(Eds Note: This story is based on true events and people the writer knows.)
“Afshan and I miss you a lot. When are you coming home, Ahmed?” asked my mother. She repeated this three times, but still, my father didn’t reply.
Mom started crying. “Please, Ahmed, we love you. Come back, if not for me, then for our daughter. Afshan is not yet 16 years old. It has been almost six years since you left us.”
Something painful rolled in my throat. I could hardly breathe. I put my hand on my mother and shook her. “Mom, wake up, it’s just a dream. Father is not coming back. He is gone forever.”
She opened her eyes. “Shut up, Afshan. You can’t talk like this about your dad. He has gone to work. He’ll be here within a few minutes and in the morning we will go to the park, okay?”
I put my arm on hers: “Mom, Dad isn’t in this world anymore.”
“What are you talking about? I hate when you talk rubbish.”
“Mom, it’s not rubbish,” I shook her hard and started yelling: “Dad’s dead…Dad’s dead.”
She was quiet for a while, and then closed her eyes. “Afshan, what time is it?”
“It’s only 3 a.m. Go to sleep, Mom.”
After a while, Mom fell asleep. I rested my hand on her belly. It felt like a big rock sat on top of my heart. I needed to leave the room to breathe, so I went outside and stared at the sky, the moon and the stars. I loved my friend, the moon. Whenever I felt alone, I would go outside and talk to my friend. The moon knew my whole life story. Sometimes I felt as if moon were talking to me.
That night, I closed my eyes and heard the moon asking me, “Did your mother dream the same thing tonight?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Did any of your father’s relatives contact you so far?” asked the moon.
I was quiet and the moon asked, “What are you thinking, my dear?”
“About the dark days and nights,” I said.
I heard the moon telling me this is natural. Everyone has to leave this temporary place. This world is just for a while. It’s not permanent. “Yes, everyone has to leave this world and I will be leaving this world too,” I said. “But death should be of natural causes, not caused by another human being.”
“I still remember,” I told the moon, “when I was nine years old and playing in Shakiba’s home. Her 18-year-old brother Waleed came to tell me to leave. Shakiba and I were shocked. Shakiba asked him why he would tell me to go home, and he said, ‘Afshan’s father is dead and some people brought half his body to their home.’”
I thought he was kidding. I kept playing with my doll. Then Shakiba’s mother came in crying. Shakiba told her mother, “You know what Waleed is saying? He is so stupid; he told Afshan her father’s half body is brought to her home. That’s not funny, Waleed.”
I knew in my heart something had happened, but I thought, how can my father’s body be in half? I laughed. It simply couldn’t be true.
Waleed’s mother said: “I am sorry, Afshan darling. We wish it was false information but it’s surely true.” She took my hand and said: “Let’s go” We all rushed towards my home. I could not walk as fast as everyone else. I was running and my mouth was getting drier and drier. My legs were not supporting me well.
Finally we reached our home. Lots of men and women stood outside. The closer I got, the louder the crying became.
When I entered my home, my mother ran towards me and hugged me tight. “Why did you take away my Ahmed? How can I live without him, Allah?” she screamed.
I pushed her away. “My father is not dead; He is gone for work and will back soon.”
“I wish he was gone for work but he is gone forever,” said my mother as she cried. It was only when I saw people carrying a coffin covered with a white cloth that I realized it was true. My father was gone from this world. I walked outside my home and heard Uncle Ali, my father’s close friend, saying: “Ahmed was sitting at his shop and I was at my own when a fight started between the Taliban and the Marines. The Marines fired a rocket, which hit Ahmed’s shop. It was hard to see because of smoke. The other shopkeepers and I rushed towards Ahmed’s shop to help him get out of the store but we were too late. Ahmed was in two pieces. He was already dead.”
I yelled, “But why my dad?”
Uncle Ali said, “This is life. Things like this happen day and night.”
It’s been six years since then, but I remember that day as if it were yesterday.
Forty days after my father’s death, my mother took me to her mother’s home and we stayed four days. When we came back to our home, my grandmother had packed our all luggage and the room was empty. My mother was shocked to see this and started crying. “Ahmed, your parents have also deserted us.”
I went to my grandmother and said, “Who packed our luggage?” She said, “I did, and how dare you talk to me eye to eye?”
My grandmother slapped me so hard that I fell to the floor. My mother came running and helped me get up. She was crying loudly, begging my grandmother not to throw us out, but my grandmother said to my mother: “You are bad luck. That’s why you could not have another child and now, because of you, my son is dead.”
We left the house with our luggage. We didn’t know where to go, so my mom took a taxi to her parent’s home. When we arrived at their door, my mother’s older brother came outside and stopped my mother from bringing in her luggage. My mother said: “We will be living here now because Ahmed’s mother kicked us out of their home.” My uncle said: “This is not your home anymore. It’s brought shame for us that you stayed with us here before.” I wondered where my mother and I would live.
“My daughter,” my grandmother said, “you can move to our old home and stay there. We will help you financially, but you also need to work to support yourself, because you know your brothers don’t have good jobs.”
My mother put her luggage again in the taxi. The taxi stopped by an old, rundown building. The house didn’t have a door and the walls were half broken. The taxi driver helped us carry the luggage into the house. Mom and I cried as we entered. The first room I walked into was the kitchen. It was dark. The walls were covered with smoke from a fire. Next to the kitchen was a room with all walls standing where I supposed we would live the rest of our lives.
My mother brought her luggage into this empty room and we spent the night with no food, no rugs, no pillow, no blanket, just the mud floor.
The next day, I was still asleep when my mother had almost cleaned the kitchen. She woke me up. I hugged her tight and said: “I am so hungry, Mom; I wish Dad were here to bring me biscuits, the way he used to.”
Mom managed not to cry, because of me. Soon my grandmother came with some kitchen supplies and food. I rushed to get the food and started eating as if it were the first time I had eaten in my life. It was their leftover food from the previous night, beans with rice. “I love beans,” I said.
It took us more than a year to settle into our new home. We had one room and a kitchen, but no bathroom. To the right of our house was a very broken house that we used as our bathroom.
My mother found a laundry job in one of the houses near her mother’s home. I stayed alone at home while she went to do laundry. I didn’t go to school because there was no school near our home. Besides, we couldn’t afford it.
Every year brought different challenges. My mother lost her job three times and we again went through the hard time of having no food to eat. She finally found a job cleaning houses. Sometimes I went with her to help and sometimes I stayed home to cook food so it would be ready when Mom returned. My father’s side of the family never came to ask how we were. I was sure they didn’t even know if we were alive. I hated them. I never heard from or saw my friend Shakiba after that day either. Sometimes I wished I had never gone to her home. Maybe none of this would have happened.
As I sat outside, I suddenly heard the voice of mullah in the mosque giving azan, the dawn call to prayer. When I looked at the sky, the moon was gone! I returned to the room and fell asleep with my mother.
Days and nights passed. Sometimes my mother still thought my father would return, but no one came. No one came. No one did.