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In search of home


Afghanistan: 1980’s. A place I am supposed to call home. ‘Home’: where one is supposed to have peace, safety and a loving family. But do I have that? No, instead I have war in every corner of my country and uncertainty in every day of my life from the time of my birth. Years pass by aimlessly for me without any hope to call my own. There was nothing to look forward to. Live was uncertain in this place we call ‘home’. Would we live through the day or would an enemy descend upon us like a predator on its helpless prey? Even in this kind of situation, everyone lives their lives to the fullest, children would go to school, and adults would work hard, as if nothing would happen. Even though the school was hours away from the village and the houses, everyone was eager to go. It was where everyone or at least I felt the safest. Even if we sat on the floors without a roof in the heat of the sun, school was still school; having favourite teachers while hating some, having foolish crushes and talking about them all day long. For us that was the norm. Like everyone else, I too had a crush on someone I thought was totally out of my league; Ali. Handsome and charming. Even his name was beautiful to me. One day during the school break when he was sitting meters away from me and my group of friends. I had never realised that his eyes were like golden honey. Without realising it, I had become mesmerised like a child stuck under the spell of a kaleidoscope, he turned to me with brows raised. “What are you looking at?”  He asked. “No-nothing. Nothing, nothing.” I stuttered. He may have caught me starring at him, but I caught him starring back. And for a second, my heart was felt like it could explode. Days passed by, when one day I went to the river during the evening to wash some dishes and get water. I found myself all alone since everyone gets their chores done before the evening. As I was about to finish, I heard footsteps passing by on the pavement close to the river. Nothing new, but I looked up, and it was him, standing there. “Hi,” He said with a smile on his face. “Hi!” I said back rather startled. “What are you doing so late here?” “Can’t you see I’m doing my chores? What are you after here?” I asked still rather flustered. “Nothing, just passing time. You need help?” Laughing I said, “You actually want to help?” I couldn’t believe it and I felt almost frustrated that I had washed the last dish. I tried to remain calm as I said, “No thanks I’ve just finished.” Silence filled the air around us. “Are you coming to school tomorrow?” He queried. “No, I don’t think so. We are going to help with harvesting in the mountains tomorrow.” “Really? You as well? Exams are going to start soon. You wouldn’t want to much miss school at these times.” “Well, what can I do?” I said with a sigh. “If it makes you feel any better, I won’t be going as well. I have to go somewhere with my dad for a few days.” The sound of footsteps filled the air. As I looked up, he disappeared. I found my cousin coming towards me. “Why are you taking so long?” “Well you know, I am just very slow. So, everything takes a long for me.” At the time, it was normal for many of us to miss school to help with harvesting in the summer; especially the boys, just before the end of year exams in the summer. Because for the families, the harvesting was the most important thing at the time. A few months later, my dad who had left for Iran and eventually England when I was just one, had decided that we should leave for Pakistan, to apply for coming to England. And that meant I would probably never see him again. For the few days that we were getting ready, seeing him by chance was the only thing on my mind. He was a family friend after all, so I went over to their house with the excuse of wanting to see his sister. Fortunately, his sister wasn’t there but he was just sitting in the courtyard. I left, hoping that he would follow me. I waited outside their house in the quiet alley, when I saw him walking towards me. Without any greeting he said, “I heard you guys are leaving.” “Yeah, and possibly not coming back.” “Oh okay, good.” He said, with no emotion or expression and started to walk away. “Is that it?” I shouted at his turned back. “I came over just to see you and you are leaving without even saying goodbye?” “Not like I can do anything, can I? I was just expecting too much, but not everything happens as we wish.” “No, I was expecting too much.” “If you want a goodbye, then goodbye and good luck for whatever.” And just like that we went our separate ways. After many years of struggles in Pakistan, our case to come to the UK kept getting refused. So finally, my family decided that we should apply in section. First my mother and older brother. Then the rest of us. When their case got accepted, we were told to leave for Afghanistan, while my mother and brother left for England. In the winter and summer breaks, as usual all of the family members in Kabul goes back to our village; meaning that we would have leave all our lessons unfinished and would have to start again when we come back. Setting us behind our classmates. Arriving in our village gave me a sense of calmness that you can’t get anywhere else. Although I may have been sad, but the village is our base, it’s where our lives started and will always hold a special place in our hearts even though life in there is tough and sometimes painful. Winters are a lot more relaxed in the village since, there is no harvesting to be done, the women just have look after the animals and do the house chores. And the men just clear the snow from the roofs. As a tradition, whenever someone comes back from traveling, all the family members and family friends come over for greeting and invite the guests over to their house for greetings; the best part of coming back. When his family invited us over, all I got from him was a simple hello but still seeing him made me happy. I’m not sure if he was as happy as me or even happy to see me again. But it changed into something rather unexpected. Like before, in the evening I had to go to the river to get some fresh water, when I found him there. Without any greeting, he asked, “Why are you always coming here so late?” “What about you?” “To see you.” I was shocked. “Why would you?” I said after few seconds of silence. “Because I missed you, and you are back after so long.” “Have you always been this frank?” “No, just with you.” Then he started to walk towards me and sat across from me. “Okay, you are just babbling nonsense now.” “No, honestly. My head was a bit messed up about all this. But I thought even if you leave and never come back, I might as well enjoy the time that you are here. Given that feelings are mutual.” “I honestly have no idea what to say.” All of this was coming out the blue. “You don’t have to say anything. Do you need help with carrying that? That looks heavy.” And just like that, he started to talk and walk with me as if we had always been this close. After that every day, we would find an excuse to see each other even if it was only for a few seconds. And when we got the chance we would talk for hours (of course where no one could see us), it was just between us; just our secret. At the time, amongst all the war and dark times, he gave me happiness. After two or three years of going and coming between Afghanistan and Pakistan, mine and the rest of my sibling’s cases finally got accepted. We can back to our village for one last time for a short visit before leaving for England even though there was war and killing all the way along. On our way back, just minutes before our car: a landmine exploded. If our car had arrived there one or two minutes earlier, none of us would have survived. Despite the intensity of the situation, this was the everyday life for people travelling; it was almost normal and nothing new for them, even though many of us had lost relatives to situations like this as the result of the war. All those years of war and suffering had resulted in this. When we arrived, like usual all the children, family or not, would gather around the car just to see whose coming. Then I saw him standing so far away that you could hardly see his figure; unconsciously a smile filled my face. Even if he wasn’t there to see me, I was happy seeing him. I picked up some of my stuff, and intentionally walked towards him. Greeted with a smile, he walked with me to our house. “I will come see you in the evening okay?” “Yeah, sure.” I replied happily. Later that evening, by the river, we met in the woods amongst the trees to avoid anyone passing by. We talked and talked as if we had not seen each other for years. And like before for the one week or so of the visit, despite everything, we would meet every day; it became the highlight of my day, the one thing I looked forward to and could not wait to do. Eventually it was the last evening, before we left in the morning. After we got close to my house, there was a kind of storage room where hay was kept. I looked around and walked in. Seconds later, he walked in and stood closely across from me. “So, this is the time we going to see each other?” He asked, with what I hoped what sadness in his voice. “Not sure, well at least I hope it isn’t.”  I said underneath my breath, trying to hold back my tears. “Yeah, let’s hope that.” He said as he looked down. “Ali, I hope you know that I really like you. I love you.” He looked up straight into my eyes and silence filled around us. He walked up to me and held my hand and pulled me into his arms. He said, “I know, and I don’t love you any less.” “I’ll miss you.” He said with sadness in his voice. My tears rolled down my face, as I held him tighter. “I’ll miss you even more and I won’t ever forget you.” With tears, he chuckled and said, “I hope so.” And that was the last time I saw him. And to this day, after all my struggles in England, from not being able to speak English to being bullied about the way I dress, I still remember him. Years later, I heard he was about to get married. I tried to contact him, but every attempt resulted in me crying over him. I guess he was happy about his new life. And even though I have the tiniest hope deep down in my heart that he has not forgotten about me, about us, he probably has. Nevertheless, I still loved him; because he, Ali, my Ali, the person who I once foolishly thought was mine, the person who I once thought was my home, who made me feel like I had a home, showed me the purest kind of love. In a time when there was no hope in life: he gave me hope. He made me think that after all there is something to be happy about. He showed me that there is joy even in the darkest of moments. But now, I have lost my Ali. I have lost that home, I have lost my home. By Fahima Karimi #AYA #AfghanYouthAssociation #AYAStoryWritting

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