I tasted something like rust on my tongue. Seeking my mother, I rushed into her arms and we held each other for a moment, our eyes mirrors of sorrow.
My father began to make wheezing sounds. His mouth was still slack, his lips slightly parted, and his breath rasped like dead leaves tossed by the wind. My mother rushed away from the stove, her fingers green from the herbs. She leaned over my father and cried, Voy, my beloved! Voy!
Kolsoom hurried over to peer at my father and then led my mother back to the stove, for there was nothing to be done. Let us finish this medicine to help him, said Kolsoom, whose ever-bright eyes and pomegranate cheeks testified to her powers as an herbalist.
When the herbs had been boiled and cooled, Kolsoom poured the liquid into a shallow bowl and brought it to my fathers side. While my mother raised his head, Kolsoom gently spooned the medicine into his mouth. Most of it spilled over his lips, soiling the bedroll. On the next try, she got the medicine into his mouth, but my father sputtered, choked, and for a moment appeared to stop breathing.
Kolsoom, who was usually so calm, put down the bowl with shaking hands and met my mothers eyes. We must wait until his eyes open before we try again, she advised.
My mothers head scarf was askew, but she didnt notice. He needs his medicine, she said weakly, but Kolsoom told her that he needed his breath more.
Ibrahims voice was starting to sound hoarse, and Kolsoom asked me to attend to him. I poured some hot tea and served it to him with dates in the courtyard. He thanked me with his eyes but never stopped his reciting, as if the power of his words could keep my father alive.
On the way back into the room, I bumped against my fathers walking stick, which was hanging on a hook near the door to the courtyard. I remembered how on our last walk, he had taken me to see a carving of an ancient goddess that was hidden behind a waterfall. We had inched our way along a ledge until we found the carving under the flow of water. The goddess wore a tall crown that seemed to be filled with clouds. Her shapely bosom was covered by a thin drapery, and she wore a necklace of large stones. You could not see her feet; her clothing seemed to swirl into waves and streams. She stretched out her powerful arms, as big as any mans, which looked as if they were conjuring the waterfall at will.
My father had been tired that day, but he had marched up the steep trails to the waterfall, panting, to show me that wondrous sight. His breath sounded even more labored now; it crackled as it left his body. His hands were beginning to move, too, like small, restless mice. They crawled up his chest and scratched at his tunic. His long fingers were brown from working in the fields, and there was a line of dirt under the nails that he would have removed before entering the house, had he been well.
I promise to devote myself to tending to him, if only You will leave him with us, I whispered to God. Ill say my prayers every day, and I will never complain about how hungry I am during the fasting month of Ramazan, even silently.
My father began clutching at the air, as if he were fighting his illness with the only part of his body that still had vigor. Kolsoom joined us by the bedroll and led us in prayers, while we watched my fathers hands and listened to his anguished breath. I told my mother how tired he had seemed during our walk in the mountains, and asked if it had weakened him. She put her hands on either side of my face and replied, Light of my eyes, it probably gave him strength.
In the blackest hour of the night, my fathers breathing quieted and his hands stopped doing battle. As my mother arranged the blanket over him, her face looked calmer.
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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