into the wilderness. What would become of the children, then? Who would look after them once they became homeless?

The anxiety and the nightmares were constant, never giving me a moment’s peace. Ever since they had left the city, I had intended to visit them, but the opportunity never presented itself. My plan was that as soon as I had seen mother and the kids, I would stay just long enough to make sure they were all okay and then go back to the city.

The War Room had been moved to Mahshahr, increasing the traffic to and from the city. Sar Bandar and Mahshahr were not far apart. I would tell anyone going in that direction to relay the news to mother that Leila and I were fine and not to worry about us. The few people who had gone and come back told me the refugees were all spread out, so they hadn’t found mother.

This increased my anxiety. Night was when I worried about them most. Where were they? What were they doing? Did they have enough to eat? At times I felt guilty about not telling mother about Ali’s martyrdom. How could I have denied this grieving widow the opportunity to mourn him properly? From now until judgment day, she’d regret not having seen his corpse. Blaming myself for this, I wept. After I calmed down, I would comfort myself by saying what I had done was not wrong. Mother couldn’t have taken it. She was so attached to Ali. How could mother have absorbed the blow, especially after the death of father? What if, after she heard the news, she decided to stay in Khorramshahr? What would I have done if she and the children were taken prisoner or had died in the shelling? So, I felt I had done the right thing.

One day I saw Ra’na Najjar’s family in the mosque. I had gotten to know them during the first days of the war. We said hello, and I asked about Ra’na. They said she was in Sar Bandar, where they had a house and waited out the war. They had come to the city to look in on their former home and then return to Sar Bandar.

“If there’s room in your car,” I said, “could I come along? I want to see about mother. I’ve had no word from her for five or six days now.”

“Sure, come with us,” they said amiably.

I told the girls at the clinic and quickly returned to the mosque. I don’t know whether they had a Toyota or a Galant. I joined two of Ra’na’s sisters in the back seat, and we were off. There were some pedestrians and cars on the road, but compared to the day we had brought bodies to Mahshahr, it was deserted. I stared silently at the desert landscape on either side of the road. The last time I was on this road I had yet to hear about father’s passing. That day all my thoughts were on the bodies in the truck and the refugees. I didn’t give a thought to the rain water that had pooled at various points in the desert. The supports for the huge pipes carrying crude oil to the petrochemical plant at Mahshahr were submerged in water that collected in the hollows. Seabirds flew over the puddles. The weather was warm and a heat haze hovered over the road. The closer we got to Mahshahr, the more arid and barren the landscape became. Around Mahshahr the road broke off for Sar Bandar. We reached the town around 10:30. It was a strange place, more like a suburb or a village than a town. The houses were different from the ones in Khorramshahr. Most of them were uniform, small villas with low ceilings and walls. Saddam’s artillery had reached this place, destroying homes by the bazaar.

I got out at the head of the avenue. Ra’na’s sisters kept insisting that I come home with them, but I refused. “Come,” they pleaded, “have something to eat, take a shower, then go. We’ll go with you to find your mother.” “No. I’ve got to find them now, so I can get back this afternoon,” I said.

I thanked them and started walking down the avenue. The whole town consisted of a small market with a several rows of homes. I walked around the place a few times and asked several people where the war refugees were. They told me there was no specific area for them in Sar Bandar.

The place was beginning to depress me. It was hot and dry everywhere, all salt flats and baked earth. I felt like a stranger among those people and started to have more sympathy for mother living all by herself. Everyone I asked about the refugees would just say, “Don’t know. They’re scattered around.”

I lost all hope of finding mother and the children. Maybe they went to Mahshahr, I thought. After asking directions several times, I finally got to the place where there were minibuses for Mahshahr. I waved one down and got on. I hoped to find the home of Mr. Bahramzadeh, one of our relatives who worked at the petrochemical plant and was devoted to mother’s brother. I was certain he would help me. I went all over Mahshahr asking various people if they knew Mr. Hamid Bahramzadeh. I gave the address and described how he looked, his demeanor, where he worked, but nobody knew him. I even asked women sitting in front of their homes, but they had no knowledge of him and would ask suspiciously what I wanted with him.

When I explained I’d come from Khorramshahr looking for mother, they brightened and invited me into their homes. “Come inside,” they said, “and rest from your journey. Have a nap and then go and look for her.”

I refused, explaining I had to get back to Khorramshahr.

The women were anxious about the city, and they peppered me with questions about the war and conditions there. An old woman from Khorramshahr, who had taken shelter with her daughter, asked, “Do you think we’ll ever go back, my dear?”

Not knowing the answer myself, I said, “Yes, mother, don’t worry.”

Mahshahr proved to be another dead end. I felt drained and exhausted but kept walking. Sunlight reflecting off the salt flats blinded me and scorched my skin. My brains felt like they were cooking in my skull. I was about to die from hunger but had no money to buy food. Now in addition to the heat, I had to put up with hunger and poverty. I was desperate with no place to turn. I was on the verge of crying several times, but swore I wouldn’t give in to tears.

I returned to the road that led to Sar Bandar. A minibus pulled up in front of me, and the door opened. I debated what I should do: get in with nothing in my pockets or not. Just at that point, I saw someone about to get off and give the driver money. The driver told him there was no fare. He told the passenger to offer a prayer instead.

Satisfied, I could ride now with a clear conscience. From Sar Bandar, I got a ride on an Oil Company truck.

When I got on, the two people sitting next to the driver said, “Sister, we’ll go in the back and you sit up here where it’s cooler.” I thanked them and said, “I’ll sit back here.”

“It’s hot out, you’ll roast,” they warned me.

“No, thanks,” I said.

The truck drove off and I sat in the back, leaning against the cab. The floor was burning hot. The wind scorched my face and all over my body. A little farther ahead, the truck picked up a few more passengers and we all rode to Abadan. From there I was able to find a truck going to Khorramshahr.

As soon as I set foot in Khorramshahr, I felt like seeing Zeynab.

She was like a real mother to me. She even wanted Leila and me to call her “mother.” When I reached Jannatabad, the body washers, as usual, asked, “What’s new? How far have the Iraqis gotten? We don’t know whether to go or stay.” The poor men were worn out and really wanted to know where they stood. They hadn’t received any instructions from the administration. As long as there were dead, they had to stay. There were times I thought that there were only two types of public servants who accepted the risks of operating in the war zone: the firemen and the body washers.

Maryam would occasionally go home and come back, but the old man and woman had nothing to do with their homes, Jannatabad being safer and more comfortable for them. I went to look for Zeynab. They said that she was out scouring the town for dead and wounded.

Zeynab hadn’t been in Jannatabad for a time. As the number of bodies brought in decreased by the day, it was difficult for her to stay there, so she went into the town looking for them. From time to time, after an area had been hit, my crew and I would arrive and see that Zeynab had also been there. The first time I saw her was when they hit Naqdi Avenue. The bombs had completely leveled 230 homes. Luckily, they were empty and there were no casualties. I was with a couple of girls from the clinic when I saw Zeynab arriving in a pickup. We kissed and hugged each other. “So you’ve come here, too, mother?” I said.

“I came to see what I could do.”

Then she continued, “When I don’t see you, even for several hours, I miss you. It doesn’t matter whether the war ends or goes on, eventually we’ll go our separate ways. How are we going to see each other, then? I’ve grown very close to you and Leila; you’re like my daughter, Maryam, to me.”

I laughed and said, “God is great.” It was embarrassing to say what was in my heart. The special love I felt for Zeynab kept me coming back to Jannatabad just to see her.

 

End of Chapter Twenty Three

 

To be continued …

 



 
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