He had a gun, she had nothing
She stared at him; this woman whom he had never seen before in his life. She stared at him. Her face was disconcerting; a paradox of expressions. Her eyes, deep azure stones set upon her countenance worried him. They beckoned him closer. The rest of her, dark and furrowed, pushed him away.
Who was she?
She sat cross-legged in the corner of the hut with her back against the wall, the wrinkles in her shawl mirroring the folds across her face. A baby’s head reared from beneath the cloth, its upper lip still wet with her milk. Confined, the two sat quietly as Kalashnikovs roared from afar.
The father had gone out earlier but never returned; by now, his body probably lay strewn along one of the city’s many roads, disintegrating in a pool of blood, underneath the scorching desert sun beside the empty magazines and exploded shells that littered the despondent streets of Kabul.
As the incandescent sun beat down on the desert, it was evident that the hut had not been built to last. Its walls had begun to crack and bits of mud crumbled and broke off. The rag, which covered a large hole in one of the walls ─ which had served as a window ─ had torn, and light now sheared through the rent cloth, like sword through skin, as it blew about, wooed by the parched wind that would sometimes skim the edge of the windowsill as it raced past, crossing the endless expanse of sand and leaving everything behind.
There was a rapping at the door; the sound of bare knuckles tapping against rotting wood pervaded the quiet inside. Two men spoke in muffled Pashto ─ there was grimness about their tone as they stood outside the door. One loaded his gun and bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, sent bullets sailing into the sky.
She had stopped staring at him and her eyes now watched the door.
At once, it bent inwards and recoiled.
It bent again.
With each strike, the curve became more pronounced. Wood began to splinter with the blows and they pounded it like her beating heart as it danced wildly inside her chest, besotted by the adrenaline that went coursing through her veins.
The door collapsed forward, sending a cloud of dust into the air as it hit the ground; light poured in from the threshold through the floating murk, casting two shadows at the woman’s feet. As they drew nearer, she hid her son beneath the shawl and held him tightly. He began to cry.
Click. She was gone. And so was her son. The men, too, had vanished, and along with them, the whole of Kabul. It was darker than before the First Day; he could see nothing. He heard something, though; maybe an engine. Yes, an engine igniting.
“God, I hate this country,” he said, lighting a candle.
It was eight o’ clock.
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