I watched the grandchildren today, and they were energetic as usual. With the weather flip-flopping from warm to cold to warm to frigid and back again, my sinuses have decided to make me suffer for it. Top that off with a nearly three year old who will go down the steepest slide on the playground 500 times in a row, and my teeth ache from the sinus pressure.
Still, I managed 3,366 words after the kids went home, and I’m now over the 70,000-word milestone. I finished Chapter 25, Kabul Redux, and began Chapter 26, Helpful Circumstances. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 26:
Kabul seemed looser than when Mai had been here a few weeks before. The burqas were still in abundance, but knots of women walked the streets together without male escorts, headed for the newly opened stores and the open-air markets, and there was progress in that. The Russians, allies again, had arrived and set up an enormous pre-fab field hospital, and Mai and her team passed a long line of old men, women, and children waiting for antibiotics and vitamins.
The humanitarian arm of the U.N. had set up a relief office in an old warehouse, along with the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. Another line, longer than for the hospital, snaked around several city blocks, and they saw people leaving with boxes of food. Yet, there was optimism in people’s faces. They no longer slunk around, eyes on the ground, but walked or ran about with ebullience. Mai thought it too soon, but it was Salim who voiced it.
“They think because the Taliban have left Kabul, the war is over,” he said.
“True,” Mai replied, “only battles have been won, and there are others to fight. Some are too stupid to realize it.” She looked at O’Keefe. “Might want to include that in your first report.”
“Definitely,” he said, smiling.
“We are not far from my sister’s,” Salim said. “She will have tea and some food.”
“I’m sure she has little to spare,” Mai said.
“When we returned to Kabul, I made certain she got re-provisioned,” Salim said. “She is my oldest sister, from my father’s first wife, who died. She and her husband are both lawyers, but the Talibs wouldn’t let her work. Her husband didn’t want to practice the Taliban form of law. She would be honored to give us refreshments.”
“Then, we won’t disappoint her,” Mai said. “Lead the way.”
“And, enshallah, perhaps woman to woman, she can succeed where I have failed in getting you to understand how to cover your hair,” Salim said, his eyes brightening with his joke.
No matter how well she started out with the keffiyeh covering her hair, it took only minutes for it to slip and show more than she should. Keeping it covered would help her credibility when they dealt with sector elders.
“I’ll never be a good Muslim woman, Salim. Surely you know that by now,” she said.
“Oh, but you are a legend,” he said. “The woman who fights like a man, the wife of Saradi.”
“A legend in my own mind, maybe,” she replied. She didn’t know which she was more uncomfortable with—being a woman who fought like a man, or Saradi’s wife. “Why don’t you mind taking orders from a woman?” she asked Salim.
“Well, you have never met my mother—she is far worse than any drill sergeant I ever had. She has all my brothers and brothers-in-law hopping. And, of course, Mohammed, may he be blessed, had a favorite wife who led armies for Islam. That is the history the Taliban are too afraid to accept. Women are the other half of the world. Where would we be without them?”
“I’d be on a boat on the intercoastal or on a Harley in the Rockies if it weren’t for mine,” Hatfield said.
“If she would let you,” Salim said, and they shared a laugh. “Here is my sister’s home. I’ll go in and tell her I bring friends.”
Mai looked the structure over. Like most houses in Kabul, it had a surrounding wall which would lead to an inner courtyard then the entrance to the house proper. She watched him enter the gate, then the rest of them formed a semi-circle, facing out, watching for danger. From doorways and street corners, people watched mostly with curiosity or at least masked any hostility.
“This ain’t a trap or nothing, is it?” Hatfield muttered.
“Of course not,” O’Keefe said. “Salim’s part of the team.”
“Is that our team or the Allah team?” Hatfield said.
“I see,” Mai said, “you’d rather he be part of the Jesus team.”
“Yeah, well, that would make me sleep with both eyes closed,” Hatfield said.
“Dude,” O’Keefe said, “put a lid on it.”
“And you still need to keep one eye open,” Mai said. “I’m an atheist.”
(c)2013 by Phyllis Anne Duncan