The front bearers got out of step for a moment, and they almost lost hold of the man. His head lolled as though it were barely attached to his body, and his limbs had no life in them. I dropped the clay vessel, which shattered around my feet.
Bibi, I whimpered. Help!
My mother came outside, brushing flour from her clothes. When she saw my father, she uttered a piercing wail. Women who lived nearby streamed out of their houses and surrounded her like a net while she tore the air with her sorrow. As she writhed and jumped, they caught her gently, holding her and stroking the hair away from her face.
The men brought my father inside and laid him on a bedroll. His skin was a sickly yellow color, and a line of saliva slid out of the corner of his mouth. My mother put her fingers near his nostrils.
Praise be to God, hes still breathing! she said.
Naghee, who worked with my father in the fields, didnt know where to look as he told us what had happened. He seemed tired, but he was fine until this afternoon, he said. Suddenly he grabbed his head and fell to the ground, gasping for air. After that, he didnt stir.
May God spare your husband! said a man I didnt recognize. When they had done all they could to make him comfortable, they left, murmuring prayers for good health.
My mothers brow was furrowed as she removed my fathers cotton shoes, straightened his tunic, and arranged the pillow under his head. She felt his hands and forehead and declared his temperature normal, but told me to fetch a blanket and cover him to keep him warm.
The news about my father spread quickly, and our friends began arriving to help. Kolsoom brought the water she had collected from a spring near a saints shrine that was known for its healing powers. Ibrahim took up a position in the courtyard and began reciting the Quran. Goli came by, her boy asleep in her arms, with hot bread and stewed lentils. I brewed tea to keep the warmth in everyones body. I knelt near my father and watched his face, praying for a flutter of his eyelids, even a grimaceanything that would assure me life remained in his body.
Rabii, the village physician, arrived after night had fallen with cloth bags full of herbs slung on each shoulder. He laid them near the door and knelt to examine my father by the light of the oil lamp, which flickered brokenly. His eyes narrowed as he peered closely at my fathers face. I need more light, he said.
I borrowed two oil lamps from neighbors and placed them near the bedroll. The physician lifted my fathers head and carefully unwound his white turban. His head looked heavy and swollen. In the light, his face was the color of ash, and his thick hair, which was flecked with gray, looked stiff and ashen, too.
Rabii touched my fathers wrists and neck, and when he did not find what he was looking for, he laid his ear against my fathers chest. At that moment, Kolsoom asked my mother in a whisper if she would like more tea. The physician lifted his head and asked everyone to be silent, and after listening again, he arose with a grave face and announced, His heart beats, but only faintly.
Ali, prince among men, give strength to my husband! my mother cried.
Rabii collected his bags and removed bunches of herbs, explaining to Kolsoom how to brew them into a heart-enlivening medicine. He also promised to return the next morning to check on my father. May God rain His blessings on you! he said as he took his leave. Kolsoom began stripping the herbs off their stalks and throwing them into a pot, adding the water my mother had boiled.
As Rabii left, he stopped to talk with Ibrahim, who was still in the courtyard. Dont halt your praying, he warned, and then I heard him whisper the words God may gather him tonight.
Copyright © 2007 by Anita Amirrezvani
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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