Haunting Memories of Sayed al-Shohada Tragedy: “I Shall never Forget the Trembling Body and Severed Head.”

By: Behnia

Two years have passed, yet the agony still grips her, unrelenting. Her heart bears the weight of unresolved sorrow, burdened by anguish that refuses to fade. The once bright whiteness of her eyes has dimmed, veiled behind a gaze that betrays profound suffering and shock. Sunken lines and darkened hollows beneath her eyes bear witness to endless nights spent in restless torment. Haunting visions relentlessly invade her consciousness, replaying severed heads, charred bodies, and the wounds suffered by her dear friends. Gone is the trace of joy and genuine laughter that once graced her existence. The vibrant hues of her wardrobe have yielded to somber shades, mirroring the darkness that engulfs her soul. Even the most joyous gatherings fail to illuminate the emptiness within her heart. Elham now inhabits a world confined to the confines of sorrow, where day and night blend into an indistinguishable haze. The boundaries between sunrise and nighttime have blurred, merging into an unending twilight that shrouds her existence. The only respite she occasionally seeks, within the confines of her dim and chilling room, lies in a graveyard a mere stone’s throw away from her home—a sacred space where Marina and Sohaila rest eternally.

Elham, a survivor of the brutal attack on Sayed al-Shohada Girls’ High School two years ago, carries the weight of that tragic event within her. Even now, after the passage of two years, the memories of that fateful day and the horrifying sight of her friends’ torn bodies remain etched in her mind with vivid clarity. These bitter recollections torment her soul and mind, casting her into a state of numbed existence. Seeking respite and tranquility, she relies on monthly prescriptions of nerve-calming tablets from her psychologist, a feeble attempt to alleviate her pain and find solace within.

More than two years have passed since time froze for Elham, rendering its passage meaningless in her life. The terror of that fateful incident has etched itself into her mind like an ulcerous wound, leaving no space for revisiting moments of joy. The memory of the severed head rolling towards the river while her body trembled uncontrollably refuses to fade away. Elham still finds herself on that very road, engulfed in smoke and gunpowder, surrounded by charred bodies and severed heads. Perhaps it was the sight of Sohaila’s or Marina’s decapitated head and burnt remains that disrupted the joyful chatter about who would wear new clothes on the first day of Eid. But abruptly, a bone-chilling scream pierced the air, drowning out the students’ excited voices and forever silencing them.

During that attack, Elham’s world shattered as she lost four of her classmates who were also her foster sisters: Sohaila, Marina, Mahdia, and Shahrbano. Sohaila was seated to Elham’s left in class, while Marina occupied the seat on her right. Mahdia and Shahrbano, being taller, had positioned themselves on a stool just behind, forging a closer bond. They were a tight-knit group that shared both joyous and challenging moments. Together, they engaged in classroom antics, played hidden games behind the classroom door, and supported one another through the highs and lows of life. They even coordinated their outfits, celebrated birthdays with enthusiasm, and experienced the ebb and flow of arguments and reconciliations. But now, Elham finds herself alone. The echoes of laughter at the back of the classroom have faded, the mischievous teasing of teachers is but a distant memory and any news of upcoming birthday festivities remains unspoken. There is no longer anyone to inquire about the state of her heart, and no comforting shoulder remains for her to lean on and release the depths of her sorrow. The loss of those sturdy shoulders has left her adrift in a sea of solitude.

As memories of Mahdia’s charred body, Marina’s severed head, Shahrbano’s wounded form, and Sohaila’s lifeless body resurface, sudden jolt courses through Elham’s body. Her breath catches, eyes shut tight, and the haunting images of her friends’ battered bodies materialize once more. Amidst the carnage, they discover Mahdia in a dire state, her body consumed by flames, yet somehow clinging to life. There is a profound desire within her, an unspoken message she yearns to convey. Urgently, they transfer her to the emergency hospital in Kabul, though the prospects of her survival remain bleak. She endures agonizing pain, her charred flesh a testament to her resilience, until after thirteen harrowing days, she succumbs to her injuries. Elham recalls, “Despite her dire condition, she called out to me, pleading, ‘Elham, no one here gives me water. Bring me a jug from home.'” Unbeknownst to Sohaila, her face, and body were so ravaged by burns that the doctors had advised against providing her water for recovery. Elham’s final encounter with Mahdia’s lifeless body takes place in the mosque. “Her body, riddled with wounds, was shrouded in a white cloth, but her face, exposed and wholly charred, remained a poignant reminder of the unspeakable tragedy.”

Amidst the swirling smoke and the crimson pool of her fallen classmates, Marina’s mangled form is scarcely discernible. Her head was severed, limbs ripped asunder. It takes hours for them to identify her, tracing her fate through a single shoelace. Marina had a peculiar habit of fastening her shoelace around her anklet, a unique mark that distinguishes her from the lifeless chaos. Yet, there was no opportunity for her to receive medical aid; she perished, promptly enshrouded in a somber veil.

They discover Sohaila, her body still whole with a minor wound grazing her shoulder. A collective belief pervades that she has merely lost consciousness. Urgently, they transport her to the nearest hospital in close proximity to the tragic scene. Alas, the shock and the forceful blow to her head against the unyielding stone claim her life. In their search, they also locate Shahrbano, her body bearing wounds near the site. Brimming with hope for her survival, they rush her to the hospital, yet her breath has already been extinguished. Elham bids her farewell one last time within the hallowed halls of the mosque. Recounting the encounter, Elham whispers, “Even though they had administered a feeble attempt to cleanse and dress her fragmented form, blood seeped through the white fabric, a somber reminder of the depth of Shahrbano’s wounds.”

Elham’s face pales, and each breath becomes a struggle as the memories of her friends’ lifeless and wounded bodies haunt her. She bears the weight of self-blame, repeatedly muttering, “There was no reason for me to leave them behind after school. Why did I do it? Why did they come back for me?”

Seeking solace, she finds a moment of calmness, sitting before the skillfully carved portraits on Sohaila and Marina’s graves. With every stroke etched into the stone, a bittersweet smile fades from her sorrowful countenance, reminiscent of the joyful days they shared. Elham whispers, “I wish I could have joined them in eternal slumber, lying beside these two.” Sohaila and Marina rest side by side in their final resting place, while Shahrbano and Mahdia are laid to rest miles away, separated from their comrades, their shared dreams now distant echoes.

This terrifying and mysterious incident shattered all their dreams, leaving them rooted in despair. Without this tragedy, these five young doctors would have worked towards their shared dream: building a hospital together and proudly bearing the title of “Doctor.” The crease on Elham’s forehead deepens as she speaks of these aspirations, revealing the depth of her emotions. Elham and her friends had envisioned studying medicine and establishing a fully equipped hospital in Kabul’s Karte Char area, where they would provide care for patients of all kinds. She reflects, “I had dreams of becoming a neurologist, Sohaila aimed to be a cardiologist, Shahrbano wanted to specialize in pediatrics or become a midwife, and Marina aspired to be a general physician.” However, Sohaila was the exception among them; she didn’t desire a career in medicine. Instead, she dreamt of becoming a police officer. When they reproached her for leaving them alone, she would respond, “Well, I’ll become a police officer and ensure the security of our hospital.”

Their dreams of becoming doctors were shattered before they could materialize, replaced by illness and wounds that transformed them into patients rather than healers. Now, Elham stands as the sole survivor among them. However, she, too, has struggled to overcome the aftermath of the incident, burdened with profound psychological and emotional scars. Despite receiving guidance from psychotherapists for over two years, the weight on her heart, an enduring legacy of that tragic event, never eases. At times, she manages to regain a semblance of normalcy, immersing herself in books and studies, but soon her mental well-being deteriorates once more. Dark thoughts of self-harm and contemplation of death haunt her consciousness.

Her spirit shattered, she longs for a day when her condition will improve, and her heart will grow lighter, allowing her to release the haunting memories of that tragic day. In her heart, she harbors a fervent desire to embark on a solitary journey, determined to realize the dreams she once shared with her friends. She envisions a future where, after several years, she will stand before their graves, bearing the weight of accomplished dreams.