by Shweta Mani
Azeeza lost her virginity at age fourteen. To her twenty year old husband, on their wedding night. Blood had flown, leaving red stamps on the white sheets. And the family had celebrated the joyous occasion. Wedding, marriage consummation, the bride and groom certified for purity and potency respectively – all legitimate causes for celebration.
Azeeza, a happy, talkative girl, had been prime property in her remote mountainous village, in Ghor, Afghanistan. Her father was a village leader, a local representative for the government. And Azeeza was pretty. With her beauty, her youth and his status as collateral, her father had won a hard bargain for her. As her bride price, her family received over three dozen livestock, and four imported AK-47 guns.
Guns were commonplace in Ghor, a household item. Used to fending for themselves since time immemorial, in a hostile terrain with few passersby and no saviors, the Tajiks and the Hazaras of Ghor were a resilient lot. Young men learnt to use guns, sticks and knives early, to protect themselves, their livestock and their women. Imported weapons grade fare, like AK-47s, however, were a relative novelty, and due to their high price, a sign of prosperity. And though only spoken about in hushed whispers, a symbol of the increasing prevalence of the Taliban.
Although the Tajiks and the Hazaras of Ghor had mounted resistance to the Taliban during its peak in the late 1990’s, its allure had been increasing in recent years. While parts of Afghanistan had limped forward in the post Taliban era, Ghor had found itself being increasingly left behind. Without proper roads to connect its hopes to the outside world, or electricity to power up its dreams, Ghor found itself unable to adequately protect its youth from the virulent strategies of Taliban. Enticing young men with the very commodities in short supply -purpose, and hope.
Azeeza’s husband Abbas’s village was a few hours on foot from her own. Her in-laws were wealthy by local standards : they owned a few dozen livestock, and had farmlands to grow pistachios and almonds in the short growing season. And as was common across the villages in their region, the women of the household made a side income through embroidery.
The early weeks of Azeeza’s marriage were filled with memorable moments. Her mother-in-law kept Azeeza out of household drudgery. ‘You are still a young girl. Take care of your husband.’ she decreed.
During the days, Azeeza did embroidery, or took the sheep to graze. Abbas kept her company. He was a strapping young man, prone to silences. But he gazed at her affectionately. During their grazing excursions, he taught her how to keep the sheep from wandering too far, how to recognize lurking wild animals and how to wield a gun to protect the livestock from thieves and predators. And he laughed appreciatively when she learned quickly.
Their nights were filled with frequent fornication, a little rough, a little tender, sometimes satisfactory, sometimes bliss. Abbas was keen to get Azeeza knocked up quickly. The entire village was watching, and his masculinity needed the stamp of a pregnant womb.
When two, three, four cycles passed, and the rhythmic arrival of Azeeza’s menstrual blood screamed loudly at him, laughing at his insufficiency, he became increasingly withdrawn. The affection disappeared, and its place was taken by a violent streak. The tiniest infarction was enough to provoke. Battery by day that bruised her body and violation by night that scarred her soul soon became the norm for Azeeza. Her happy disposition vanished and she withdrew into herself, finding dark corners to cry, to cower. She heard whispers too – about how Abbas had been pulled back from the Taliban with great difficulty. That they had ‘made an investment’ in her, hoping that her beauty would lure him to family life. When Abbas disappeared a couple of months later, she was deemed defective goods, ‘a poor investment’, and deposited back to her father’s home.
In a small community, where everyone dipped their noses into each other’s lives, her return incited gossip and curiosity. Her husband’s membership to the Taliban was a triple whammy. She was a terrorist’s wife, abandoned by his family, due to her questionable fertility. Her story, her bruises, her anger had no commiserates. All that mattered was the shame she had brought upon her father.
Over the next few months, Azeeza shunk further, hiding even inside her own home. Her parents watched helplessly at the ghostly transition that befallen their cheerful daughter. She cowered when her father came to console, and cried when her mother came to feed. In the village, she became invisible. She took the sheep to graze once in a rare while, always choosing the sparsely traversed path, to avoid meeting a familiar face. If her mother sent her to the shop, she kept her eyes firmly to the ground, to avoid meeting a familiar gaze.
But late into the lonely nights, when sleep often eluded her, she lay still and wondered. Wondered why and how her life had fallen off the rails. Wondered, sometimes why she was carrying the burden of blame for no fault of hers. On some days, that thought filled her with so much rage, she would find a deserted spot outside the village, and shoot a few rounds of gunfire into the sky.
“Tg tg tg tg tg” it was that familiar sound of gunfire that woke her up. Was she dreaming ?
“Tg tg tg tg tg” the gunfire continued. She quickly took her AK- 47, the one received at her wedding, hid it in her tsador and opened her room door. Blood was flowing in the courtyard, gushing out of her father’s head, even as her mother lay lifeless next him. She looked up and her gaze met Abbas’s bloodshot eyes. Unrecognizable almost, in his flowy beard and headgear that marked his allegiance to the Taliban. He had brought as backup a fellow Talib, to claim back his property – her. So he could use, misuse, abuse her again. Her parents had stood in his way.
“Tg tg tg tg tg”. This time she saw Abbas’s eyes go wide before he fell.
Enough. She would hide no more. In one swift movement, she shot the other Talib as well.
Blood was flowing, leaving red stamps on the white snow, as she stepped out into the night.