A Memory from the Pages of Life

It was 8:30 pm. My brother and I were sitting playing cards when I heard my parents talking in the other room. “Why can’t we go back to Pakistan? What if the attack starts?”

“Look, there is no way Auntie jaan can travel in this kind of medical situation. We have to wait till she gets better,” said my dad.

“But….” said my mother. Then there was a long silence.

Without worrying much, we continued playing. I was thinking: “Will the attack really start?” hoping it would.

“I think the attack will take place sometime soon. The airplanes were flying all over Kabul today. Don’t you think so?” asked my brother.

“I don’t know, I hope so…” said I.

It was 9:00 at night and I was still busy playing and thinking when the lights went off. For some reason I knew it had started, and so had the end of the Taliban. I ran to my father. “Padar Jaan, did you see the attack has just started?” said I, breathless.

“No way, child. They are still talking about it and besides if it had, BBC would have announced it.”

“Breaking News: America has started its air attack on the Taliban.” My father was amazed and I was very proud of myself to have known it before my father and the BBC guys

The following nights, my neighbors would come to our dark and kind of scary basement (I was not scared though) and stay there the whole night.

My mother and one of our neighbors did not like the idea of sitting in the same room as men. So we had different rooms.

In that room, I read from a fortune-telling book. “Allah is going to reward you with a journey and wealth in the near future and someone with tall height and black eyes is your enemy, keep away from him,” I told a neighbor in her mid-60s who had returned home after five years in Holland.

“Allah jaan, who might he be?” said she, looking worried. “Now don’t worry. It says he wouldn’t be able to do much harm. Allah protects good people, you see,” said I, acting as if I were 40 years elder.

That was how we spent those nights.

Things got calmer and most of our neighbors went to Pakistan, through the mountains (illegally) or to their provinces to be with their people. We could not leave because my aunt was getting sicker and sicker.

The mullah told my mother that my aunt’s “stars are in movement. There is risk for the next sixteen days. If she does not die in sixteen days, then, inshaAllah, she will live for some more years.”

“Let’s pray,” said my mother.

Some nights later my brother woke me up to say my aunt had died. So after her funeral, we would go to Pakistan and wait till the absolute fall of the Taliban.

Since Pakistan had closed its borders, we, like many others, went through the mountains and through the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). While climbing the mountain, I paused and looked down. The view was very interesting. A lot of women, men and children were climbing the mountain, and some had donkeys and other animals with them. There were also people smuggling cars illegally to Pakistan. No matter what, business never stops—that is true, is it not? There was an unusual happiness and excitement in my heart. Deep inside I knew this would bring a lot of positive changes in the lives of Afghans who have suffered so much and particularly from the Taliban. As I was thinking, I was interrupted. “Hurry up, walk!!!” called my mother.

“Coming…” I said.

After climbing down the mountain, there we were, in FATA. There were cars and the drivers shouting: “Peshawar, one for 100 rupees only.”

“Go with the kids this way, the police will not say much to the women. Don’t worry! I will go with my friends from the other way and will meet you in an hour or so,” my father told my mother.

We climbed in the back of a truck; there were so many women and children that we could hardly fit comfortably. All were wearing either burqas or big Afghani shawls, covering their faces. I could hardly sit but I had a smile on my face and was as big an optimist as never before. I looked outside. I saw many faces but only one face still comes to memory. It was the face of a young man in his mid-twenties, tall, dressed in all black, carrying a big Kalashnikov along with anger and hatred in his heart, which was very visible in his eyes. I turned my face and looked for any women walking in the area. Not surprisingly, there were none.

I started day-dreaming and talking to myself again. “I will share the upstairs room with my sister. We will get our own computer. I will ask dad if we could walk to school. Gosh!!! That would be so perfect, to walk to and from our school with all our friends….”

Suddenly I was interrupted. “Kids, Peshawar is here. Get down and we will go in another car.”

“Mother, where is Padar Jaan?” I said.

“He will come, do not worry, daddy’s girl.”

“Mother, are you sure the police have not taken him?”

“Father is here!” said my brother.

We took another car to Hayatabad, a well know area for its Afghan immigrant population, to our house. Previously I had not been all that interested in news! I started listening to news and waiting for the fall of the Taliban. So I was able to inform my father when foreign troops took control of our country.

“No kidding?” said he and turned to my mother. “Is that true?”

“Yes, it is,” said my mother.

The car stopped and he turned. “Wow, that is great. Now I do not have to worry.” He got out and went to the shop and came back with a pack of cigarettes and started to smoke one.

“Padar Jaan, are you starting smoking again?” asked my sister.

“No child, I am just happy. It is a big day,” said he. (Men will always be men, no matter what the occasion is, trying to kill their health.)

In less than four months, we returned to Afghanistan

I know the start of a war should not be a good memory for anyone. But what if the war was also the start of girls going to school, people no longer going to bed empty-stomached , women not being forced into marriage by government officials, people not losing their body parts for minor crimes and finally the renaissance of freedom and happiness for millions of people? My good memory is of a period of time starting from a night to a new day and a new chapter in the lives of my fellow Afghans, and making the world a safer place.

—Meena

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8 responses to “A Memory from the Pages of Life

  1. This is a beautiful story, showing an important moment in time through the eyes of someone who lived through it. Thank you for writing this.

  2. I am delighted to see such writings being promoted and disseminated. It is not an inexperienced , foreign report but a real person/Afghan telling the story of her initial oppressed life, the challenges of the time, and her delight in returning home. Marzia has done a great job of weaving cultural issues into this piece. Her concern and her tone about Padar Jaan depicts her close tie to her father very well.

  3. A good story, well told. Thank you..

  4. This story tells so many things – family life, the relationship of men and women, dis-location and re-location, the strength of dreaming for peace and a better life. Thank you for using your voice to show us your world in a detailed yet broad picture. Well done.

  5. Thanks for sharing these things with us.

  6. A lovely piece — reminds me a little of Iranian author Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. You put an entirely different spin on the war and ask important questions some of us may be uncomfortable to consider: What if this is the start of something better?

    The world needs optimists (and writers) like you. Thank you.

  7. This is a masterful retelling of your experience as the war began. The fact that you told it using dialogue — rather than a straight telling — made me feel as if I was there. I was chilled at the sight of the young man dressed in black carrying the Kalashnikov and I felt that you had whispered in my ear while I was standing next to you when you wrote “Men will always be men…” The latter made me smile. Thanks.

  8. Your detail is rich and optimism shines through your story- telling.

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