Outside the airport, the weather was dark and hot, and everywhere was the smell of cigarettes. I was hungry and also I needed to use the toilet. A smuggler was walking ahead of us. A few people having cigarettes in their hands had been waiting in front of the exit door for their relatives or maybe friends. Some of them had sneers on their lips as we were passing, talking together, and looking by the corner of their eyes at us. Sometimes I was eyes to eyes to some of them, but I was stealing my eyes. My brother’s hardships on his way to Australia had not left me with a good imagination, but with all the fears inside me, I took my shoulders back and kept my head up.
The smuggler took us to a parking lot. There were two cars, one was black and the other one was white. He asked us to get into the cars. My family and I got into one car and our travel companions, who were a family of father, mother, and a daughter, got into the other one. Four new smugglers came. The smugglers started talking to us in a different language. One of them called someone and gave the phone to me to talk.
“They want money.” He was Montazer on the phone.
I refused to pay more, but he told me that they will not move until we pay. I asked him to talk to Maman.
“Padar jaan, now you insist on paying them money. Suppose that I paid, then they leave us in a strange city that even we do not know its name?” Said Maman.
“Madar jaan, do not worry. God is merciful. If they left you in the way, I myself will come to pick you.” Said Montazer.
I was reading a question full of doubts through Maman’s beautiful eyes while she was taking money out of her white zer perahani. She had sewn the zer perahani with a big pocket onto it with her own hands before we moved to Indonesia, to put the money which we were not supposed to give to anyone until we arrived in Jakarta.
When they counted the money, they turned their faces to each other. After three to four seconds of meaningful silence, they started clapping and laughing loudly like someone was telling them something funny.
The driver was trying to make us agree to what he was saying. I was trying to understand, seeing to his hands’ movements and then into his eyes. His eyes were getting wider when he was emphasizing something and his hands were moving up and down faster. We understood by their actions that we had to separate, but we were denying separation from each other. We could not believe in them and we were afraid to be deceived and to be lost. They called Montazer once again to talk to us.
Montazer was persuading us by his words and promises that we all would be safe and sound until Jakarta. He was saying we should be fast and separate because we had no other option.
Maman and I got into one car with the other family. Nasim, my brother-in-law, Nasima, my sister-in-law, my two sisters, Zahra and Banin and my two nephews Hamza and Maysam got into the second car.
We said goodbye.
Zahra, my older sister, was worrying and telling me to take care of Maman and myself. At the last minute when we were about to move, Zahra sent her son Hamza to our car.
Maman started praying. The cars moved. The other car overtook our car. They were getting farther and farther from us. My eyes were following them. After a minute the taillight of their car disappeared. I was thinking about them, especially about my nephew. I even forgot the chapters of the Qur’an that I was whispering with myself. Maman was telling me to ask the drivers to go faster to find the second car, but they were shaking their hands.
It was midnight. The city was plunged into deep silence. We were crossing from new built and spiral roads and bridges. Seldom, cars crossed the road. Some moments later everywhere was getting darker and darker. There were cubic shaped houses near to the road, which were not bigger than a room. They had been taking their light from the street lights. It was looking like there was no one living in those houses and the city was abandoned. Maman, Hamza, and the other family were sleeping. The car was moving as fast as possible. Whenever I was seeing a black car, I was looking at its license plate number first, so that I could find my family.
The sun was touching my eyes, waking me from a state of panic and apprehension. I could not dare to open my eyes toward it, but I was feeling the warmth of its existence in myself. The weather was as hot as possible. We were on a road, surrounded by busy people and the sellers which were causing a traffic jam on the road that had slowed down our car. The sellers were making noises to attract buyers. Maman and the rest except the driver still were sleeping. I was feeling pain in my bones, because of sitting in one position for over ten hours. I wanted to get out of the car and take a rest.
I realized that the driver was looking at me through the front mirror while he was driving. First I looked at him with the corner of my eyes to show my anger, but still, he kept looking. Sometimes he was turning his face back to look at me. It did not matter to him if he had an accident. I covered my face with my scarf and closed my eyes.
I kept calm for a while until the next car came to my mind with its damn thoughts. Even though I knew the sim card was not working, I still was trying to call my sisters. By nothing could I be convinced, except hearing my sisters’ voice. We had not spoken since last night. I opened a book to read and to distract myself, but reading the book looked ridiculous for me at that moment and I closed it back. I wished my brother could call me, but the phone only could accept calls from Montazer.
Everyone was awakened but no one could move their body because of hunger, thirst, and being hot. The other family’s mother and daughter were vomiting, and her daughter was asking for food. But the driver and his assistant were talking together, playing rough songs and whenever they were seeing a girl on the street, they were catcalling her.
Sometimes they were talking in Urdu. Once, Maman was anxious and asked me to tell them to call. The driver looked at me and told his assistant in Urdu, “what a cheek she has!” I kept calm and turned my face, looking outside.
The drivers were smoking a lot and the air was moving the smoke to the back seats. It was unbearable for me and I got a headache. I was trying to open the window to breathe fresh air but they were closing it back. I repeated opening the window many times, and they were playing with me, closing it back. For the last time when I opened the window, I asked them to not close it but they replied in Bahasa. I could not understand anything except the word Police.
We arrived in a place where there were paddy fields and a scarecrow among them. Hamza and I had nausea. I opened the window, but this time, the driver did not close it back. It was blowing cold and calm wind.
The driver stopped the car beside the road. I thought we were going to get some rest for a while. I opened the door, but before I could get out of the car, he closed it back and did not let me get out. We stayed there for about three minutes. The driver and his assistant peed in front of us beside the road, singing in low voices. I covered Hamza’s eyes with my hands and turned my face.
Time was stopped, that one day was equal to one year for me. I was thinking that we traveled all around the world just by car and the road is not going to cut off. It did not have a bottom and it was not supposed to stop anytime soon.
Maman was worried the whole way, I could see the intensity of her anxiety by turning the Tasbih in her hand and she was expressing her feelings just by asking me to call my sisters and to ask the driver how much more was left. ! کی میداند که مادرم چی کشید The driver was indicating that one thousand more kilometers were remaining. Everyone was tired inside the car. I was waiting for the driver and his assistant to get tired to stop the car for some more minutes but they never did that again.
We passed bridges, rivers with muddy water that were flowing through the center of the villages, and arrived on a highway. There were boards on the highway leading the drivers in different cities. As we were moving forward, the number of cars was increasing.
We passed from a toll and entered a city. There were skyscraper buildings, asphalted streets with traffic jams, busy people that sincerity was waving among them. I saw a bazaar under a bridge. There were women who were wearing comfortable clothes as men, working beside them. They were shopkeepers, sellers, and buyers. Some of the women were bosses and overseers and the men were working for them in their shops. There was no barrier between men and women. They were living together, without a sense of superiority.
I was keen to know where I was, I was overwhelmed in my dreams. Hot weather was blowing on my face, reminding me of the tiredness of the whole way, but I was ignoring it to enjoy beauty to the fullest when Montazer broke all down calling me. “Where are you?”
I was explaining my location with full excitement to him. After a few minutes, we arrived in a parking lot underground. The driver parked the car in a corner near a low height wall, which had made a big window without a frame. The window had been faced to a valley. The valley was covered by trees and a river had been crossing from the middle. Its beauty was reminding me of the beauties of Afghanistan’s valleys, but, most of the valleys in Afghanistan are surrounded by a series of large rocky hills.
My family and I had reunited again. Hamza was cuddling his mother, Banin was hugging Maman and I took Maysam near to the window to get some fresh air.
The weather was hot, I could hear machines’ sounds from above. It was like the mountains set foot and started moving, and the sound of their footsteps was spread all over the city and the screams of the people had covered the whole underground.
Hamza and Maysam were walking and playing around. A moment later, they came crying to take them to the amusement park, showing the advertising boards.
The way to the washroom was crowded. There were restaurants, cafeterias and small shops selling fresh fruit juice. The families, couples, and school students who had worn school uniforms had come together and they were busy with shopping, having lollipops to their hands.
In the washroom, I saw my face in the mirror. It had taken on a sick shape due to the intensity of fatigue and insomnia. My lips were dry and pale. I was feeling like even a drop of blood was not running down my body. At that moment Banin called me. I washed my face, tied a bit tighter my long hair which had been annoying me the whole way, fixed my scarf next to the mirror, and turned back to the car.
Sumaya Nilab is an Afghan writer currently based in Bogor, Indonesia. She is a teacher in the refugee community and her writing focuses on her life story.