Da (Mother) 22

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




She was in a bad way, almost sullen. I could tell she was tired and hungry. But, more than that, the sight of all those mangled bodies, I was sure, had an emotional effect on a sixteen-year-old girl. It wasn’t just seeing the wounds and broken bones; she also had to come to grips with the nakedness, which had to violate her sense of modesty. That had been the most stressful thing for me. Nevertheless, just having her there gave me the strength to handle the emotional strain. As we walked by the houses and lanes of our neighborhood, I tried to get her to talk by saying, “Maybe it’ll be our turn tomorrow.”

As if not hearing what I said, Leila asked, “So tomorrow it’ll be just like that or is it over?” As we got near the house, there was absolute quiet. The people had heeded what the authorities kept saying on the radio about observing the blackout, about sandbagging their windows and covering them with gunnysacks. It was as if there was a pall over the whole quarter; there wasn’t a sound to be heard or a light to be seen. Absent also were the people who normally stood around talking in front of their homes. The one or two people we came upon disappeared quickly. We were surprised to find our door open when we got home; normally it was locked. We saw mother in the compound and said hello. She replied cheerfully, “What’s happening out there?”

Leila said, “Nothing, just one dead body after another—so many corpses we couldn’t bury them all.”

“Any news of father?” I asked.

“He stopped by, grabbed some Quran and preaching tapes and left.”

“Is he coming back tonight?” I asked.

“I don’t know. He didn’t say.”

“Is there water?” asked Leila. “I want to take a shower.”

“There’s none in the pipes, but I managed to save some.”

I started to laugh. Afraid we would come home sinfully filthy; mother had collected water in some big pots and put a kettle on the kerosene stove so that there would be hot water when we returned. We went to the bathroom. Since there wasn’t enough water to wash clothing, she gave us a large towel to put our clothes in. She looked at the things we had taken off with disgust and wrinkled her nose; they smelled of camphor. Then she piled them in a corner of the yard. She said, “Aren’t you afraid, girl, they’ll take you for a corpse—dressed the way you are?”

“No,” I said.

From the moment we entered the compound, I was waiting for mother to restart the why-do-you-have-to-work-at-the-morgue argument, but she remained calm, in a good mood. I thought: father probably had had a word with her.

When we emerged from the bathroom, dinner was ready. We spread the cloth on the floor. Sa’id, Hasan, and Zeynab danced around us. Hasan said he was happy there was no school, but Sa’id, who liked to go, was disappointed and asked me, “When can we go back?”

Not knowing what to say, I took his hand and sat him down on the floor by the cloth.

Dead tired I said my prayers and, without so much as a bite of food, went straight to bed. Leila had gone to the bedroom before me and was stretched out in the dark. Mother asked us to come to dinner several times, but I kept saying I had no appetite. She said nothing after that, even when it came time to clear the dishes and do the washing up. The door to the bedroom was open a crack and we could hear Hasan, Mansur, and Sa’id playing and teasing one another. I asked Leila, “Did you ever think that one day we would be involved in this kind of work? Can you believe we’ve become body washers?”

In a dull voice she said, “Zahra, I think that I’m sleeping and this is all a nightmare. You really feel the same, don’t you?”

“Yesterday and last night, I did. I felt I wasn’t anchored to the ground, floating in space; but today I felt better. I’m more used to it now.”

The children’s laughter interrupted our conversation. How could people, I wondered, commit such atrocities? Was it just for a stupid patch of ground they were slaughtering others? They didn’t care how many they had to sacrifice to reach their goal. I turned to Leila and asked, “You think that they’ll bomb our house, too? Can you imagine what would happen if they brought us the bodies of those kids when we’re at Jannatabad? I’d go mad.”

Leila’s eyes, which were closed, suddenly opened wide, and she stared at me in horror. “Why should we think the worst?” I said immediately. “Forget it. God is great.” I didn’t say more, but those terrible thoughts wouldn’t go away, making me toss and turn. My whole body ached. My spine felt like it was about to snap. Because of the severe pains in my back and the fatigue, my legs began to shake. It took a long time for me to get to sleep. The nightmares of last night returned: everywhere I went the dead appeared before me; I tried to not to sink beneath the pool of blood by treading with my hands and feet. “Help, help me!” I shouted. There was no escape. Then the faces of the corpses I had washed kept materializing before me; they were spinning and spinning so fast it made me dizzy.


To be continued …


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