On her wedding day she had a toothache, my father always teased her about it, this was when she was merely a teenager. By the time she was in her thirties she had lost all her teeth and had to wear dentures the rest of her life. Over the years she had eleven children. The first born, a son, pride of the family, but it was not to be. He died of a mysterious illness at an early age. Many other infants died that year, including my aunt‘s, my mother's sister, who my mother dearly love. They never knew what was killing the babies, perhaps cholera, but why did it only killed babies, and not the others? They often ask. Sanitary conditions did not exist in Abadan back then. Their first dwelling they built themselves with empty gasoline tin cans filled with clay dust, staked one on top of the other to form walls. They didn‘t have running water or sanitary sewer. Their bathroom was a hole, concealed from others by a meager wall, in the impermeable soil, deposited by shat that had formed the land over millenniums. Someone less fortunate than them had to haul away this vilest human secretion to a sewer ditch near by, since the impervious soil and high ground water would not allow it to infiltrate into the ground. That was how Mother, and the others, lived in those early days, while the men work in what eventually became the largest refinery in the world.
My mother had one baby wrapped up in a crib, held another in her arm while kept an eye on another toddler running around too dangerously near an open bread pit in the ground, all the while being pregnant with another. She wiped poop off the floor faster than superwoman could raise her arm, before the foul smell could spoil the aroma of freshly baked bread. She must have washed my ass for many years before I learned how. I don't know when it was that I stopped asking, nanah beyo konemo beshoor, but I remember, when I was older, how the younger ones asked for the same.
I was a sickly child, puny most of my adolescent life. I was inflicted with chronic tonsillitis, always having diarrhea, later being hospitalized for kidney disease, puny all around. I wish I could tell her I'm not sick anymore, that I play soccer and go mountain biking in my middle age, but I can’t. She is not here no more. I don't remember when she died, I don't remember the date. I don't want to remember that day that I am supposed to remember, that awful day when the phone call came. An untimely death. Her heart had given up at the end, for all the years of hard work, in a minibus overloaded with people in their way to their lives. She was returning from a visit to see her grandchildren when a fight broke out between two passengers in the minibus, their was shouts of profanity, a fist fight, passenger screaming, and standing people falling on others. The men never knew their childish quarrel ended up killing a woman that was loved by many.
She didn’t know what retirement was meant to be. Every morning, she routinely walked to local shops and bought fresh bread, Bulgarian cheese, and halva. She made tea for Father, who survived her death by many years, still praising her name to his last day. She made tea for her youngest son who was in his thirties still chosen to stay unmarried so he could take care of Mother, and Father, at their old age. The youngest son not wanting to get married, not wanting any wife of his possibly being disrespectful to the matriarch of the family, as there was a bride who had dared to do, and so for ever lost respect of the family, since she was the pampered ones, the one that didn’t know what it took to bring us to where we stood. My brother could not bear the thought, and so that’s how it is back home, a son, a daughter, taking caring of the old.
I was only twenty two when I left the first time, never again having the chance to be close to her, except for that awful time at the end of the war when I returned to find a way to stay, but the missiles kept coming and she asked me, she wanted me to leave, to go to a place where I did not belong. I was fearful for my life, but didn’t want to leave the others behind, till one brother told me it's her way of making sure at least one of her hatchlings will survive, if others died. He was so clever in explaining the unspeakable.
After all these years, the grief still lingers. I miss her, and all the others.
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