Dec 06, 2023
Dec 06, 2023
The Sentimental Terrorist - 26
James, Aram guesthouse
Rat-a-ta-tat . . .
I wake up to the sound of gunfire.
This is unusual.
Rockets are far more common.
The Taliban will fire at least one or two rockets every week, the sound of which I hear clearly from my room in the Aram guesthouse, on Shahr-e-Naw street.
Ninety-five per cent of these rockets land safely, not causing any casualties. Since I am aware of the hit rate, the sound of these rockets doesn’t trouble me too much. They clearly do bother the pilots of military aircraft flying over Kabul, for they can be targeted more easily, and in recent weeks the Taliban have taken to firing colourful flares.
Last week, sometime in the evening, when Amala and I were having tea on the Aram guesthouse lawn, she spotted one of those orange and green lights.
‘What’s that?’ she asked.
‘Nothing to worry about.’
‘I know that,’ she said impatiently, ‘otherwise there’d have been a sound of some explosion or something – but it’s not Halloween or New Year, and besides they don’t celebrate those festivals over here. What is it?’
‘Flares,’ I said. ‘The pilots let them off to mislead missiles with heat sensors.’
The Taliban are rumoured to have got hold of some heat-seeking missiles, which they use periodically to target military aircraft overhead. Once fired into the air, the missiles sense the heat of an aircraft and navigate towards it. The way to deflect them and send them off in the wrong direction is for the aircraft to throw out these colourful flares.
The rat-a-tat sound is continuing. I guess I should get up and see what’s going on. It’s barely dawn, a bit too early for them to be doing construction work, and I can’t think what else could be making such a persistent noise. It sounds very close at hand too, although thankfully it’s not in the vicinity of this building.
I stare out of the window at the snow-covered mountains that surround Kabul. The noise of gunfire persists. I look at my watch. It’s five in the morning.
There’s a knock at my door.
I tumble out of bed and go to answer it. Barry is standing outside.
The expression on Barry’s face is both grim and excited.
‘There’s been an attack on one of the guesthouses,’ he says, agitated. ‘We can see it all from my room.’
Unlike my room, which has a view of the mountains, Barry’s faces the street. I follow him into his room. He’s drawn the curtains back, and through the windows I can see a plume of smoke rising behind the shiny, green glass of the Etisalat building. The sound of the firing is louder from here.
‘It’s probably the Iftar,’ he says, voicing my worst fears.
As if on cue, my mobile makes a pinging sound. I read the message from security, which informs me that there has been an attack by Taliban fighters on the Iftar guesthouse.
My hands are fumbling as I press her number.
The phone keeps ringing. Please, pick up. Please, answer.
Finally I hear her voice, but it is the merest whisper.
More by : Rajesh Talwar