Da (Mother) 8

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

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


Da (Mother)

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


On that day our next-door neighbors were having a circumcision ceremony. Mohsen went up on the roof to watch. I was busy playing with Mansur in the room when I heard Leila shrieking, “Zahra come quickly, Mohsen’s dead!” I thought that she was kidding, but when she swore on Uncle Hoseyni’s life, I didn’t know what I was going to do with the baby but I raced into the courtyard just the same. Mohsen lay unconscious by the stairway, his eyes swollen and black, bulging from their sockets, but there was no sign of blood.

Seeing Mohsen like that, I started shrieking and clawing at my face. Leila was also very scared. We started to cry and strike ourselves. At that point, someone knocked on the front door; it was Mrs. Nowruzi’s daughter who lived across the street. From behind the door she said, “My mother wants to know what’s making you screech like that.”

“Mohsen’s dead,” I said. “He fell off the roof.”

“So why don’t you open the door?” she asked.

“Father and mother have gone out and locked the door,” I said.

With that, our neighbor, Naneh Jasem, a strong women with a powerful physique, came and gave the door such a kick that it opened. When she saw Mohsen, she said, “He’s unconscious; we’d better get him to the hospital. Where are your parents?”

“They’ve gone out to look for a place to rent,” I explained. “But now they’re probably at the home of one of our family members.”

She said, “You should go and tell them to come yourself.”

The whole way there I was trying to figure out how to tell mother what had happened without terrifying her. She was pregnant with another child, after all. When I arrived, everybody was surprised to see me.

“Why are you here?” mother asked.

“Aunt Hajar has come from Elam,” I lied; I had never seen Aunt Hajar in my life.

Father said, “How was it possible for her to come all this way?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “But she’s here. She introduced herself to me.”

It was the best story I could make up at the time, but the bruises on my face told another one. There was no point in lying, and they continued to question me so much that I was forced to admit, “Mohsen fell and he’s in a bad way. I was so scared I started clawing at my face, but it’s nothing. He’ll be fine. Naneh Jasem’s with him now.”

Mother fainted when she heard this.

By the time we got back home, they had already taken Mohsen to the hospital. We had yet to arrive when we saw Mimi coming toward us, crying and beating her chest. As the one who raised Mohsen, she was very attached to him, considering him her own son. She couldn’t stand seeing something bad happen to him, giving up another boy.

I don’t know how they found out what had happened, but soon friends and acquaintances crowded into our house. All of them were weeping, thinking the situation was hopeless.

While Mohsen lay unconscious in a hospital bed, our house was in mourning. Neighbors brought us food as though there were a funeral. They insisted we eat but it was no use; no one was in the mood.

The children were just as affected as the rest of the people. There was an unknowable bond between us, making the love and affection we had quite special. I was worst of all. One night when I was spreading the bedding, my eyes fell on the place where Moshen would have been between Ali and Mansur. The lump in my throat burst, and I started to wail. Father tried his best to calm me. No matter how many times he told me that he had seen Mohsen that day, and that he was fine, I continued to cry. The poor man even went to the store to buy me something to eat, but it didn’t do any good. I don’t know why I felt sure that we had lost Mohsen.

I cried so much I started hiccupping uncontrollably. To reassure me father had to bring me to the hospital that night, but they wouldn’t let me see Mohsen. Father left me in the care of the attendant, a kind old man who sat me down beside him and tried to comfort me.

After a bit, father returned saying that Mohsen was okay. I believed him and calmed down.

Mohsen’s coma lasted three or four days. When he came to, he had lost his memory. He didn’t recognize anyone. He was released from the hospital after ten days, but he was never the same. The doctors said that he needed time to recover.

It was as if he’d suddenly become stupid. His mind didn’t seem to work properly. For example, when we gave him money to buy bread he’d return empty-handed or he would get lost. Even when he spent the money, he didn’t know what he spent it on or what we had sent him out to do. The poor thing was in the third grade at the time. Before the accident he was a very good student, but afterwards his schoolwork took a nosedive, and he became indifferent to studying. Father tried mightily to encourage him, but it did no good. He dropped out of the school in junior high. He remained in this state for a long period.

Moshen’s accident delayed moving to a new house. It was in the old house that Hasan, mother’s sixth child was born. Around that time grandfather and Mimi made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad. The accident had also caused Uncle Hoseyni’s wife and his mother to bring mother to the Khombeh Hospital.[1] Father had yet to find a good job, and our financial situation was bleak. For this reason, Uncle Hoseyni’s mother-in-law paid mother’s hospital bill, which amounted to fifty tumans. Later father paid her back. I nursed mother after they brought her home, which was truly difficult for an eight-year-old girl.

In the midst of all this, our landlord gave us an ultimatum to pack up our things and move. The new house was in reality two parts, a front portion and a back one joined by a long, narrow hallway. The people living in the back had to go through the front, passing through the part where the landlord and we lived. There were many things about the new place that were annoying. Our old landlords were good people, but the new one was a real horror. While we were his tenants, he would turn off the water in the morning and leave. At first we all thought that there was a shortage, but in the evening when he returned it would come back on and we figured it out. The poor man’s wife was not like him. She would grumble at him, “What you’re doing is not right. These people have young children.” But he wouldn’t listen and said, “Wrong! They’re one big family that uses a lot of water, which costs a lot.”

The neighbors also objected, saying that they also paid a share of the water bill, but he would just go on turning off the water in the morning. Mother complained bitterly about the way he tormented us.

By contrast, one of the neighbors was very good and humane, but we didn’t see him that often. He was a driver who went to towns on the desert highways. He would bring back fruits grown in those towns and share them with the neighbors. He was single. Father would always say, “May God reward him; he’s a decent man.” We children knew he was home when we heard the sounds of a stringed instrument he played called a sehtar. We loved to gather outside his window and listen to the music.

The miseries of adult life never stop children from getting into mischief. Our lives seemed to travel on a different track. The days would come and go, and we remained in our own little world. The fall of that year I entered first grade, but not more than two months into the term something happened to me. One of our neighbors had a pile of used lumber that he had brought from the port and stored next to his compound. The neighborhood kids would climb up the pile and jump down. Once when we were playing, the pile suddenly collapsed. I fell, and a large nail sticking out of one of the pieces of lumber went deep into my calf, so far that one of the kids had to hold my leg while the other yanked on the wood to extract the nail. They finally managed to get it out, but my leg was badly hurt. I couldn’t move, so the kids went to get mother.

Although I was terrified, the whole time I tried to find a way to explain it to mother. When she arrived she didn’t say anything. She was so scared she probably forgot to have it out with me. She quickly put her arms around me and brought me home. Then she burned some cloth and fastened the ashes tightly over the wound to stop the bleeding.

Several days later, my leg was severely swollen and so stubbornly crooked I couldn’t walk and had to drag myself along the ground. It hurt so much I wouldn’t let anyone touch it. Finally, she put me over her shoulder and brought me to a local dispensary. The doctor said, “Her leg is very infected; if it goes untreated, she’ll be paralyzed.”

That was the worst day of my life. The doctor along with one of the nurses held me up and forced me to walk. It was really hard; when my foot touched the floor, the pain was unbearable. I shrieked with each step as blood and pus emerged from the wound. After a while they put me on a bed. I thought it was over, but a doctor came with a pair of tweezers. He inserted them into the wound and cleaned it out. After he was finished, he looked at the wound. It was like a balloon with the air let out. He told mother, “You’ve got to bring her here every day so we can change the dressing.”

Each time she was about to take me to the clinic I started howling, “I won’t go. They torture me there.” But despite all the grief I gave her, she’d hoist me on her shoulder and go to the clinic on foot. With each step my foot throbbed more. Going to the clinic and coming home nearly killed me. I missed a month of school because of the accident. The principal assumed the family had forbidden me from going to school, because girls generally had a hard time getting an education. So they sent somebody around to ask about me, and the next morning mother went to the school explaining, “She’s not well. Her leg is in such a bad state she can’t go to school.”

But they didn’t believe her and said, “She’s got to come in person.” The next day the poor thing hoisted me on her shoulders and carried me to school, where they looked at my leg. They said, “For the time being there’s no problem, but the minute she’s able to go to school, she has to appear in class.”

It took a month and a half for me to be able to get up and walk by leaning on walls. I didn’t have carfare, so I had to limp along this way to get to school. Although it was very difficult, the desire to continue my education gave me the strength to continue and make up what I had missed. Of course, Mrs. Foruzandeh, my teacher, helped a lot. Her understanding and my efforts combined to make me first in my class by the end of spring.


To be continued …


[1] Also known as “Mosaddeq,” located near the Farmandari circle.


Number of Visits: 1894