"Picture frame" by Homa Khoshbin
August 26, 1998
I have written the attached piece in memory of my mother. I am not really a writer. Feel free if you want to publish it.
It is hard being mommy's boy, especially when mother isn't around to spoil and pamper you. At the age of 35, I am still attached to my mother's skirt, just like the time when I was four or five. It was a bitter winter in Tehran. We braved the cold weather, and went to Mr. Daryani's grocery, so that she could buy me some a milk chocolate drink. I remember holding on to her coat, which shielded me from the cold and steadied me on the snow covered pavement.
Another memory that has stuck in my head, was the day I was late catching the school bus. I rushed out of the house, with her in pursuit. I ran down the stairs in our yard, heading for the garden door, so that I could yell to the bus driver to stop. The ground was slippery from the icy weather. Mother was carrying my school bag in one hand, my lunch box in the other. She slipped on the stairs without dropping the bags. She fell real bad. Not a word from her. That evening I saw the black and blue marks on her back.
Mother was funny though. Being a Kurd, married to a Turk, (she had to learn Turkish, and was a linguist even before attempting Western languages), she would tease me in Kurdish, making me laugh. Boy what a sharp tongue, making funny observations about situations and people.
A brave woman, my mother was. Before I was born, we had a break-in. We called the local police station. My mother went inside the house ahead of everyone else, including the brave policeman behind her.
Father: We listened, mother didn't
My father has a strong personality, and in my eyes, he's a hero. He has done many thing in life which would make any son proud. As we were growing up we listened when he spoke. To us, his words were final. But not to mother. She would object, and he would patronize her, always telling us, "your mother waits till I say something, and then she will say 'no'." Us children, especially I, the hero-worshipper would agree, and would scorn my mother for wanting to disagree with father.
Then 1978 came along. I was fifteen. I asked my parents if they would send me to Europe to study. To my total astonishment, they said agreed, and sent me to England. I went with 500 pounds sewn into my pocket by my mother, and great expectations for my future. My mother and father made separate visits. It was decided years ago by my father, that they should not travel together, just in case something happened. And that was that.
That was the year of the revolution, and shortly after their visit, it was further decreed by my father that any future visits by either parent was unnecessary. Due to other circumstances, financial support from home ceased. Yours truly had to start making a living. Looking back, it was kind of fun, studying and working.
On to 1985. After much cajoling and begging, my father allowed my mother to pay me a visit. For the first time I was speaking to my mother as a man. When the two of us sat and talked, I found her to be a intellectual power house. Her wisdom was extraordinary. Free from her husband's interference, she would speak on subjects with great authority. I was amazed, finding her to be far more streetwise and clever than my father. Thanks dad for letting her come to see us by herself.
After that, the pattern of weekly telephone calls to Iran changed. I used to call just to listen to her, and she always made me laugh. I did not see her again until 1994. Now if you are counting the years, that makes one visit in 15 years. Which means that by the time I was 31-years old and had lived half of my life without seeing my mother. It is painful, if you your are mommy's boy.
In those years I had managed to study, work, marry and divorce. Although I spoke to my parents almost every week, and begged them to come see me, dad wouldn't allow it. Mother would always say, "hopefully next year you will get your military exemption, and then you can come and visit us next summer."
The news came in a letter
The In 1994, I got a letter from my sister in Iran, telling me that mother was very ill, and she needed medical attention. Apparently she had breast cancer, and had sworn the whole family into secrecy, so that I would not become upset. Mommy's boy had been kept in the dark. She was suffering, and I was nowhere near. My financial situation was not very good at the time. Abysmal is a better word, in fact. With help from friends, I brought my parents to Britain within three weeks.
It was Christmas, and we had a good time. My brothers made their way to my home. Mother saw them and all her grand children in Europe, some for the very first time. She never complained about her illness. She was breathless sometimes. I wasn't aware of the extent of her illness.
"Looked as though someone had cut her up"
Through a friend, we arranged to see a cancer specialist. We went to his office and I acted as the translator. He asked mother to undress for the examination. She went behind a screen and took her top off. What I saw broke my heart. Her left breast had an open wound from the treatment she received in Iran. It looked as though someone had cut her up with a pirate's cutlass. It was terrible. She fixed her eyes on me wanting to see my reaction. She had a smile on her face. I looked at her beautiful face, and smiled back, not showing any emotion. But boy, inside I was on fire. I wanted to cry, and scream, but I couldn't. She would get upset.
The doctor prescribed some medicine for the wound, and told me to wash the wound every night. He wrote me a letter explaining the procedure. Mother and I washed the wound and changed the dressing every night. The wound was beginning to heal. We saw the doctor two weeks later. He was pleased with the progress.
In the meantime, father felt left-out and extremely jealous of all the attention mother was receiving. He picked a big fight with me and left for Iran. Actually it turned out well. Mother and I took turns cooking, watched TV, and spoke for hours and hours. There was a lot of catching up to do. We had a great time, until we saw the doctor again.
The wound had not healed completely. The doctor asked me to translate word for word. He said the cancer had spread and she had eighteen months to live. I sat there with my eyes wide open, not believing what I was hearing. You would only hear that kind of talk in the movies. As I herad the doctor speak, I turned to mother, and told her everything like a machine. She just nodded.
She assured me she was not going to die
When we left the clinic, she turned to me, and said "don't worry, I have been told that before." She saw the shocked look on my face, and was more concerned about me than herself. She assured me she was not going to die. The funny thing was, I believed her. I felt relieved, as though the doctor's words were fictitious. She stayed with me for couple of more months. Knowing my financial difficulties, she decided to return home.
I called her all the time, asking whether she had all the medicine she needed. I also called my sister to find out her opinion on the wound, whether it was getting any better. She told me she never had the heart to look at it, and had never seen it.
Mother as always was buoyant over the phone. The phone is a great invention. You can hear someone's voice, and everything feels normal. Meanwhile father was adamant that he was sicker than mother, and he would soon die.
My financial situation picked up soon after mother left. I got a good job, and made a comfortable living. This time last year, I called home. No one answered. I called my sister's house. I asked about mother. She said she was staying at her house because mother had a bad cold and needed attention. Mother came to the phone. This time the phone did not lie. She sounded sick. I asked a friend of mine who lived near my sister's house to pay a visit. When I called him, he told me to drop everything and come. I did, and was on the next available flight to Iran. My passport had expired few months before. There was no time to get a new one. There was another problem, too. I did not have military exemption. I went anyway.
In Iran, mother was waiting
After 19 years, I was back in Iran. Mother was up waiting for me. She had lost her hair during treatment, and was very conscious about it. But this mommy's boy did not care. She wss a beautiful woman, and nothing could change that. I was there for three weeks. I insisted on sleeping at her feet. She wouldn't let me, but I managed some nights, with my sister next to me, and later our aunt joining us.
In Tehran most of my time was spent sorting out my exemption and passport problems, getting mother her medicine, and taking her to the hospital for treatment. Apart from a lot of construction work in Tehran, I didn't notice anything. Oh, traffic was bad, but I guess we all know that.
Within a few days, we took mother to the hospital for her next treatment. My brother -in-law, a tower of strength who loved mother so dearly, drove us to the hospital. There were all these steps to the hospital entrance, and no ramp. Mother wouldn't trust me to carry her. Only her son-in-law was allowed to carry her. I stood there helpless.
There was this long corridor to the cancer section. While others scattered around the hospital to collect mother's file, arrange for blood and X- ray tests, my aunt and I walked mother to the cancer section. It was very difficult for her to walk. We were on either side of her helping her. It dawned on me right then that she would be gone soon. Tears began to stream down my cheeks. It was a very long corridor, full of people from all over the country hoping for treatment. They all looked at us passing by. Two old women and a big man silently wept. I just couldn't believe the situation. Because of the slow pace, it became like a scene in a movie played in slow motion. My feelings were selfish. I did not want her to die, and there was nothing I could do.
When the doctors and nurses saw her, they came to her with genuine love and affection, fussing over her, and this was a government hospital. Mother had another course of chemotherapy. While she was in hospital, I spoke to my sister, and brother-in-law about my feelings that mother would die soon. They did not want to hear it. And that was that.
She came back from the hospital feeling worse.
Watching her fall apart
Mommy's boy was with her for another two weeks, watching her falling apart, unable to eat and finding it difficult to drink. She loved English chocolates. I had brought her some, but she couldn't have any.
Things deteriorated, and we had to take her back to the hospital. My brother-in-law and I tried to carry her. Her coat was slippery, and we almost dropped her. She was in pain and was very scared, and couldn't walk. We managed to carry her eventually, and got her to the hospital. My sister stayed with her this time. I kissed mother on the forehead several times. She was so peaceful now.
Us men went back home. About 7 p.m. I went out for a walk with my friend, and told everyone to come and get me if anything happened. Twenty minutes later, there was a tap on my shoulder. It was my nephew. He said we had to go to the hospital. I knew why. Father asked my brother-in-law what had happened. I knew, but had not asked. My brother-in-law broke down and said she was gone.
Lonely as a cloud someone said. She was gone. Mommy's boy had no mommy anymore. Shell shocked, we collected my sister and went home. We were so sad; the atmosphere was so heavy. I had never experienced anything like that in my life. The night was so long, but eventually day came. Friends and relatives came to the hospital. Everyone went ahead to the cemetery. I stayed on for the ambulance. Someone had to identify mother; otherwise the ambulance wouldn't collect her. The time came. I stood by the cold room. The porters brought out mother. The driver told me to unwrap the cloth round her face and identify her. My hand reached for the cloth and urned it over. There she was; my mother. She was asleep. I could see the wound on her chest. It never did heal.
That same day we buried her, lifted her on the stretcher, and carried her to the graveside. Once there I shook her just to see if she would wake up, but she did not. My brother-in-law and I lifted her up and placed her in the grave. Then it was all done.
Three days later I left Iran.
I think of her and feel safe
I miss her very much. She died this time last year. She visits me every now and again in my dreams. We talk, or I listen to her talking to others. I want my mommy, and I am not ashamed of it. Mom, this boy loves you. I am very sorry I was not there all those years to take care of you. I need your forgiveness, mom.
When I'm angry or feel harm coming my way, I think of her and feel safe. I am mommy's boy, and proud of it. Who else can give you unconditional love? Moother was funny though. Although very proud of me, she would let me know my shortcomings, but in a funny way, laughing all the while.
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