This book is about a man’s struggle to survive during the intimate political upheaval of a country ravaged by war between soldiers and rebels in 1978, just a year before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Qasim, the dedicated surgeon, husband, and father is the man.
My blood boils at the sight or the tale of any injustice, whoever may be the sufferer and wherever it may have taken place, in just the same way as if I were myself its victim.
Two young men were carrying a loaded braided-rope cot on their shoulders down on a narrow dirt road. It was covered by a cotton stuffed bed-cloth of colorful flowers. The man in front had a dark mustache and thick beard, and wore an apple-pie-shaped brown polyester woollen hat, tightly rolled up at the brim, pulled down close to his eyebrows. He looked extremely tired, but the fire of determination burned strong in his eyes. He was silhouetted by the harsh early morning glare of the October sun. Two other men were walking behind them, hiding in the shadows created by the high mud and stone fence walls and trees that had only a few leaves left clinging to their barren limbs; one wore a dark unbuttoned vest; another wrapped his upper body tightly with a cream-colored blanket, called a chador, like a shawl over his garment. The four men had carefully slipped through the streets of the outskirts of Kama, in Nangarhar Province in southeastern Afghanistan. They all wore traditional garments of baggy pants and loose knee-length shirts patched with scraps of cloth, apple-pie-hats, and rugged rubber shoes, partly deteriorated by the mud and many years of harsh Afghan heat and frigid winters.
They came to the wooden gate in the middle of the high mud-blocked fence of a house. On the thick concrete header were a pair of the elk-horn antlers. The V-shaped twisted-up elk-horn, like a wood screw, was pointing up to the early morning sky. It was painted red along its edges.
The man in the dark vest rang the bell, pulling the rope by the entrance.
A few minutes later, a voice, still gruff from sleep, came from behind the gate: "Who is it?"
"Dr. Qasim, it's me, Sayyed," whispered the man in the dark vest.
A middle-aged man, wearing an unbuttoned white shirt, slightly opened the left half of the gate. He had an overnight growth of stubble and his hair was in disarray.
"I don't want any trouble," he stated, nervously, after seeing the braided-rope cot held upon the shoulders of the two men.
"Doctor, we came all the way from Konarha. We walked all night," pleaded Sayyed. "He is badly wounded." He pointed to the braided-rope cot.
In a voice torn between feelings of anger and compassion, he hurriedly swung open the gate, saying, "All right. Quickly!" He motioned.
They carried the braided-rope cot into the dirt yard of the house, as Qasim immediately closed the gate, after looking with big worried greenish brown eyes up and down the empty road.
"I told you never to fetch any one to my house. I'll be in deep trouble," Qasim whispered to Sayyed, as he led them into the dark kitchen.
"I also told them. But we didn't have any choice."
In the kitchen, Qasim lit the lamp on the high mud oven, which had once been whitewashed, but now the coloring had flaked off, leaving a pattern looking incredibly like the huge formation of a world map.
Sayyed walked over to the corner of the kitchen. He bent down, put his forearm into a clay pot, and brought out a small wrapped bundle in his hand. He unwrapped it on the lower table and the medical tools shone in the light of the lantern held in the hand of a Mujahideen (Afghan insurgent) standing near the wounded man.
The doctor now removed the bed-cloth from the braided-rope cot. Three Kalashnikov rifles (AK-47) and one old-fashioned rifle laybeside the wounded man, two on each side, on the braided-rope cot. The strap of the old 1920's style rifle was wrapped with greenflowered cloth and the stock wrapped with firm green vinyl.
Qasim opened the wounded man's eye and then felt for a pulse. Then said, in a low voice, as he raised his body up: "He is dead."
The four men stood silently.
"What're we going to do?" the man with the dark mustache asked, breaking the silence, wiping the sweat on his forehead withthe back of his hand.
"We'll take him to my friend's house. We can keep him there until nightfall and then we'll carry him back," said Sayyed, after looking at his SEIKO watch. A jagged piece of the broken crystal was missing and the original watchband had been replaced with the same green flowered cloth that wrapped the strap of the rifle.
In desperation, after re-covering the body with the bed cloth, they picked up the braided-rope cot; quickly carrying it out of the kitchen, while Qasim stood rewrapping his medical tools.
While Qasim was treating one of the out-patients in the Public Health Department in Kama on a cloudy morning in mid-November in 1978, an orderly, who had been cleaning the hallway, pushed his head into the examination room, holding the mop in his hand and said: "Doctor, there is a call for you."
Qasim, hung the stethoscope on his neck, went out of the room, crossing the hallway, where several patients were sitting and leaning against the walls, and went into the other examination room.
In the room, Qasim saw his colleague, Dr. Makata Latif, whose large body was deeply sunk into the sagging sofa. Leaning back, he stared at the ceiling aimlessly, resting his head on the back of the sofa. He appeared to be thinking very deeply. He seemed not to notice Qasim when he entered. There must have been a tough conversation between Dr. Makata Latif and Captain Ahmadali, Qasim thought. Ahmadali was the acting Colonel and commander of the 5th regiment, as well as the military governor of the sub-provence in Nangarhar Province.
"Excuse me," said Makata Latif, as he quickly sat up from the sofa. He noticed Qasim walk toward the telephone, with its receiver laying next to it, on the tea table in front of him. "It's the commander for you," he indicated with a tilt of his head toward the telephone.
Qasim cautiously picked up the receiver. "Hello, Dr. Qasim speaking." Makata Latif was looking up intensely at Qasim. "Isn't Dr. Mazdak working in the military hospital?" asked Qasim quizzically. "I see. But I'm very busy myself and I couldn't leave Dr. Makata Latif here alone to handle all of the cases."
Qasim wanted to argue with the Captain, but listened reluctantly as his face grew dark, making many fine wrinkles on his nose and deep wrinkles between his eyebrows. "Yes. I'll come immediately," angrily hanging up the phone.
"What was it?" Makata Latif asked Qasim, worriedly.
"The commander's son is awfully sick so he wants me to come right away to see him."
"That's all?" said Makata Latif in disbelief. "What about Dr. Mazdak?"
"He's involved with another project. What really eats away at my heart is that I have to take care of the commander's son while my own boy suffers at home," Qasim said feebly.
Earlier that morning, the sky was still dark when he walked into his little son's room. He put the back of his hand against his son's forehead. The boy's skin was very hot. He bent over and whispered to his son: "I'll be back early this evening to take you to children's hospital in Jalalabad." He hugged his son tenderly, hoping the child would survive the day. If Qasim could have, he would have left yesterday, but since the Communist government takeover, no one, not even doctors, could move freely without permission. As he walked back to his room, he looked at his wife sleeping peacefully. He hardly ever saw her when she was awake.
Dr. Makata Latif stood up and put his arm around Qasim. "Don't worry. I'll take care of things while you're gone. And when you come back, I'll stay so you can take your son to Jalalabad."
"You're a true friend."
Qasim walked out of the room and saw an orderly and a nurse walk abruptly away from their posture of standing-silently in the door way of the room in the hallway. Dr.Qasim sensed that something definitely was wrong, but he wasn't sure what.
He went into his room, quickly took off his gown, put on his dark single-breasted blazer over his long sleeved shirt, threw the medical examination instruments into his bag, and walked out of the clinic holding the bag in his hand.
"Let's go!" Qasim said to the young driver who stood beside the hospital jeep. He wore a faded pin striped vest over his traditional garment. He was tall and thin. Another young man,
in chador, apple-pie-hat, and sandals, was characteristically sitting in a fetal position on the ground, holding his old Papashuh rifle with its large drum magazine across his legs. The strap of the rifle dropped down in between his legs. He was facing the clinic with his back toward the gate. He had a long chin and a frightfully long, thick mustache to show his allegiance to the People (Khalki)'s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, the Communist party.
The Khalki-mustached man got into the jeep and sat in the back seat. Qasim got into the jeep and sat in the front seat.
As they were driving out of the hospital grounds, Qasim could feel the nervous tension emanating from the stares of the several nurses and orderlies, standing quietly and motionlessly on the steps of the hospital watching them leave. Since the Communists took over the government, many civilians lived in fear that their neighbors and members of their family had been taken away or would be taken away at any moment.
"Hurry up! Time is a luxury we can't waste!" Qasim said vexedly to the driver.
The driver increased the speed.
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