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Whisper in the rubble
Short story

By Hossein Samiei
September 18, 2001
The Iranian

I look down at my feet. From the side of my slippers I can see blisters forming at the bottom. I have walked a long way, perhaps 10 or 15 kilometers, to get home. The school I worked at before was much closer. But then one fine morning, it got hit by a missile. What remains now is only rubble. I got transferred to this one after months of running around.

I look at my feet again as I turn into our alley. I have two feet, unlike many others. I think I might buy a bicycle once I get my first salary... I enter the house and pass the rectangular area in the center of the yard, which was once a little garden, home to roses and jasmines and other flowers. But now, like the rest of the country, this too is desolate land. I walk up the stairs, go around the porch past the first room on the left, and take off my shoes before entering the second room, which is our home, Nahid's and mine. Five of us have rooms in this house, five families.

Nahid is pouring water into the samovar in the corner of the room. How she can carry the water all the way from the local pump, I do not know. I mean with her one leg. She pulls up her scarf, which has slid down her long beautiful hair. I laugh. "Its only me," I say, "you don't have to cover yourself". She laughs with me; she laughs innocently. I put the bread on the table and walk toward her. I sit next to her on the floor and kiss her hands.

"Will they attack us?" she asks me. "I do not know", I say pensively. What can I say? I know from other teachers at school that many people are leaving Kabul. But where could we go? I turn on the radio, the old Russian radio, which is permanently tuned to the BBC Persian Service. I get the feeling that America is out to take revenge. Perhaps to bomb this already devastated land.

Nahid gets up to prepare dinner, holding on to her crutches. She doesn't like much the artificial leg I bought for her two years ago, she says it is more painful that way. Mustafa is happily asleep on his little mattress on the floor, near the window, unshaken by what may be coming our way. He's only 10-months old and he's the most precious thing to me. He and Nahid.

Later at night, long after midnight, I remain sleepless. I lie on the mattress, staring at the ceiling. I notice, perhaps for the first time, the delicate details beautifully carved on the four walls immediately beneath the ceiling. How could anyone have once paid so much attention to something as unimportant as this? I think to myself, soon this room and what is left of the carvings might all be history.

Nahid is sleeping calmly nearby, next to Mustafa. I can see part of her beautiful face, lit by the dim moonlight that has found its way through the curtain. She is lying on her left side, the side that has a leg. The sheet that covers her body drops rather abruptly where there was once another leg. That was before she walked on a land mine one breezy spring morning many years ago. And maybe soon the other leg and the rest of her body will be history too. I wonder why anyone might want to bomb this God-forsaken land. What is left to bomb or destroy? It's all rubble here. How many people aren't already maimed or suffering otherwise?

I cannot sleep. I whisper to myself... "...if only I could talk to you, America. If only I could explain why bombing this place would serve little purpose. What happened to you was awful, I know, barbaric, what words can I use? I know you're suffering. But why do you think only about taking revenge, about military strikes, about proving you are the strongest nation? We know you are. You don't need to prove it. Why not instead try and understand why there are people who want to harm you so much? They weren't there before. People who're prepared to do the most terrible things, to die and kill many innocent people along the way.

"Please understand, we're all with you on this. Even those of us who feel they've been wronged by you. Even those of us who live with little hope in these remote lands. We are gentle and peace-loving people. And now, perhaps for the first time, we see you as ordinary people like the rest of us, as people who can innocently get killed, as people who are wounded and vulnerable, as people who have a pain. We understand your pain and feel close to you.

"So instead of bombing and taking revenge, why not take advantage of this closeness, this sharing of pains, as an opportunity to promote peace, to make friends? You are America, you can break this cycle of violence. If you bomb, you simply play into the hands of those who want misery and war. More people will come out of the rubble that you create to harm you. But if you're patient, you can cherish this closeness, you can try and understand what has gone wrong, what is the cause of our grievances, what is behind this huge rift between you and us. And we can prove to you that the mad people behind those brutal acts did not represent us, they simply fed on our grievances..."

A new day is about to begin. Nahid is getting ready to do her prayers. The sun is gently shining on her back. I know what she's planning to talk to God about. Mustafa is up too. I look in his direction. He must be hungry, but, oddly, he's smiling at me. Perhaps he thinks someone, faraway, has heard my whisper...

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Articles follwoing the
September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks

By Hossein Samiei

A moon of our own
I walk closer, almost without thinking, and sit on the bed by her side

The mirror and the book
Till we meet again, till we part again


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