It was six o’clock at dawn, and a deathly silence was everywhere as if everything had turned to stone. The autumn cold caressed my whole body and reached the marrow of my bones. I was shivering because of the cold, I was not wearing warm clothes, and I had only a red coat and black trousers. I was shivering because of the cold, I was not wearing warm clothes, and I had only a red jacket and black trousers. I thought the air inside the car would warm up when the sun rose. But I had a big tent wrapped around me, and my face was covered with a mask.
As I was rubbing the palms of both my hands together simultaneously, I was strolling. Not long after, the lights of the car we were waiting for lit up the whole alley and broke the silence in the atmosphere of that place. Hastily and with deep breaths, my friend Ms. Setareh and I got into the car.
The driver turned into several alleys and stopped his car in front of a tall house. A moment passed, and a woman got into our car with a man holding a four or five-year-old child tightly in his arms, and the car drove off.
The driver played an ancient song in the Pashto language, and I am not too fond of old songs, especially in the Pashto language. Sometimes I used to see from the car window—the driver who was covering his entire face with a white cloth. And I was muttering to myself because of those boring songs that he was playing. But I had no choice but to accept whatever it was. Therefore, I wrapped my hands in the car on the seat around me and closed my eyes…
Then I woke up by the car’s shaking as if the tires were walking on rocks and gravel. I opened and closed my eyes and stared out the car window, and I saw nothing but dust flying around the car in the air. I got out of the car seat, straightened my back, and sat on the seat. The driver was still playing the same Pashto songs but with a slightly lower volume in succession. This time, regardless of whether the songs were good or bad, I stared at the outside of the car. The woman beside me covered her whole face, stuck her head to the car seat, and was asleep. Ms. Setareh was sitting on my right side and was still sleeping. Little by little, the dust became less and less, and one could see traffic, cars, mountains, and a world outside the vehicle.
It didn’t take long before the car stopped; the driver got down and gestured to us passengers to get off. As soon as we exited the vehicle, a crowd of men surrounded us. I stood in a corner, surprised by those men who devoured people with their looks. The driver was looking for someone to guide us so we could stamp our passports with Pakistan’s exit and Afghanistan’s entry at the border. I was traveling from Quetta, Pakistan, to the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, where I would renew my passport exit and entry. Since our visa in Pakistan was for one year, we had to go to the border after every 60 days, get entry and exit stamps and return to Pakistan again.
The driver brought a boy about twelve years old and said, “This Boy Will Guide You and Follow Him.” This petite boy started walking with us, wearing tattered clothes and old boots sticking out of his feet. My friend Setareh and I followed him along with a woman holding her baby tightly.
We entered a dirt road surrounded by barbed wires on both sides. Some women with their faces covered and many men with disgusting looks were passing through this path. Some men would approach us and say something in Pashto, and then they would laugh and walk away from us. Setareh and I were very scared of those men. We were walking hand in hand, and I whispered to the Setareh, I pray this is the last time we come here.
Setareh smiled and said: Are you scared?
I said: Yes! I am afraid of the nasty looks of these men, and I am so scared of the grins that open their mouths to their ears.
Setareh comforted me and said: Don’t be afraid; nothing will happen; I hope this is the last time we come to the border of Spin Buldak. Spin Buldak is one of the common borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan, located in Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan.
I was telling a story with Setareh when we arrived at the first checkpoint of the Pakistan Border Police, and I let go of Setareh’s hand. I took out the small bag around my neck, where I had put my passport, and placed it on the X-ray machine of the border police inspection. I was waiting for Setareh to put the plastic bag in her hand with some bread and water on the police x-ray machine.
At the same time, I felt a hand on my hips that squeezed my buttocks very tightly, and my whole body became numb by fear. I felt like I was thrown into a fiery furnace. I looked at the hand of a tall man with lustful eyes, long hair, and wearing a military uniform, who pulled his hand from my hip. And in a world of shock and fear, I punched his hands a few times, but he was carefree, gave me an insidious smile, and passed me by.
I came to my senses with the voice of Setareh, who said: “Why are you standing, come, that boy is calling us.” With legs that couldn’t walk, a body that couldn’t stand, and a tongue that couldn’t speak, I went to Setareh and stuck myself tightly to her. I told her what happened to me; Setareh held my hand tightly and said: “Let’s go, our work is not finished yet and we may be harassed many times today.”
We didn’t go far when we reached the second police checkpoint. Small iron booths with small windows were lined up like the solitary confinement cells I had seen in movies. Setareh and I passed by them without paying attention to them. We had yet to go a few steps when a man screamed from behind us in a loud and harsh voice in Urdu. We were dumbstruck in our place by fear. I turned my head back with a police officer came to us. My heart began beating, and I thought about which terrible thing had happened. “because of you, we forgot to be inspected at the checkpoint,” Setareh said; wow!
We returned to the booth written on its back, “Women’s Inspection Place,” and went inside it. Two young girls were sitting on a chair with yellow military uniforms. As they were chewing gum, they looked very cursory at our bags. When we left that booth, I told Setareh, “Did you see the girls inside the booth had no scarves?”. But I, who was wearing a large Chadar (Veil), did not do any make-up, even covered my face with a mask.
Why did a police officer who considers himself a law enforcer assault and touched me today?
Don’t you think these girls are being bullied?
Don’t they bother them?
Setareh gave me a stern look and said: “What do we know about these girls.”
With a deep sigh, we followed the footsteps of the boy who was guiding us and set off again.
I trembled with fear with every step I took and every man I saw on the wolves’ path.
We arrived at the third inspection stop, which was again the same model of small and iron booths, and this time the young boy guided us to the booth that stamped the exit of Pakistan. We entered the booth; a middle-aged boy, tall and relatively black-faced, was sitting on a chair and fiddling with the computer’s buttons in front of him. When he saw us, he took a deep look at Setareh and me, and as that boy was checking our passports, he said: “Did you come from Quetta city?”. I looked at Setareh, sitting on the chair to my left; Setareh said with a cold smile on her lips: “Yes! We came from Quetta.”
He said: “Which part of Quetta from?”
Setareh said with a smile: “Bururi region from,”
He looked at both of us curiously and said: “Without Muharram?”
I was so scared that I would prefer not to speak at all. Setareh looked at me again and said, with the same smile as before: “Yes!”
The boy didn’t say anything else and gave us our passports with the same deep look, and we left the booth.
Then we entered another way which was surrounded by high cement walls. We also traveled that winding and rather long way. We entered a mansion where a white flag was raised at the gate, and a large sign in Dari and Pashto was written saying, “Welcome to Border of Afghanistan.” When I read that painting, I unconsciously had tears in my eyes. It gave me a feeling that I can never express in which language and in which word.
I heaved a deep sigh from my heart and said with Setareh, “I wish we could return to Afghanistan again, we could return to Kabul Jan! (Dear Kabul!) We could return to the same previous days, to the same beautiful air of Dasht-e-Barchi and to the same crowds of Koht-e Sangi.” I also understood from Setareh’s tearful eyes that she, like me, has tasted the bitter taste of exile and migration with the return of the Taliban group in Afghanistan with her flesh and skin.
We entered a rather dark corridor and went to two men with long beards and black turbans wrapped around their heads sitting behind old computers. We put our passports on a long table in front of them and stood there without speaking. We were staring at them with frightened and trembling eyes. There was only the territory of the Afghanistan border administration, which is now under the control of the Taliban.
One of those bearded and hairy Taliban said: “Go sit there on the bench and I will call you again in turn.” With cautious and slow steps, as if someone is sleeping and would not wake up with the noise of our feet, we went to the chair in another corner of the room and sat down to wait.
Finally, it was my turn, and one of the two people, holding my passport in his hand, called loud out my name while waving it in the air. I got up and walked towards him slowly, filled with fear and apprehension.
He said: “Why are you going back to Pakistan?”
I said, “I’m sick.”
“Show me your medical prescriptions,” he growled without looking at me.
I said pleadingly, “I don’t have my prescriptions with me right now! I mean, I didn’t bring them.”
That border Taliban gave me a stern look!
He firmly stamped my passport, threw it in front of me, and said to go away and not see you again.
By Sohaila Karimi and Translated by Asadullah Jafari “Pezhman”