It was Saturday, the first day of the week, no one was at home. Fatima was lying on her oil-spotted mattress counting the cracks of the roof, she counted three times, four times. There were still the same number; there were three packs of five cracks. Every week a baby crack was born on the roof and she adds a new member to those three packs.
She abreast tried to sleep, but she could not. She started to play with the stones that she had collected from the mountain near her uncle’s house for Panjagh Bazi, her favorite game. When she scores a goal with those minute stones to the curve that she made with her hands, giving the feel of flying into the sky, but not as exciting as the time when she wins Mursal, the girl she had known since she had come to Dr. Najeeb’s house, their new landlord. Mursal was a formidable looking girl with wavy hair who always told Fatima what to do and what was the best for her. Fatima doesn’t like her actions, especially when it is followed by her rasping laugh.
Time passed, sleepiness won and energetic character was suppressed. She got up with the same sound that called her again and again in her sleep. She saw her father in her dream, but as usual she hides herself from his coal colored eyes.
She sat down on the rug and was breathing the air full of cardamom and sweet halva aroma.
“Hey Fatima, why don’t you go to Mursal’s house? It is the time that you win the earrings that you have lost to her last time,” Fatima said to herself while jumping up.
She grabbed her jump rope and put it in her bicycle’s basket that her uncle brought for her from Ghala, the place he lives with his family. It was for his last son. She passed the moody alley with tiny houses with her bicycle.
While passing the shoe booth of the old man who was working in the middle of the alley the old man’s boys again threw stones on Fatima and one of them started shouting: “Look at this girl, she is cycling again in this area, she is so indecent.” Fatima came down and filled her waist with mud from the floor and threw it on the boy’s face. The boy who seemed more malicious from the face, ran toward Fatima to kick her. That was the time that the old man came out of the booth and slapped both of the boys and let Fatima go.
Fatima knew that there would be a revenge but she liked the instant pleasure that came out of that action. She brought out her tongue from her mouth and put her hands on her ears and moved it in a funny way to make the boys angrier, and supplement her pleasure, then left the place with the feel of victory.
When she arrived at the neighborhood, the front of Mursal’s house was crowded and her father’s voice echoed in the alley. Women were watching and whispering in each other’s ear while standing between the gray colored door of Khaled’s house. Fatima was examining the environment and she was looking for a place to sneak inside the house. It was the time a girl with white silk scarf and sparkling dress said to the woman next to her while looking arrogantly at the crowd: “It is their everyday job when they get bored they come and present a show for the neighbors.”
Mursal’s father Khaled was pointing to Mursal’s mother Halimah. “You and your child are harami, they are not my children. We do not have this many girls in our family, all of my brothers and relatives had boys. How is it possible that I have this many girls? God knows that you brought them from where! Look what you brought! A pot full of cold tea for your tired husband, who worked all day to fill your big bellies.”
Halimah was sitting on the floor, breastfeeding the newborn of her rival wife Gulzaman. She looked pale, her hands were shaking, but she was trying to calm the baby. The only thing she did was cursing Khaled quietly.
Khaled’s voice was rising; it was like somebody turned up the volume of his throat radio. “I am surrounded by siya sar, I am tired of you all. If I had a boy, he would work and bring money for me but you all are useless.”
“My first child was a girl! The second was a girl! The third was a girl! You gave me six girls. You are trying to destroy my generation.” Khaled rebuked while examining all angles of the yard to find another reason for continuing the argument. Suddenly he saw Fatima and grabbed her hand with his heavy muscle’s ones while she wanted to stealthily pass the one meter diameter space behind Khaled to enter the kitchen. “I have enough of your type in my house, tiny siya sar! Go to your house, otherwise I would know what to do with you and your Mursal.”
Fatima’s eyes got wider and her lips were shaking when she started to talk. She could easily feel the sweat prickling under her arm. She tried to make some sentences to convince Khaled to leave her hand with her radio wave like voice. “I wanted to ask if I could play with Mursal. I have gotten bored staying.”
She did not finish her sentences that Mursal’s older sister Zeynab came and pulled Fatima’s hand while shouting at Khaled: “If you could not take care of us and if you did not want to have girls you should have stopped making love with your wives then you would not have us. You are the one who hit my pregnant mother and killed her child last week. Don’t make me say what I should not!”
That was the time that Halimah sneaked toward her and tried to cover her mouth with her hands. “Chop sho! You should not talk like that with your father. Go and make some tea for your father and I.” Zeynab gave her mother a meaningful look. She did not say anything to her mother and grabbed Fatima’s hand while walking toward the kitchen where her five other sisters were standing.
Zeynab did not reach the kitchen when a woman with the big golden necklace who was looking at them from her window snapped: “Oh God do not show this to me, the world is changing. When we were young we could not look directly at our father’s eyes, but look at this girl! What she was saying!”
Zeynab moved her head back and said uncontrollably, “Maybe your father was not like mine.”
The woman ignored what she said and went inside the room and closed the window where she was watching the yard.
Mursal tucked her headscarf between her teeth and looked nervously at her parents and others with her tearful eyes, standing next to her other siblings near the only framed door of their house.
Fatima went toward Mursal and tried to calm her.
“Look at me, Mursal. Everything will be ok. One day he will love you all. He will be proud of having you.” She grabbed a handkerchief from near the kitchen and tried to clean Mursal’s tears.
Mursal pushed Fatima’s hand and started talking with the same bossy accent as usual. “Do not do that, it is for the floor, clean the floor instead,” then they both laughed at what Fatima was trying to do.
Mursal’s father, standing near the kitchen, kicked the ladder, the most innocent home appliance that was always forced to deal with Khaled’s anger. He packed Naswar and was looking at Fatima with his green eyes with red inflamed vessels. He was like a wounded wolf that could rip them apart.
Fatima tried to clean the ghorma that had been thrown away from the floor, but she could not clean it completely. It was so oily. Mursal’s father usually eats oily shorba, ghorma, palaw Uzbeki, in summary, everything that has meat with lots of oil on top of it.
After all of those arguments, Khaled went to the rooftop and asked his youngest wife Gulzaman to bring tea for him. Drinking tea and chewing Naswar were the only things that made him less aggressive.
Mursal and Fatima were cleaning the mess that had been made. As usual Fatima started to talk. Asking simple questions was Fatima’s habit that Mursal hated the most, but this was the first time she did not know the answer.
“Do you know what siya sar means? Why does your father always call you siya sar? He also called me when he grabbed my hand,” Fatima mumbled.
“Maybe because we are not as strong as boys,” Mursal sighed.
Fatima with her brown widened eyes started talking again. “You know I have never seen my father in real life. My mom said to me he is dead. I will tell you a secret. My grandfather killed my father. He did not like my father, because he did not let him help the Taliban, but promised not to tell anyone. My uncle once said that the Taliban killed him. I do not know which of them is true,” Fatima whispered to Mursal’s right ear. She asked Mursal to promise not to tell others while offering her tiny finger to embrace Mursal’s.
Mursal started hitting Fatima. “I always tell you not to whisper in my ears I will get goosebumps. For sure your father was a strong man because they killed him.” Mursal gushed while touching Fatima’s smallest finger to make a promise.
“You know I always see my father in my dreams. A man with long white cloth and a big grey hat, but I have never tried to talk to him because I do not know if he is happy to have a daughter or he thinks like your father and hates me,” Fatima said.
“You are right,” Mursal mumbled.
Both of them were sitting on the floor and they did not say anything for a while. Suddenly a big smile roused Fatima’s face and said, “You know I always think that the color of my hair is brown, not siya. I think because you all have black hair your father does not like you! What about if you change the color of your hair with henna?”
“That is a good idea, Fatima. I will try it tomorrow. Will you help me?” Mursal yelled.
“We have some henna in our home. I will bring it tomorrow,” Fatima chuckled.
Then both of them lay down on the wicker table next to the well and were watching the blue sky. The voice of the birds was like a storyteller trying to put them into sleep. Mursal fell asleep in a few minutes. Fatima said goodbye to her and kissed her while she was asleep. She went to the kitchen to say goodbye to others, but only Halimah was there.
“Khala jan I need to go take care of her,” Fatima said to Mursal’s mother.
“Say hello to your mom. Please do not tell anything to your mom about today,” she stuttered.
“I will not,” Fatima said respectfully.
When she came home her mother cleaned everywhere, the oiled spotted mattress was now as white as the snow. Fatima jumped to embrace her.
“What do we have for dinner, mother?” Fatima said.
“What do you think? My daughter’s favorite dish,” Shabnam said to her while making two tiny holes on her cheek.
“Bolani!” Fatima shouted and hugged her mother and made a circle around her neck with her hands. Fatima was getting so sleepy, but she tried to finish her parts of Bolani. She was trying to eat her last bite the moment she fell asleep and her head went to the chagni plate. Shabnam started laughing when she was trying to clean the chagni from Fatima’s head.
“What have you done today? Why are you so tired?” Shabnam giggled.
A beautiful smile arose on Fatima’s face but she stopped and gave it to a wrinkled face. “Today Mursal’s father -” She stopped by remembering Halimah’s words.
“No, I was playing with Mursal all day,” and then she started asking questions as usual. “Do we have henna aya?” Fatima asked.
“What do you want to do with henna?”
“I want to put henna on Mursal’s hair to change the color and make it like mine,” Fatima exclaimed.
“Ok but ask Khala Halimah before you put it. It is in the closet near the jar of pecan,” Shabnam said while trying to organize the dishes into the closet.
“Sure,” Fatima responded with her eyes half-open. Then Fatima collapsed into her bed.
The next day Fatima got up with the rhythm of her mother’s song. It was Shabnam’s habit singing in the morning with the collared dove, but each in their own languages. Like every day Shabnam sang the song of Ahmad Zaher:
A part of my heart tells me to go
The other part of my heart tells me not to go, not to go,
My heart is not patient
What should I do without you,
For the love, oh my pretty one, my pretty one,
The world is so small
Everywhere I go, your memory is with me I won’t leave you alone,
You’re the sultan of my heart.
Fatima hardly understood the meaning of the poem, but she could guess that her mother liked it because she sang the song every day. The breakfast was ready. The aroma of tandori bread surrounded their tiny house. After breakfast, Shabnam went to Dr. Najeeb’s house for cleaning.
Fatima ran toward Mursal’s house with all the energy she collected from last night’s sleep. She passed the muddy street, the shoe booth of the old man, luckily the boys were not there. When she arrived, everything was clean. Zeynab was shepherding her younger sisters. All of them wore the clothes that they usually wore for Eid.
Zeynab’s eyes were full of tears, her lips were trembling, but she tried to conceal it.
“Salam Fatima jan, are you looking for Mursal? She is washing the dishes near the well so you can go there but if you want to play you both can go to your house.”
Fatima was so excited to see how Mursal would look with brown hair that she forgot Zeynab’s sadness in just a second.
“Salam Mursal, let’s go to our house. I can not wait to see how you would look like, after we put henna on your head,” Fatima babbled.
“I would look like a man. My hair color and the color of Mullah Ahmad’s beard will be the same, I will be a real man.” Mursal giggled while showing her upper arm muscle to Fatima.
“Ok, you are good! Let’s go!” Fatima roared.
“I will wear my father’s perahan tunban, the clothes he wore when he got married with my mother that would fit me. Let me take that first, but Zeynab should not know that.” Mursal whispered while putting her index finger on her lips.
After approaching the perahan tunban larcenous they went to Fatima’s house.
Time passed and it was almost dark. Mursal’s hair color had already been changed. She said goodbye to Fatima and tried to be at home before the absolute darkness.
When Mursal entered the yard Khaled and Mullah Ahmad with a beard half hennaed, and two other men one on the left side and the other on the right side were sitting on the wicker bed where Khaled usually slept when the weather was hot. The men were burping and cleaning the oil off their hands with the tandori naan after they cleaned the oils from their lips and beards. Khaled was sipping tea. A man with a grey perahan tunban just arrived. He went forward bowing with his hand held over his chest.
“Assalamualaikum,” the man said.
“Waalaikumsalam,” said the men on the wicker bed.
Then Mullah Ahmad started to talk while looking at Khaled.
“You know that girls are for strangers and they are born to be wives and serve their husband and have kids.”
“I want your daughter Zeynab for my son Akbar,” Mullah Ahmad said while showing a framed black and white photo to Khaled.
“Mashallah why not, who is better than Akbar jan?” Khaled gushed.
Then Halimah came with a face half-covered with her scarf and gave a teapot full of green tea and cardamom to Khaled.
Khaled was talking to Reshad Khan about the restaurant that he wanted to open in Peshawar, and was asking with a terrible looking smile on his face if he could work there as well. One of his eyes was checking every corner of the yard with his camera like eyes and one was looking at Reshad Khan. He saw Mursal near the entrance of the yard with a head without a scarf and a black perahan tunban that she drowned into, coming toward the wicker bed. He jumped up and ran the distance of almost ten meters from the wicker bed toward the focus point of the yard in a fraction of a second and grabbed her hands. His face instantly became like red paper and his eyes got bigger than usual. Those might have come out if Reshad Khan did not start talking.
“Nam Khoda, is that your boy? Come bacha jan sit here,” Reshad admired.
Khaled was standing without any movement. He was like a hot iron that the temperature of it was increasing from his madness and needed someone to turn it off. Mursal did not expect that her father would get sad or angry, because she thought that she was a boy now. She thought he would be proud to have a boy, not a siya sar!
Two minutes passed without exchanging any words that Mullah Ahmad started to talk with a mouth half full of chewed tandori naan and cheese. “That’s a shame for you Khaled to let your daughter act like a boy.”
When Khaled hears the sentence he could do anything, even killing someone. But he was satisfied with a slap on Mursal’s face. A slap that has the sign of his index and middle finger on his daughter’s face.
Mursal was standing with her right hand on her face and rubbing her cheek to decrease the pain and the burning of it. And Khaled filled his chest with air and straightened his back and made his voice thicker to show Mullah Ahmad that he is a real man, that he has control over his family! And pushed Mursal inside the corridor to conceal her and gave his handkerchief so she could cover her hair. Mursal went to the kitchen and hugged her mother. When her mother saw her like that she did not say anything, she just tried to calm her.
Mursal started talking while cleaning her tears and running nose with her sleeves: “I know that my father does not like us, how hard we try he will not accept us, but I do not want to be a siya sar. I do not want to be like you. I do not want to be a mother or a wife, I hate Mullah Ahmad and his friends, and I hate my father!”
Halimah put Mursal on her legs and got her hands in hers. “It is not their fault my daughter. That is the way they have grown up. You know when I got married to your father he was calling me ‘Zendagi, my life.’ I was all he had, we had a really great time with each other, but you know having a boy is important for your father’s relatives and I have never given birth to a boy. Your father was the only one who had so many girls, the rest of his family all had boys. Boys are the ones who stay with you and girls are for others. They will marry a person, like me and other girls in the world. One day you will marry someone and you will go to your husband’s house!”
Zeynab suddenly entered the kitchen while holding Fatima’s hand with a face full of fear, she could not breathe, her face was like the color of the bruise in Halimah’s hand.
She said while leaving Fatima’s hand, “Aya, my father accepted Mullah Ahmad’s proposal gifts.” She did not say anything more and she fell on her knees, the framed photo and the ring fell down and the glass cut her hands, but she did not cry. She was silent like the person in the framed picture, but without a smile.
Halimah got the hand vacuum cleaner to clean the glasses, she didn’t say anything to Zeynab, she even did not help her to get up. It was Halimah’s way to let her child grow up strong. She thought if she does not tell anything she will help her children to solve every problem that they have on their own. Mursal tried to help Zeynab to get up and wash her face with the water in the pitcher.
Zeynab gets Mursal’s hands and tries to share her feelings through touching Mursal’s hands and with her fallen eyebrows and wet eyes start talking to her little sister: “My tiny one never tries to convince anyone to love you! These groups never accept you. That is why they call you siya sar, because they want to put you down. Every time you get a chance to escape from this hell, just do it without hesitation. You are not for others, you are for yourself.”
She collects Mursal’s hairs that were falling from her forehead and puts them behind her ears while watching Halimah take the teapot for their unwanted guests. Mursal was quiet, she wanted to love her father despite all he did, but she did not say to her older sister, and took parts of Fatima’s sleeve who was standing on the doorway witnessing all those events. They sat near the broken chair in the corner of the kitchen and lamented silently for their unsuccessful convincing plan.
Time passed and it was late at night and the time for serving dinner, then making tea and at the end flatten the loaded mattresses. A night that was as long as a decade for Zeynab.
In the morning when Khaled and the men got up there was no tea to be drunk, no Zeynab’s made chapati to be eaten, she was gone. She did what she asked Mursal to do if she got a chance.
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مژده احمدی نویسنده ای از افغانستان و از اعضای گروه نویسندگان مجمع الجزایر،همچنین معلم یک مرکز آموزشی برای پناهندگان است. او با خود قول داد که دانش خود را به اشتراک بگذارد و فرزندان افغانستان را برای داشتن کشوری بهتر در آینده آموزش دهد. او معتقد است که ما می توانیم همه چیز را از طریق آموزش در افغانستان تغییردهیم، این وعده او به نسل قدیمی است.Mozhdeh Ahmadi is a writer from Afghanistan, and a member of the archipelago writers collective. She is a teacher in a learning center for refugee people. She promised to herself to share her knowledge and educate the children of Afghanistan for having a better country in future. She believes we can change everything through education in Afghanistan, and it is her promise to the old generation.