An Evening at the Palace

It was a huge room, like one in movies about kings and queens. All around the room were a dozen golden couches with a touch of light green. Three red sofas with golden pillows were at the end of the room. The smell of fresh roses was in the air, probably coming from the flowers on the balcony.
Standing there, I felt so small compared to the glory and beauty of the room. I carefully sat in the corner of a big golden couch, which felt too comfortable and too large for my small body. Looking at the ceiling, my heart was beating faster than normal. I was waiting to meet a man I had innocently loved and admired as a child and then grown to hate. Like many Afghan citizens, I lost respect for him because of his policies towards women’s rights, his stance on negotiating with the Taliban, and his alliance with Dostum, a warlord and criminal. For me, the turning point came when he signed the Shia family law which legalized marital rape and lowered the marriage age significantly.

I was still looking at the ceiling, lost in thought, when he entered. He looked the same in reality as he did on TV, the same light face and soft eyes with the same warm smile. His smile used to be a source of energy and hope for millions of Afghans, who on October 4, 2004, went to the polls to cast their votes, not caring about the rain of bombs and explosions. Those millions trusted him with their lives, their children’s lives and their dreams. So lost in thought was I that I did not notice when he got close to me. I was still sitting. I stood and greeted him.

I introduced myself using my full name and added, “It is wonderful to be meeting you, sir.”
He considered my name and said in a friendly tone, “So you are Pashtun as well.”
“My father is,” I answered respectfully. “I am Afghan.”
“Of course. So what do you want to be?”
“I hope to have my own business, insha allah”
“That is great. Let me remember what I wanted to be when I was your age,” he said, and continued to talk about his education in India, his political struggle and his presidency.

Pretending to be all ears, I instead was remembering just after the 2004 elections, how I took my father’s cell phone and called my grandfather to ask if all my uncles and their wives had voted for Mr. Karzai. After hearing the positive response, I was so full with joy. It reminded me of my childhood’s innocence, yet the responsibility I felt on my shoulders towards the people of Afghanistan. The memory brought a smile, but I did a good job hiding it. As a child, missing his speeches was out of question. Ironically, as a young adult, my first reaction while watching him on TV was to change the channel.

The man sitting in front of me was my country’s president, but the only thing I could feel towards him was anger. I wanted to shout at him for the widespread insecurity, the growing corruption, the legalization of marital rape, the exclusion of women from the government and the support for warlords whose hands still smell from the blood of innocent men, women and children. Most importantly, I wanted to shout at him for his last election fraud, for trying to once again take people’s futures from their hands. Yet I said nothing. Power corrupts, and he was long corrupt and deaf.

By Meena


8 responses to “An Evening at the Palace

  1. What difficult moment this must have been for you — to meet someone you had grown to hate. I am glad that you realized that anything you said to him would fall on deaf ears. How sad that he had the power within his grasp to make changes and chose not to — and in fact made things worse. I hope that one day Afghanistan will have a true leader — someone who will treat women with respect.

  2. Dear Meena:

    How brave of you to write this story, to let us see the history and the changes it has wrought on you and this one man.

    My advice with regard to the writing is to have you slow things down, focus even more on the room and the surroundings (with all of your senses). Try to find a simile for “golden” so that you don’t need to repeat the word as often as you do.

    I want to see more of this one “occasion” that speaks volumes about you, your country, your president.

    Good luck to you. Peace be with you.

  3. Hi Meena,
    I like this piece–it reminds me of a poem called “The Colonel” by Carolyn Forche. I, too, would like to see more details about this uncomfortable moment—more physical details–body language, colors, etc.
    You are doing great work.

  4. Salam dear Gloria and Lu;

    Thanks so much for your sugestions. Will definaetly keep in mind. My college english professor also keeps telling me “Meena, detail, meena detail!”


  5. “My father is Pashtun but I am Afghan” – what a beautifully concise and perfect statement. Your professor could ask for no better detail than that subtle, devastating sentence.

  6. I think this piece shows much courage.

  7. This must have been very difficult for you. I admire your ability to keep your comments to your self when you saw these people you dislike. I understand it is something you have to do, but I know I would never be able to do it. Good luck.

  8. Meena, your writing is so powerfull! I can see the strong woman ready to fight for a better life of her people!
    I have read all your posts and I know that you are born to be someone who will bring light in the dark sky of her country!
    You inner world is so beautiful and rich, that I am sure it will just shine around!

    May that one God you were talking about guide your path and that of your followers!

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