Half a child

"How are we going to forget?"


Half a child
by Azarin Sadegh

The war started on the last day of the summer 1980. It changed everything. It destroyed our neighborhoods and brought whoever lived in the lasting ruins closer to each other, but it separated us from the rest of the peaceful world.

The change didn't happen slowly. It was abrupt. It occurred on a Tuesday night, in the third week of war at 10:30 PM. At 6:45 the sirens echoed and Tehran went dark. I hid inside my usual shelter, my closet, and my parents found refuge in the bathroom.

We waited.

The noise of a jet - flying high- turned into a deep powerful rumbling, as if thunderstorms were descending from skies, but before the first eruptions, a long moment of silence fell on the waiting city. The deafening blasts of bombs and anti-missiles shook the closet and threw me at the walls. The smell of dust and fire filled the room. My body ached.

Was I dead? I wondered.

I opened the door of the closet and glanced at my room. Broken glasses and crushed pieces of the window frame shone in the dark. Mother rushed inside and held me tight, sobbing silently. Father was standing by the door.

I looked outside. The apartment building at the corner of the main street was half destroyed.

"We better stay here," Father said and mother nodded anxiously. "We got lucky this time."

A woman screamed. "Someone might be injured," I said and ignored their panic.  I hurried to leave the house, and they followed me dreadfully.

It was a cold night brightened only by the full moon and the failing heat of the building on fire. The stench of burning plastic overshadowed the last sparkling of a dying star. The remaining blazes turned to a grey mist and covered the last leaves of swaying trees.

We walked fast toward the sinister wreckage. In the midst of this turmoil, a man screamed and his voice resonated in the dark city. "Wake up, wake up," it pleaded.

Why would anyone even want to wake up? I wondered, and I wondered whether I would even care about dying.

People were gathered in circles, and their shadows leaned against the broken walls. I passed easily through the still or moving crowd, amazed at my own strength. Nobody resisted my desire.

At the center of this chaos, by the ruins, a skinny man, with dark skin and Islamic beard, held a child in his arms, shaking her forcefully and screaming wake up, wake up.

My mother shivered. "But it's only half a child," she whispered and wept. "He doesn't know yet."

"Wake up honey," the man shouted.

But how could anyone dare to tell this man that his child, this headless corpse, would never wake up?

Father grabbed my shoulder and my mother reached for my hand. We held each other in a bitter silence and moved into the black shadow of witnesses.

"We should leave," Father said.

"Yes, we should," I said.

But I never left that moment. I never could. My heart pounded, like a reminder of the approaching end. I covered my ears. I didn't want to hear the man's tangible sorrow. I didn't want to share his infertile existence. I didn't want to be there anymore, to hear these countless stories reminding me of this place where I had to shut my mouth on empathy.

 "We can't help him," Father whispered, pulling my arm. "Nobody can."

The man's bursts of grief, like rain, fell on the waterless soil of Tehran and reached the deep thirst of the grains of dirt.

"How are we going to forget?" Mother sobbed and wondered.

Like Mother, I wanted so desperately to forget everything, but I knew it wasn't an option. By duty or by remorse. "We're not going to forget," I said and felt doomed. "We shouldn't."

I wondered if I had to remember a single tale of war, which story should I have chosen? The story of a dead child or the story of a living father?

But whatever this choice, I knew I had to remember it in a perfect way. It meant I should have dreamed about it over and over. I should have changed my wording again and again to find the exact place of each word in the flow of my narration. Each word had to be where it should be. I should have fallen asleep every night, repeating the same tale, learning to cry soundlessly, so I could keep the secret of its ending to myself. It meant every night I was going to turn the time back, to be in this exact moment in history where I was still a whole, and every morning I was going to wake up, broken in a thousand pieces, by the apathy of the world I lived in.

Was my testimony – like a fable - going to remain forever? I wondered. But how could I create this perfection through the simple description of a collapsing world? How could anyone ever imagine the eternal beauty out of this pure madness?

"You're still too young," Father said, pressing my shoulder. "Hopefully, one day you're going to forget it all. Now, we better move on. It's not a place to stay anymore."

We went back home, already turned anonymous, weightless and defeated, carrying the shadow and the ashes of this war inside, still unaware of the extent of our incessant struggle for not owning this defeat for good.


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more from Azarin Sadegh
American Wife


by American Wife on

This might be your best piece.  The subject is horrendous but your writing style is very passionate... subdued passion.  And it covers a huge volume of subjects and meanings.  Well done.

Losing a child is the worst thing in the world.  No comparison.  There is nothing that will fill that hole.  Ever.


The details are vivid and

by olive (not verified) on

The details are vivid and the images, sounds, smells, etc. emblazoned in my mind. Difficult subject handled masterfully.


Dear Azarin,

by Princess on

My registered identity is meant as a joke... absolutely no intimidation intended! 

I see, so your teacher is trying to break a habit, and not necessarily evaluate the merit of each story by itself. Nonetheless, you seem to have natural talent and while you are trying to fine-tune your skills, it might be good to occasionally relax and stop analysing. When a piece of work comes from the heart, we as the "audience" feel the honesty, no matter what the packing looks like. :)

Look forward to your next piece. 

Azarin Sadegh

Dear Princess,

by Azarin Sadegh on

Dear Princess (I feel a bit intimidated by your choice of id!),

Thank you so much for your insightful comment. 

First of all, I have to emphasize that I really appreciate the positive comments of IC readers that I’m sure they mostly belong to the category of avid book readers. So I would never take their comments lightly. But still, I think I need to clarify the point I tried to make.

This problem could be considered as a pure technical problem. Let me explain!

The feedback of my teacher was about the issue of “too much telling/thinking” in this scene and why I should give the reader more space to breathe and to imagine the chaos. I truly trust my teacher! Otherwise taking his class would be pointless.

My teacher has a problem with the use of words like “World”, “Love”, “hatred”, etc… He’s all for detailed, simple descriptions and visual. “Show, don’t tell” is pretty much the first (maybe the only) rule of story-telling. Of course there are established writers who tell more than they show, but they can do it, because of their status of being established! “Know, and apply the rules before breaking them!” is his second advice!    

I have to confess that it is a common critic to my pages, especially by non-Americans. It is about my tendency to go on and on,.. thinking loud about “big” subjects. My other tendency is to be pessimistic by nature! So, even if I read the comments here, I can easily contribute their positive nature to the fact that the commentators are Iranians, so this common past makes the piece more personal for them.

Oh my…I think I explain too much about everything! Again, I'm going on and on..:-) 

Dear princess, Thanks again for your feedback! Azarin 


Dear Azarin,

by Princess on

Like ohters on this thread, I was very touched by this story and the particular way you told it. 

I beg to differ with your harsh judgement of yourself. I think it is useful it bear in mind that writing - or any kind of art for that matter - is not just about technique, but about connecting with/touching directly something deep inside the "audience", and bringing us that much closer to the "Truth". You have done that very successfully in this very powerful piece.

I don't know what your teacher or classmate criticised , whatever it was, I would like to humbly remind you that sometimes when we start discussing techniques and analysing a a work, we lose sight of whether is has accomplished what it meant to accomplish. If that has happened, the rest becomes almost irrelevant. I understand if your teacher and classmates critique your work to help you improve your writing skills, but that does not necessarily belittles what you have already accomplished. 

Remember many of us read a lot, so please give us a little bit more credit! ;)

All the best! 

Azarin Sadegh

Story or not...

by Azarin Sadegh on

First of all, I have to thank each of you for taking the time of reading my story and adding a comment too! I truly appreciate your feedback, and as a novice writer, I need them to improve my writing.

Second, I read this same page in my creative writing class last week and actually I received many constructive but negative critics from my teacher and my classmates (one of my classmates just got nominated for a WGA for a Showtime movie script! So most of my classmates are more than professional writers!) So I know the technical issues with this page.

But when I read your positive comments, I understood why there’s such a disparity between these two groups of people reading the same piece.

I think we all read and interpret any story through our own special lens. Our memories shape the way we read and understand a story. No wonder as Iranians, your interpretation of the story is so different from my non-Iranian friends who haven’t lived the experience/horror/tragedy of a real war. Even if some of us haven’t lived it ourselves, we have listened to many stories about it in parties, in casual gatherings, in old letters, told over and over…sometimes to the point of becoming ordinary, painless, flat.

So I don’t think my story is really well written, but it brings back the memory of the pain of your own untold stories…so what really is moving you is this common past we don’t know what to do with…to remember it or to forget it?

To be honest, I am truly disappointed in myself…as this story is not really fiction. Just half fiction and half truth.

During a wedding in 1986 my cousin told me the story of this half a child in the middle of putting make up and choosing the jewelry. Sitting in the middle of a bunch of cousins and aunts and listening to her description of events….and for me the worst was her apathy. The cold way she told the story, as if it was something ordinary. At the end of her narration, I cried over one hour in the balcony, before I could add another layer of makeup to hide my red eyes...

So it took me 22 years to tell this same story and I hope you would understand why it was so important for me to write it better than this...:-) 

Thanks again to all of you and my apology for not adding a personal comment for each of you!  



A sorrowful story

by Feshangi on

vividly desribed. Thank you. 




very powerful

by Zion on

thanks Azarin.


you think....

by ali12 (not verified) on

that dirty sadam would have the juevos to even look at iran the wrong way before these dirty morons ruined iran!!?
I think not, we would captured baghdad in 48 hours!
this is what u get when you let some dirty, godless beevatan akhoond take over your homeland! it has been nothing but misery, pain, sadness, oppression, and bloodshed for the past 30 years...
the only good akhoon is a dead akhoond!@

Nazy Kaviani

Dear Azarin

by Nazy Kaviani on

I have other stories of the same war. Mine took place long after the night you experienced, long after the war had ended. Mine had to do with the shattered lives and sleepless nights caused by that war. At the center of my stories of that war, the half-children, half-men, and half-women of your story went on to fill the psyche and hearts and nightmares of a nation. The parents and families of those half-children and half-pubescent boys and half-young men lived and continue to live through the half-lives they have been handed, bereft by the lost joy and life of those dead soldiers and civilians. You are not alone in your memories.

Thank you for your beautiful writing and your beautiful heart.

Bijan A M

Dear Azarin

by Bijan A M on

My respect for your sensitivity has grown exponentially. I didn’t live the sadness of the war you painted so vividly, but, reading your piece I felt the sensation in every fiber of my being.

I am not much of a reader, but you kept me glued to your story.I admire your ability to write and encourage you to pursue it professionally.

One of your fans,Bijan



by Maziar 058 (not verified) on

we don't have to forget ,there is nothing to forget
But I Pray there will be a way to forgive which are NONE.
May all the one who caused the millions to suffer Burn in hell for eternity.

I've had all those nightmares constantly for 2500 nights and brave of you coming out of so many so close ,good for you.


Same Chapter, Different Verse

by sadchicagodad on

While your story may have been fiction, it didn't feel like fiction to me and my wife.  We know what that man holding the child feels like, and just like the mother in your story, we've asked ourselves a thousand times, "How are we going to forget?" 

Your story may have been set in war-time Iran, but believe me when I tell you that any parent, anywhere who has lost a child unexpectedly can relate to the pain in your "fictional" story. 

I don't want to read your sad story again...for I live it every day.  The individual circumstances of my famiy's life may be different from those of your story's characters, but believe me when I say that our life and your story come from the same painful chapter of life's book...only the verses are a little bit different.



Prisoner of War

by Professor Danesh (not verified) on

Baabaa go khordam ghlat kardam azadam koneed...

Eenam Emzaam

Professor Danesh


tried so hard...

by IRANdokht on

I tried so hard to forget so many memories and I went on for a few years successfully free of those images, but it only takes one little hint to bring them all back.

Azarin jan, I am sure that I have told you before: you have a different way of remembering and a different way of telling these haunting stories... something I had blocked out of my mind for so long comes to life again, but it doesn't stop me from reading until your very last word.

You've found your passion and established your style. Well done!

I think mine is to read quality work ;-)