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That night was the loneliest of my life. Not because I had been taken away from the luxuries of the embassy. After all, with the exception of the previous week I had spent the first eighteen years of my life surrounded by similar poverty and captivity
The overwhelming loss I felt actually came by being separated from my beloved, Toby. I had met, fell in love with and been taken away from him all within the short period of only seven days. And now, although I wanted to believe with all my heart in the precious words he insisted upon during our parting, that he would never leave without me, the fear that lingered would not allow me the peace to fully accept his promise. I knew with my entire being that if the darkness of what I had come from were to once again engulf me and cause me the loss of Toby I quite simply wouldn’t be able to go on living.
Through my years of hidden reading I had come upon a well-known quote a number of times.
“It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
An adage I now knew to be untrue. For when it comes to the level of love I feel for this man who has awoken me to the beauty of life, my soul, my energy, my spirit knows that it could never again just be “my” or “I” but forever “we.”
Now at one with Tobias Montgomery, reversing such would not be possible.
But the Americans, including Toby, had proven to me that indeed great things can come out of hope.
And with this I made the decision to continue to prevail. I would keep the hair tie close, but remain strong in not sending out the signal as long as there was hope.
Anti-American protesters crowded the streets outside the courthouse with their deafening hate-filled chants and burning U.S. flags as I was led into the building under the protection of American soldiers.
Inside, subtle yet sharpened looks of detest from my fellow Afghans scorned over me. Not only because I was seen as a traitor, but also due to my western appearance since I had refused the fabric prison I had escaped from.
When the proceedings started the charge of murder was read aloud. A word that shocked me as it echoed through my body.
For the next hour I sat in stunned silence as the prosecution laid out their argument with the outrageous claim that, influenced by western literature, I had had an incestuous affair with my own father and once the rest of the family found out he and my mother had fled while I remained hidden underground with the ‘pornography’ we had accumulated over the years.
The preposterous story they had contrived went on to claim that this was why my parents were nowhere to be found. And that Omar, concerned for my well-being, had searched day and night until he finally found me below his uncle’s home, where I viciously murdered him after he refused my incestuous advances.
I couldn’t stop my hands from trembling, my defense lawyer leaning over to reassure me that no respectable judge would believe such far-fetched accusations.
But how could he be so sure that the judge proceeding over my preliminary hearing was indeed a man of truth? What if he was nothing but a puppet for the Taliban?
And so such thoughts began to plague me as I looked around the courtroom.
Why were the eyes of the two bailiffs shifting so frequently?
Why was it that the official who had lost face at the embassy never seemed to rid himself of the look of hidden vengefulness-in-waiting?
And who was that rather tall female Afghan sitting in the corner towards the back of the courtroom in full burqa?
Was the Taliban really capable of such orchestration, or was my imagination just building upon what the prosecution had already created?
Well, they WERE displaying their convincing ability to come up with such an elaborate scenario, which had obviously been based on the report the U.S. government had filed. And how it all so fittingly played off and capitalized on the sentiments outside.
The prosecution finished their argument with the same level of absurdity as they had started with.
Insisting that the defense would present fictitious evidence created by the U.S. government with its unlimited resources. And that those who had been killed had been framed by this super power. Relatives who were only guilty of caring for me, now dead and unable to defend themselves against the Americans and their unending claims that every Afghan life lost was somehow connected to the Taliban.
As I sat there contemplating on what the judge’s perspective might be my lawyer began presenting what really happened. I realized that my fate would really come down to one man’s personal views, for if he sympathized with the Taliban I would go to trial and certainly be convicted.
But if he was truly impartial he would rule on the side of justice. My lawyer said we had to presume the latter. That being an educated man, the judge would know that the only hope for the future of his country would involve the eventual acceptance of equality and democracy, which, based on history and the developed nations of the world couldn’t be fully reached unless the rights of women were included.
An educated man would know this, and therefore it was part of my lawyer’s strategy to have me address the court once he had presented all the facts. To show what the future of our Afghan women could be if educated with books like I had been.
And so I gave my impassioned speech with a mixture of English and our native tongue, explaining how I had learned of the world through my father’s gift to me. The gift of literacy.
From the California Gold Rush to the Great Wall of China. From renaissance artists to the wonders of our solar system.
Knowledge attained thanks to the wonderful power of books. And that if I, an Afghan girl who had strengthened her mind while hiding beneath the dirt could have such an outcome, imagine what kind of future our country could have if only all Afghans were allowed the gift of education.
In closing I looked straight into the judge’s eyes and said the following:
‘I do not enter your courtroom in disrespect of our nation’s religion of Islam, but rather as a free young woman, who, thanks to the education I have received thus far have learned some of the fundamentals of democracy, including freedom of religion.
Most Afghans want a free Afghanistan, and I stand here before you today as an embodiment of such. I may not have the same religious beliefs as my fellow country men and women but I am Afghan nonetheless, and like you, Your Honor, believe in the potential of our people and country.’
The courtroom was still and silent, and just as I was about to turn away the entrance exploded to pieces, the energy of it throwing me near a wall as debris and body parts scattered out with force.
Following a few seconds of shock I was able to regain my senses and bring myself up to my hands and knees.
The courtroom was in chaos as figures stumbling through the smoke cried out, an occasional popping noise accompanying the sound of carnage.
I looked over in the direction of the table I had been sitting at and at first could only make out the face of the official who had taken me from the embassy, now lying chest to floor with shrapnel protruding from his back as he stared up at me in dazed agony.
My eyes then found my lawyer, disoriented but coming to. He reached out for a helping hand and one of the bailiffs emerged, only instead of offering a free hand he held a gun and fired at point blank range into my lawyer’s head.
Unable to move I was in surreal numbness, a fragment of my mind going back to the lethal moment between me and Omar while another part of my brain began to pick up on the sound of gunfire and explosions going on outside.
‘Move! You’ve got to move!’ I told myself as the gun was getting closer and closer to my face. But my body just wouldn’t follow the commands I gave it.
But before the barrel could rise it fired a round into the floor, the hand holding it quivering as it clenched tightly around the gun’s handle.
I looked up to discover the bailiff’s face in shock just before he fell down in front of me, a steel spike embedded into the back of his head.
But I couldn’t make sense of where it had come from, as no one was at his back.
The smoke was still heavy towards the entrance but had begun to thin out farther in where I was, which allowed me to see the second bailiff limping over to the judge’s bench.
I couldn’t quite discern his hands but just knew he was going for the judge, an instant later the unmistakable popping of gunfire returning as he fumbled around the bench trying to take aim while the judge scurried for his life.
With the bailiff’s back to me I headed for him before I could think twice, the gun disarming Toby had drilled into me now being implemented as my hands grabbed the bailiff’s head while simultaneously covering his eyes and whirling him around to the floor.
Just as it had happened in training the adversary’s natural reaction was to reach out with open palms as his body headed for the floor, in turn letting the gun fall away as he tried to catch himself.
Not giving him the fraction of a second he would need to regain his focus, my palms, already at the back of his head, slammed his face into the marble below it.
His body immediately went limp, and only then did I look up at the judge cowering near his bench. He had been shot in the arm and leg and was urging me to follow him as he started to crawl towards his chambers.
I could still hear the chaos going on right outside the mangled entrance and as we reached the doorway to the next room the judge and I froze at the sight of Mahaz as he stepped out with AK-47 in hand. The judge obviously recognized him from the pictures presented by my lawyer just minutes ago but failed to say anything in his frightened state.
My uncle stared down at me with vengeful hate in his eyes for a moment as if taking into account all he knew of me. Or more accurately, what he believed he knew of me.
“You want English, you will die English!”
In the blink of an eye a steel spike pierced Mahaz’s throat, surprising all three of us as we looked up to find Toby peeling away the burqa he was wearing, drenched in blood.
It was he who had been sitting in the far corner of the courtroom, having been the one single-handedly killing the Taliban fighters who had managed to break through the defense of the American soldiers once they had launched their explosive attack.
I looked back to Mahaz, who was now choking on his own blood just as his son had done.
Toby came forward, removed the machine gun from my dying uncle’s hands and laid him down on the floor.
The judge looked to me…
I looked to Toby…
It was over.
The Other Side
It was a farewell to new friends, a horrific past and two souls who had given their lives in hope that I would one day find true freedom.
“Your freedom will be our freedom.”
These tears I cry are for you, my dear mother and father.
Because of your sacrifice I now find myself flying amongst the traveling clouds on my way to the land we all dreamed of.
Because of you I found the love of my life, who sits here beside me as we head into our future.
Because of you I will love my child as you loved me, sharing the precious memories of you with your grandchild, who now grows within me.
This story I write…
This new life I will live…
Will always be in honor of you.