After months of feud with Pashtuns in northern most barren regions of Afghanistan, finally there was peace for some couple of days. At least, I thought so. But others in my regiment believed that hide and seek of bloodshed will soon begin.
Nevertheless, I continued being a soldier. A tough one who was trained to witness the atrocities around him without believing into any sort of classifications between life and dream. For sure I was never a demon however I pretended to be the one in the field, but there was a slogan “Allah ho Akbar” in particular often used by those murderers which made me hate them much like a demon.
I wanted to cut every throat which dared to speak those words while holding the gun or assault rifles into their hands. And I did it. On third peaceful night, they came back unleashing hell on us. They attacked us with rocket launchers and mortars. I took the position with howitzer gun, but my hand reached out to my army knife hearing the enchanting of “Allah ho Akbar”. My commanding officer saw me with the knife,” Are you going to counter those motherfuckers with that knife?”
“I will slit their throats half and will make them bleed slowly like they torture other beings on this earth. Let them reach to us and I assure you that not a single son of those Muslim bitches will see the dawning today.”
“Look son, we are not here to hate an entire race or religion. We are here to spread a message that no one has been able to find a safe heaven in this world after attacking Americans. Your motives look sordid to me and your words are actually giving me shiver.”
I partially heard what he said in between the heavy noise of artillery. In those peaceful three days, we fixed the barbs to ambush them. Everything was going as per the plan as they were slowly approaching our camp. Our sensor tracked total 60 of them. Our commanding officer executed a blast to create a shock as soon as all of them assembled within our premises considering us dead. And there I was, catching each one of them to slit their throats off. Within few minutes of it I was able to create several mini fountains of blood out of their necks. I kicked their bodies, laughed out loudly and mocked them by saying, “Allah ho Akbar”. Nobody in my unit could believe their eyes.
“What are you trying to demonstrate son?”, asked the unit head.
“Whoever is out there in the woods watching us, should know that there is no existence of Allah, Christ or any damn fucking god for these soon to be dying monsters.”
That night no one spoke to me and soon backup force was there to cover us up. We had to start in next couple of hours to change our base location. We got orders to reach to a nearby Pakistan’s border and wait for the next set of instructions. Our convoy started heading to Torkham from Jalalabad. By noon we reached somewhere near to Goshta where we decided to have our meals which obviously was nothing more than kebab.
Just 18 KMs before we could reach the small town of Torkham, a launcher came and struck to the vehicle ahead of mine. Surprisingly, such a heavy army vehicle toppled 4 times in the air before sliding down into the valley. Similar was the fate of the one I was riding along with 7 fellow commandos, but we were out by that time. It was blissful to see the sky full of fire from every direction and the target was our convoy. We took the cover behind the rocks on that hilly route. I was running out of the time as sun was about to set and that made me assemble my sniper rifle in less than 50 seconds. We were total 13 by now and so I instructed vehicles that followed us to abort their journey and ask for backup. After that I took my position with my rifle from behind a rock which provided me with a natural camouflage due to yellow light of sun. Once again, I was on killing spree.
Within 7 minutes of time, I executed and neutralized more than 12 militants over the hill who were bombing us with RPG. The copper rain of bullets was stopped quickly after that. We waited there for some more time and then slowly started marching ahead at the very first sign of the darkness. It was one of the biggest risks of our lives. A single flashlight in the air could have revealed our positions on the rocky street and we still had 17 KMs to cover before reaching the base camp of Torkham. We were running like marathon guys covering each other.
Soon we crossed the dangerous arena of hilly terrain, but now we had to run for almost 6 miles in the middle of a dense forest. Our radio stopped working due to canopy of trees and using the satellite phone could have led to us in vulnerable situation. So, we decided to proceed without letting anyone know about the coordinates in between the howl of dangerous wild animals. Through my night vision glasses I could see them, but luckily none of them chose to enhance our trouble. Within an hour we were close to the base and our radio signals were back, but fate had something else reserved for me.
As soon as I came out of the wood, a bullet came piercing my right leg. I signaled my team to back off and stay within the cover of forest, but I was trapped from the two directions. Going back into the woods was not a choice I was left with. They wanted to capture me alive for some reasons. Finally, I chose to jump off the cliff on the left side of me. God alone knows how many bones were broken out of that action of mine. All I could remember is that heavy package of my body and armors were rolling up while sliding through the rocky terrains in sheer darkness. And thousands of bullets followed me up, but none of it reached anywhere closer to me. I do not have any remembrance of when and where I lost my consciousness.
On fourth day, I woke up carrying an extreme pain on the left part of my body particularly in leg which seemed to be plastered using some primitive techniques. After several attempt to bear that pain, I finally gave up and screamed my heart out. An old lady came from nowhere and kept the conical tip of an unfiltered hookah stuffed with opium in between my lips and signaled to smoke it off. It worked magically as I felt the relief after just having few puffs from it.
“Initially we thought you are dead, but my son did not give up on you and forced me to listen your half-hidden heartbeats. Trust me it’s the benevolence of an eight-year aged guy that you are still alive.”
I turned my head towards the right to see the person who spoke those words. It was a tall muscular figure dressed much like those filthy Pashtuns whom I was slaughtering few days back. His name was Abdullah and he was the head of that village tribe. I greeted him like I was trained to. He came closer to me and sat on a woven chair next to my cot and took my hand in his hands and gently kissed it. Soon, a boy came out from another hut and sat on Abdullah’s lap.
“He is my son Zabir. He is the one who spotted you lying in those thorny bushes and informed us. Your left leg was badly mutilated. It took around 7 hours for us to take out all the bullets from your leg. Your main femur bone, tibia and fibula has got 6 fractures all together and it may take another 45 days for you to recover completely. I hope you understand that. We saved your life because I know you American soldiers are risking your lives to free this land from Taliban.”
“Are you from northern alliance?”, I asked with serious weakness in my voice.
“Yes, I am. I am also guardian of this village and you are safe here till the time you don’t do anything stupid. Be our guest for couple of months. Help our kids to learn some English.”, saying that he got up with two heavy assault rifles on his heavy shoulders and left with few other armed men.
In between Zabir came with a burqa clad woman. She said something in her language which I certainly did not understand but through gesture I thought it was a way to greet. She brought some food in a bone china plate. Since I was not strong enough to get up from the cot all by myself, few boys came to assist me to provide a semi-sleeping position. Her face was covered and so I could only see her eyes through that veil.
She wrapped some kebab into a piece of wheat bread and fed me. With first bite itself I cursed, “Is there anything else to eat in this god forbidden country apart from kebabs?”
She got little petrified, but I requested her through sign language to feed me more as I was hungry like hell. She gave me something to drink. Not sure what it was but it did the job to quench my thirst. I thanked her and tried to start some conversation.
“My name is Allen. What’s your name my dear lady?”
She quickly got up from her place and rushed back into the hut without saying anything. Obviously, she did not understand English. All this time Zabir was looking at me in puzzle. I asked him to come closer to me.
“Who is she? Your Mother?”, I asked while giving him some comfort. He nodded in no.
“Alright. Then she must be your Sister I guess.” This time he nodded into yes.
“So, what’s her name? I mean like you are Zabir, I am Allen. What’s her name?”, I somehow tried to make his understand what I was trying to say. He looked puzzled but then he said, “Alia! Her name is Alia.”
“Oh, that’s such a beautiful name.”, I then requested him to get my bag which was way too heavy for an eight-year aged kid. Still, he managed to bring to me. I took out a pouch which had some chocolates and energy bars. I gave some to him and the kids around there. Then I took out a bigger one and asked Zabir to give it to Alia. He went inside the hut singing something. I guess she was standing right there behind the curtain watching everything.
Days started to pass, and I slowly got comfortable with their language. I heard them sloganeering “Allah ho Akbar” at many instances but never felt threatened or found it scary. So, what was different between those Pashtuns and this tribe? Both were having the same religion and god. I tried capturing the moments through the lens of my camera, but women were very shy to come closer to it. Alia fed me two times during the daytime in the absence of any village men. One day I clicked the picture of her beautiful eyes with her permission.
I tried talking to her at multiple instances, but she never replied and preferred to watch me talking to kids and old women from behind the curtain. She looked at every equipment of mine with utter delight and one day I gifted my expensive watch to her. After a lot of resistance, she finally wore it over her left wrist. In those days I fixed many primitive electronic equipment they had like radios, television and transistors but none of my devices were working which could establish the contact with my unit. I requested Abdullah at many occasions to inform the headquarters about me being alive. Somehow, they will evict me out from there. He said it could be dangerous if the information about giving shelter to an American soldier spreads around as his village was constantly under the attack by Talibs.
On fourth week I was mostly cured but still had to use the crutches to walk. Thankfully, both my hands started to work to the extent when I could use my heavy weapons and the army knife. I woke up hearing someone screaming loudly with his gun pointed at me. Abdullah and others were flexing their muscles with that man. I quickly got down from the cot and aimed my 9 mm pistol at him.
“Put it down you fool.”, said Abdullah signalling me to put down my gun. I followed his instructions considering gravity of the situation. Soon that man left with furious anger. He spit on the ground and promised to return with hundreds of mujahids.
Zabir came closer to me and hugged me tightly. I asked him, “Who is that guy? And why is he aiming his gun at me?”
“He is among Talib. Every month he comes to patrol our village to ensure that we follow the Saria law as stated in Hadith. He is angry to find that we are protecting an infidel. He has threatened that every man and boy of this village will be slaughtered, and women will be taken away as sex slaves if we do not handover you to them.”, He started crying while saying all that.
I hugged him and said, “Do not worry. Nothing will happen to you or Alia.”
“Did you really mock Allah like that man was saying? He said that giving shelter to an infidel will bring anger from Allah to this village and we all will die of plague.”
“Yes, I did mock the god because of a very less understanding about it. I never thought there was any humanitarian side associated to it as well while reciting his name. Before coming to this village, I always heard the name of Allah by those monsters.”, I said that with brutal honesty. Entire village was gathered to hear me out and make their own assessment about an infidel.
“Allah is above all. He is the only forgiving force to those sinners and that is why it is even more important for those murderers to recite his name. We will have to shift you somewhere else as it is no way safer for you to stay here. Those Talibs can come anytime now after knowing your presence in this village.”, Abdullah came in rescue of mine seeing the mood of the villagers.
“What’s going on Abdullah? I told you to inform the US army base in Torkham. Look, now everyone is in trouble because of me.”
“I did so. They will also be coming but you never know who is going to be the first.”, replied Abdullah.
I decided to walk with them, but they put me on a donkey along with other stuffs and shifted me to a safe house outside the village. It was a small one room hut with a tin roof in between the campus of a small school which they termed as Madrassa. Next day Alia came with some eatables to me all alone and kept staring at me from behind the veil while I was having the food. I gathered all my courage and took the hold of her hands. In all those 26 days I fell in love with her without even seeing her face. She did not resist me and lifted her veil from the face.
“Oh dear! You are so beautiful!! Nothing can be more generous towards an infidel to see your face before leaving this world.”, I said looking at her blissful eyes and slowly kept her hands over my chest. We kept kissing each other for hours. It appeared like time has stopped there relentlessly. My life was changed, and I was no more a soldier. She took me back into my childhood when it was difficult to differentiate between life and dream.
Next day I spoke to Abdullah and shared my ideas with him. “I wish to take both Zabir and Alia with me to America after I am done here. Your country is a beautiful place but it’s war conflicted. I want to marry Alia and give her a new life far away from those gunshots.”
He did not reply to me instantly but after few moments took my hand and kissed it gently. “You are a noble soul indeed and I am sure I can never provide a better future to Zabir and Alia here. Who will look after them if something happens to me?”
It’s been a week since I shifted to this place and it’s constantly raining from last couple of days. Alia also did not turn up today. Around 3 PM I heard an attack from rocket launcher. I took the position with my rifle, but the village was beyond the range of it. Walking through the barren land till the village gate could be suicidal. I was worried about Alia who took my knife yesterday. With every sound of a gunshot my heart started to pound badly.
The rain is relentless. I hear it thrumming on the metal roof and running down the broken pipe into the mud, and I moisten my cracked lips with my tongue. I wonder if they’ll bring me food and water. I wonder if they’re coming at all…