It was a normal day like any other when the Russian troops, as part of their search policy, came to our village. My father was with us coming from the city. My father and uncles sat in the house thinking what to do. The helicopters and jets filled the air bombing the suspicious places and houses. Tens of the Russian tanks rolled on the only road, which connected different areas, and shelled the houses, gardens, mountains and hills. The Russian troops marched in the village and went into many suspicious houses and places looking for the Mujahidin.
My father and uncles took their guns out and went to hide in the gardens and shoot at the Russians, but as they realised that they had left us behind, they returned back, when the Russians and Afghan communists attacked our house. My father and uncles wanted to shoot them from the windows of our uncle’s house, but they did not, thinking that it would put our lives in danger.
“Let’s shoot them,” my father said, sitting behind the windows, and watching the Russians and Afghan communists, standing behind the gate. “Life is two days.”
“No,” one of my uncles said. “Can you not see the tank? Its gun is towards us. They’re waiting to hear one gunshot then the whole house would be levelled.”
“That’s right,” my other uncle agreed. “Let’s hide the guns and open the gate for them.”
My father and uncles hid their guns, when the Russians and their Afghan partners broke in into our house. One of the Russian generals came in to give hands to the Afghan communists, in searching the house. Tow of the Russian soldiers stood by the southern and eastern gates; our huge house had three gates, the third one was located on the western side of it. The Afghan pro-Russian communists ransacked every room, the attics, and the storerooms.
It had nearly stopped the breathing in my chest to see the helicopters manoeuvring over our house, making the thudding noises. Would they bomb our house? That was the question that had taken over my mind and my entire body, making the breathing hard for me. It seemed like my heart had stopped beating, but then it would knock hard on my chest when I saw the Afghan communists waving their hands towards the Russian pilots. Would they bomb us if the Russians and Afghan communists were not in the house? The fear would not leave my heart and my mind for a second when I saw the helicopters flying close, looking like the giant hawks that would want to sit on my heart and suck my blood.
It was a different day and time for our family. Who would kill us first, the helicopters in the air, the Russians in the house, the tank on the road, or our communist rivals who had guns, power and our family in their hands? The house did not look the same. I could sense a tension. The atmosphere in our house was like it had changed to a graveyard.
Now all the fear that I had from the ghosts and the thieves that my father and uncles used to say about, had come true. Now, I saw the real ghosts in the house. Now, I saw the thieves who I had thought would come inside, one night, throughout the roofs or throughout the almond tree that stood behind our house, reaching our rooms by its branches, had come in throughout the gates, in the day, with the guns in their hands.
Now, the stories that my grandma used to tell me about the people who would come from the south of the country, called Manglia, loot the villages and take the women with them, had been buried, and a different story was about to start for me to tell my grandsons, if I were alive to grow as old as my grandma, who had now lived for more than a hundred years.
Now, the stories that my father used to tell me about a robbery that had taken place in our old house had come to live. I saw it with my own eyes. I even saw the person who had robbed our house, whose name was Ghausdin, known as Ghauso.
My father used to say that my eldest uncle came out of our old house late at nights, at or after midnights, to get the water from the village river into the canals that ended to our gardens to irrigate them. One night, after he was a few hundred metres away, a bunch of thieves would catch him by surprise and then tie him to a tree. They went into our house and gathered all the precious things, and left. On the way out, they shot a relative in his leg who was yelling for help (he would be lame for life, because of that incident).
In those times, Zahir Shah was the king of Afghanistan. My family’s elders found out that one of our neighbours who came to our house and had access to the entire building had had a hand in organising the robbery. The police of the district arrested the neighbour for interrogation. The neighbour would then name all the robbers. One of them who had been jailed for many years by then, after my father’s efforts, was back today to our new house, alongside the Russian general and guards, with a new job, to rob us in a new way.
Ghausdin was the same man who had robbed our old family house many years ago, and now he was back to take revenge on our family’s elders, trying hard to prove our links with the Mujahidin.
“I’ll find out about you,” Ghausdin said to my father, when he was coming up the stairs of my uncle’s house.
“Try it,” my father snapped.
“You cannot hide your link with the Mujahidin, forever, I will find out about you.”
“We don’t have anything to hide.”
“Tell me where the guns and documents are. I’ll search this house forever, and I will find them.”
“Try it, but we don’t have anything to hide.”
In the end, after finding a few pistols and a few hunting guns that my father and uncles had hid they tied my father’s and uncles’ hands behind their backs. One of my cousins had hid in the toilets that located at the back of the building, where the communists didn’t go, because they didn’t find it. The rest of our family were terrified as they had been all put in one room.
“What’s this?” Ghausdin asked my father.
“They‘re the weapons that we use for own protections and hunting,” my father answered.
“We’ve reports that you had seen the Mujahidin.”
“We’ve never done that.”
“We know. You kept these guns to fire at the Russian soldiers.”
“That’s not true, who told you that?”
“I know about every single move you mother fuckers have done. People from the village have told me.”
“I’ve no idea what you are talking about.”
“You’ll talk in the jail, when I break your nose.”
“Take them,” Ghauso ordered his Russian and other Afghan partners.
A scary shriek would follow my father and uncles from the whole family after they were taken away. We forgot about what the helicopters and jets would do to us. The mixture of the women’s and children’s screaming deafened one’s ears. I thought that my father and uncles would never return alive. I thought that they took them to kill them. My cousin, who had hid in the toilet, had somehow made his way to the room, where the women and children had been put together, wearing a burqa veil.
“Someone should go,” my cousin said from behind his burqa, “and inform others in the city.”
“Who can go at this time?” his mother asked.
“I can’t go, because they will kill me or take me with them if they see me.”
“So, who can go to the city?”
“You go,” my cousin said to me. “If you go out, the Russian soldiers would not harm you.”
I didn’t read my mother’s expression because she was under her veil. My cousin did not even ask her whether she was ready to let me go after what had happened to my father. I was her child. She loved me. Did she not imagine me getting lost forever? Did she not think that I would get killed in the crossfire? Did she not see how little I was? Why did she agree for me to go out under the imminent threat of the jets and helicopters? Did she also think that it would help if I could go and inform others in the city?
“You should let us go to the city,” my uncle’s wife said to the leader of the Afghan communists, whose name was Dr. Baha, Ghausdin’s close relative. “You’re our own Afghan. Here, the children are terrified. They’re scared of the helicopters.”
“I know, I know, we’re not here to harm the women and children.”
“Khair bibini. You’re our own Afghan. Please do something. These women and children are dying, here.”
“I’ll do something, don’t worry. We don’t harm your children.”
“You took our men away. Why do you keep these women and children here? Please, take us to the city.”
On the way to the city, Ghausdin would stop the tank which had my father and uncles on its top, their hands tied behind their backs, bring them down and stop them in front of the Russian general, trying to convince the general to kill them, calling them doshman the enemy.
“They’re doshman,” Ghausdin said to the Russian general. “We’ve reports that they had sat with the Mujahidin.”
“Where’re the proofs?” the general asked.
“They keep guns. They keep loads of food in their storerooms to feed the Mujahidin. They’re doshman. Let’s shoot them.”
“Yeah, but that is not a proof.”
“The whole village know that they are linked with the Mujahidin.”
“Let’s take them to the city and investigate their case.”
“Just get rid of them, they are doshman. Please kill them here.”
“I’m not going to kill them without any trial.”
My father and uncles would escape the random death penalty by the mercy of that nice general.
I came out of the house to go and do something for my father and uncles, the rest of our family members remained in the house. Turning from the corner, my eyes fell onto the Russian soldier’s eyes who was standing by the southern gate. I passed by him with all my fears. Taking another left, I saw the second soldier who was standing by the second gate. I continued on my way along the main road.
When I first met the soldier my eyes caught his eyes, I withered in my place. The pain of fear and terror wrapped my body as such that like a dead body my brain stopped thinking. It was like, in that place, I died and came back to life many times, like the disappearance of the day after the night falls, or like arrival of the darkness after the light is gone, or like the fading of a shadow after the moon is gone behind the clouds.
He remained quiet and static. My fear was that much that his mercy could not reach me. I was suffering from the fear when he was proud of his sympathy. I passed by him, which felt as hard as passing by him a hundred times. I thought I was crossing a horrific flood that would take me away any second.
When I saw the second soldier, I thought my whole drive had come to a halt. I hardly moved. How terrified I was only my heart could tell. Did the soldier read the fear in my eyes, and the tremble in my little body that he wouldn’t even move? He looked into my eyes like a soldier, but not like a man (proving that any man with a uniform was more than a man, and the general had spared some lives to repeat and approve it).
The soldiers didn’t harm me although they had taken over me like a dark night. To me it felt like they could fight with everything; with the stones, men and trees. Whatever that came against them would be destroyed.
I passed by the neighbour’s house which looked as little against our house as I looked against the soldiers. Not looking my back I carried on my way. They were the same grounds that I used to play on them along with the other boys in the village, but its sky was different, the atmosphere was different, I was different, and the time was a different time. On the same ground that I used to run, from the day when I had first learned how to walk, now terrified me. I was too little against all that was going on around me. I used to run on these grounds laughing and looking at the walnut and berry trees, but now the time forced me to slow down to the pace of a hundred-year-old man, who was about to die any second. Looking up, I wondered if the helicopter was following me.
I did not see anyone, but thousands of bullets lurked around me, hitting the trees around. One minute was far too long not to hear the shrieks of the poor trees in the Nalaw, from being hit by constant firing of the bullets and rockets. From the Nalaw, where I used to gather walnuts or drink water from its underground water sources, a terrifying sound like the howling of the wolfs, and the roaring of the lions, would make me keep away from it, but that was the only safe and remote place where I could hide from the helicopters, flying above my head. I left the gardens and went down the Nalaw.
After a while, I left the Nalaw and came up to another area where one of my aunts lived. I didn’t go to see her. That was not my plan. My plan was to go to the city and do something for my father and uncles. Leaving one area after the other and going from one garden to another, I was growing older minute by minute; or decade by decade, as I could see myself getting closer to death. Nothing was the same. I had never missed going to see my aunt who would cook for me and look after me, but now I had forgotten about her and about all those good times.
This day, everything was different. The trees had lost their tranquillity not only to the wind, but to a quite different thing. I knew all these gardens that went along the main road, because the whole village was like a playground for us. But all the way the soldiers’ scary features were with me. My heart was beating, and I was afraid of myself. The terror would surround me wherever I was. The earth and air had changed to an eternal noise that had filled my ears and added to my fear. The horror was everywhere, as if it would take me to the mouth of death.
Looking back I felt by every tissue of my body and by my soul what I had left behind. Baghal Koh, the mountain where I went to see Shah-w- Aros, seemed like its rocks were constantly shouting from too much shelling of the tanks, bombing of the jets and helicopters, and firing of the bullets. I wondered what had happened to the Shah-w- Aros -- the two lovers who had been married and had asked God to change them to two stones.
In the cover of the walls and trees I continued on my way, away from people, and away from the Russian soldiers. By running away from the soldiers I thought I was running away from all the problems, which would satisfy my horrified mind. But what kind of satisfaction was it when it was born by my own deep sadness? Fear and death would call my name every second as if they were waiting for me every step I took forward. Death and horror would control everywhere I was, all the time.
I crossed the river, where the main road would wash its way through, and walked along the white building of the high school that had been built by my father’s friend, who had been a teacher in its old building, and where my eldest brother and my cousins went to study. The scary noises of the tanks, jets and the helicopters added to my pain and fear. The horrifying noises took the peace away from my heart. Looking at the mountains, my eyes went dark to see hundreds of the Russian soldiers going up those mountains to chase the Mujahidin. The horror never left my heart thinking what it was it like for those who came against those soldiers. They followed the Mujahidin who fired from behind the rocks and from inside their holes and hideouts and then disappeared.
It wasn’t a cloudy day. The sun was up and shining. I saw its golden rays on the fields in front of me. Now I had arrived somewhere that I had to jump down a wall that was probably more than two metres high. I jumped but it didn’t hurt me because those jumps would never hurt me. What hurt me that day was something that I hadn’t been familiar with. I saw something I had never seen before. Yes, I saw that some people had wanted to take those sun’s rays away from me forever, as they had taken them away from many other children of the village. I saw a cord that had come out a landmine. I sat in my place terrified. I didn’t force a smile like a brave would do. I nearly cried. Then I got up and continued on my way.
I was scared of showing myself to others. I hid behind everything I could. I hid from the light of the day, covering myself in the shadows of the big walnut and apple trees. I hid myself in the narrow valleys, next to the water streams, where no one could see my tiny body, but the horrifying sound of the death and bullets would find me.
I continued on my way. The black shadows of the helicopters walked on the ground in front of me by breaking the sun’s rays in the air everywhere they flew, which terrified me. My heart melted when I saw one of them closing down on a house and firing its rockets. I didn’t think if there was anyone in the house because my brain couldn’t work it out. Not only that I was a child that didn’t help me understand all those, understand other peoples’ fear and pain, but also the fear and the horror had taken over my body, brain, and any sense of sympathy that I might have had. The horror and fear in me were as happy with me as I was sad and terrified with them. It was like they had turned to me and I had turned to them.
When I arrived close to a relative’s house, in an area called Deh Naw, the day had gone and it was dark already. I knocked on their door to ask them to help me going to the city. My cousin, who had been married to her cousin, opened the door.
“What’s wrong,” my cousin asked, “What’re you doing here at this of the night, in such a bad situation?”
“They took my father and uncles away.”
“Who took them away?”
“What happened, when?” her uncle asked.
“Today. They took them away. I need to go to the city to inform others.”
“You can’t go to the city on your own.”
“I’ve to, I’ve to do something.”
“Ok, wait until tomorrow. I’ll see if anyone with a bus or truck goes to the city, I will ask him to take you there.
I stayed in Deh Naw. My cousin cooked for me. But I was so terrified that a cloud of horror had sat on top of my heart and rained horror over my whole body, making me sad and terrified. I didn’t eat. Throughout the night the war continued. My other cousin, who was the brother of the cousin who I was staying with, had gone out to do what the Mujahidin did, because he was happy with the guns and fights, anyway. He would come home late at night.
Throughout the night, the scary sounds of the bullets and tanks wouldn’t leave my ears. So many things terrified my little heart. So many thoughts had conquered my small brain. So many things had taken the sleep from my eyes and the peace from my heart. I didn’t sleep. In the morning I got behind a truck and it took me to the city.
Fortunately, my family had been put behind a truck, with the cooperation of the Russians and pro-Russian local communists, and taken to the city. The Russians and Afghan local communists used our house as their stronghold against Mujahidin. They took my father and uncles to the city and put them in their jail. In time, the local communists left the house and it fell into the Mujahidin’s hands. Mujahidin set the house on fire, so it could not be used against them, in the future.