(Eds Note: This story has been written from a brother’s point of view, but is based on real events.)
We had a kind and lovely family. We were not so rich in money, but rich in love and kindness, in happiness and sympathy, more like friends than family members. My father was an engineer, I was one of three brothers and we had two sisters.
We were living in Mazar in a small house with one room, a bathroom, a kitchen and a yard. My father worked in a construction company. He was working hard and his target was to bring us up with education.
I was in fourth class when there was a change in the government. Everyone was afraid—what would happen? Then they announced on the radio that girls could not go to school; only boys could go.
My youngest sister Malia was eight and in second class and my other sister Noria was nine and in third class. We were sad because they couldn’t go to school. But after a week, I told my father I was going to school even though I was sorry my sisters could not. My father said he was thinking about my sisters—what should they do? I told him I was sad too. “But still, tomorrow I am going to school; I can’t wait, I can’t wait.”
My father was thinking; he didn’t reply. It was 2:00 p.m. and I was tired. I went to the room and lay on the mattress and after a few minutes I fell asleep. I don’t remember exactly how long I slept, but my Mom woke me up. She was worried and told me, “Ahmed, your father went to the barber.”
The barber’s shop was at the beginning of our street and the barber was my father’s friend, so I told my mother, “It doesn’t matter, he always goes there.”
“Yes, yes, I know, but this time your father took Noria and Malia to the barber!”
I was surprised. Lots of questions were in my mind. When my father returned, he told Mom: “Life is so dangerous, so hard. Taliban were in the barber’s shop, warning him he couldn’t cut people’s hair and beards. If he does, they will put him in jail.”
My two sisters were silent. They wore veils. My father asked my mom to bring him the scissors. She did and Dad called Noria first, “Come, my golden-hair angel.” Noria and Malia both had long hair and my dad loved their hair, especially Noria’s hair.
Now, Noria sat in front of my father. My father had the scissors. His hands were shaking. He combed her hair and then he started cutting it. He cut her hair like a boy’s, like mine, very short and straight.
I was shocked. I thought, “Dad is mad, or something is wrong with his mind,” but I didn’t say anything. Mom and I just stood watching. Then Dad called Malia and cut her hair too. They both looked very ugly, very poor.
Then my dad told Mom, “Bring all of Ahmed’s old clothes.” Mom looked like she was going to cry for her daughters’ hair. She opened an old box, but it only held some of my sister’s old clothes, not mine. Our next-door neighbor had a son my age, so Mom borrowed his old clothes for my sisters. Then my father told me, “Come stand next to your sisters.” I stood and Mom and Dad were looking at us.
The next day my dad didn’t go to his work. He took me and my sisters to school. My sisters looked like simple school boys. My father told me to try to watch out for them.
We were happy like this, going to school every day, for six months, but after a while I began to get very afraid. One day my sister Noria didn’t go to school. She stayed home because Mom was very sick. Malia went to school with me, but unluckily the teacher was absent that day, and boys were fighting in the class. One boy threw an eraser at the window and broke the glass, and it fell and hurt my Malia’s leg. Blood came from her leg. She cried and said that she wanted me, her brother, to come from another class but no one cared. The principal took Malia to the clinic and while checking her, the doctor told the principal she was a girl. “How is that possible?” asked the principal and he ordered the doctor to stop treating my sister.
After school that day, I waited for Malia but when she didn’t come from her class, I felt worried. I went home and told my mother. She cried. We thought someone kidnapped Malia.
After Dad came from work, the principal arrived holding Malia by the arm, and accompanied by four Talib police. Her face was white and she was crying silently. Her clothes were bloody. The principal didn’t say anything. My father told them, “Welcome.” The Talib commander hit my father, and then all the men started to hit my father in front of our eyes. They hit him with big wooden sticks and cables and wires. One Talib hit Dad’s nose and broke it, and blood was coming from his nose and mouth. I tried to rescue my father but I couldn’t; I was very small. Before they left, the Talib warned my dad: “If you do anything bad again, we will put you in jail or kill you.”
Dad was in the hospital for two months. During that time I went to school alone and worked with a tailor. Noria and Malia stayed home. When Dad got out of the hospital, he told us he wanted to quit his job and begin working as a teacher.
Yes, he wanted to teach us at home, and he invited all the neighbors to come and study. Half of the room we were living in became a classroom. Dad painted part of a wall black and it was our blackboard. Girls came to our house from morning until evening. Dad taught all school subjects. He never seemed to get tired.
One day the family of one of my dad’s student’s was moving from our street. She came to say goodbye to my father and promised she would try to visit in the future. Dad was talking to her until prayer time. A Talib carrying a cable was in the street to call people to come to prayer, and he saw the student come out of our house. She said to my father, “Goodbye, teacher,” and the Talib heard it. He pushed at the door. Dad thought it was his student returning so he opened the door and there stood the Talib. He didn’t hit my father with the cable. He just told him, “Come with me.”
I saw my father with them in the car and then the car drove away. Mom was at home, and we all were crying. Neighbors came and told us, “He will be back, be patient.” We waited until evening. It was dark. Mom went to my uncle’s house to tell him what had happened. My uncle began investigating with his sons to try to find my father. The next day, he went to all the Talib police stations but no one had information about Dad. We checked all the jails and prisons, but he was not there. I kept asking myself: “What did they do with Dad? Did they kill him? If so, where is his body? If not, then where is he?”
What was his sin? It was that he was teaching girls. He quit his job because he didn’t want his daughters to be illiterate. His second sin was that it was prayer time, and he prayed at home. He prayed for Allah, not for the Taliban.
Days and nights passed with no word from Dad. We had money problems and other worries, but still at nights, I taught Malia and Noria. I wrote on the blackboard of our wall. I thought of myself as my father.
After the Taliban regime, we were hopeful that Dad would be back, but he never returned. Malia graduated from school last year and attended faculty of journalism in Mazar. Noria is still in the 12th class. She wants to be an engineer. Her golden brown hair has grown back, and it reminds me of how much my father loved it.