Amala Duniya Rehman
Iftar guesthouse, Kabul, Sunrise
‘Inja-beya, Mohsin,’ the man yells. ‘Look what we have here.’
The man is speaking in Dari, but I have a knack for picking up languages, and cold fear sharpens my sense of what is being said.
‘What?’ someone shouts from a point further away.
‘Come and see, Mohsin,’ the voice insists. ‘We have a talking closet.’
Inside the linen-closet my companion and I freeze in terror. I have just finished telling her my life story. Not my entire life story – that would have taken too long – but an account of how a Bangladeshi girl like myself came to live and work in Afghanistan.
And she on her part has bit by bit whispered her story to me. Of the difficulties she faced with her mother-in-law and how they were gradually overcome.
We have been talking against the background of gunfire for half an hour now, trying to calm each other’s fears. For if we hadn’t spoken to each other I believe we would have burst out screaming. If either of us had screamed it would have brought the Taliban fighters right into the room and they would have murdered us within seconds.
When we’d heard the murderers prowling around the corridors, firing bullets here and there, I’d pulled her into the closet with me, and saved our lives. Temporarily, it would seem. Originally it was her brainwave that we should seek refuge in the spacious ladies’ bathroom at one end of the corridor.
It doesn’t matter now. In a few seconds they will pull the door open and we will both be dead.
‘Mohsin,’ says the girl, as if she is chanting a mantra. ‘Mohsin.’ And yet again. ‘Mohsin.’
Why on earth is she repeating the name of the man outside? Obviously we’ve been discovered and our situation looks desperate, but even so . . . Why? There was still a wild hope burning inside me that they might not open the door, but this now lies extinguished.
The sweat of fear drenches me from top to bottom. Inside the suffocating warmth of our wooden cage, I’m shivering. My companion’s nails knife my shoulders even as I grip hers tightly. A scream arises, but terror pushes it down and it falls back soundless, trapped inside my throat like a fishbone.
I hear footsteps approaching.
‘What is it?’ the new voice asks.
‘See this tall box?’ says the other with a laugh. ‘It moves, and I think it has something bigger than rats inside. I’d fire and kill whoever is hiding inside, but first I want to see their cowardly faces.’
‘Yes, don’t fire yet,’ says the new voice. ‘Let’s see who it is.’
I’m so sorry, James. I’m so sorry it has to end like this.
Winter - A few minutes to midnight, the night before the attack on the Iftar guesthouse.
Mohsin: Remembering The Past
TV Hill, Kabul
By this time tomorrow I will be gone. I, Mohsin Khan, will have struck a blow against the evil western bastards, the harum zadeh, who have plundered and raped my country, and against the people who stole my beloved from me.
Tomorrow will be the last day of my life. It will also be the most important day of my life. In fact, to be fully accurate, it will be the most important day of my life if it is the last day of my life.
And tomorrow will also be the start of my new life. Will it be tomorrow or the next day? I don’t know. I should have asked Mullah Shamsuddin. When I die, will I be immediately transported to Paradise, to Jannat, or will there be a gap of a few hours? Will my soul be put into some kind of rocket, similar to the missiles that I’ve seen raining on my country, fired by the Americans, and will the rocket then take off towards Jannat?
What do a few hours’ delay matter? Once they shoot me dead – and that will happen soon after I have killed those responsible for what happened at Muntozai – it’ll only be a few hours before I am face to face with my Maker. According to Shamsuddin, the more infidels I kill, the greater merit I will acquire. I don’t believe that is really the case, and I feel like asking him if killing a larger number of unbelievers means that I will be moved to superior-class accommodation in Jannat. If he nods his head confidently I will tell him that I thought you got everything you desired in Jannat, and that there were no divisions. I’m not sure how he will answer that, but he’s certain to come up with something. Whatever the residential arrangement in Jannat, it will be a lot better than this small room I’ve been holed up in on TV Hill in Kabul.
To the mullah’s credit, though, he didn’t give us any false hopes of our surviving the aftermath of the attack. Upon our arrival at the scene, possibly only seconds after the first volley of bullets is fired at the guardhouse, the alarm will be sounded and the police, perhaps even the army, will rush to surround us from all sides. We shall be attacking the lion in his den, a place where the enemy imagines himself fully secure.
Unlike Mullah Shamsuddin, who never ceases to praise those who perpetrated Nine/Eleven in America, I always feel pain whenever I see footage of what happened that day. My thoughts are with the families of those who died. But now I see Nine/Elevens being inflicted on my own country. The main difference perhaps is that, instead of a few gigantic edifices with innumerable office cubicles being brought down, it is countless mud dwellings, small homes already close to the ground, being completely flattened with all those who lived inside.
I asked Shamsuddin whether he was certain that the building under attack housed those individuals who were responsible for what had happened six months ago, and he assured me that this was the case.
‘We have one hundred per cent information,’ he said, ‘that these are the very people who issued the orders, including that devil, the man with the goat’s beard.’
‘Isn’t it a guesthouse?’ I ignored his last remark, though I felt my body tense.
‘Iftar. That’s the name.’
‘Are there any innocent people living there?’ I could see he was getting annoyed with my questioning, but I didn’t care. I am not an automaton, and I don’t believe in killing innocents.
‘None,’ he insisted, then hesitatingly added: ‘Maybe an odd servant, but we can’t do anything about that.’
‘Would those servants be Afghans?’
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘but don’t worry. Since they are Muslims they too will go to Jannat.’
I am not persuaded by this brand of logic. I have serious doubts about killing innocents, whether they are Muslim or not. Even if I were to allow myself to be convinced that all the Muslims who get killed automatically go to heaven, surely that is not the point. Their families and loved ones will suffer just as I am suffering. If all innocent Muslims who get killed are going to Jannat anyway, why in Allah’s name are we fighting this war? We fight because of the families left behind who suffer – as I suffer.
By this time tomorrow I won’t be here. That’s not true. I mean it’s true, but I no longer have to wait for tomorrow. The minute hand of the small clock Mumtaz gave me on my birthday shows that it’s nearly midnight. In a few minutes the new day will begin, my old life will end not long from now and a new one in Paradise will begin. There are still a few hours before I head off for my mission, though I don’t suppose I will be able to sleep. I wonder if the others are awake like me too. I don’t think most people in our circumstances would sleep. As soon as it’s daylight, I will start to prepare my uniform and load my gun. . . .
Mumtaz. Oh, Mumtaz. If I could have a last wish before I die, it would be to see you again. For the last time.
Continued to "A Difficult Decision"