When I first went up to Bajaur I had no idea where I'd been. When I got back to Peshawer I found this map and made a few of my own additions.
(continuation from last image - Bajaur Story)
Taken from the novel "Some Time On the Frontier-A Pakistan Journal"
*************************** AFTERMATH ***************************
It's like a book, I think, this bloomin' world,
Which you can read and care for just so long,
But presently you feel that you will die
Unless you get the page you're readin' done,
And turn another - likely not as good;
But what you're after is to turn 'em all.
Sestina of the Tramp-Royal
Just got back from Islamabad. I may go back to Bajaur just to escape Pakistan. This must be my year for trouble with visas and girls.
The clerk from the Chowk Shadi Pir Marriage Agency asked me if he could bring the owner of the agency to my house. They supposedly have another girl for me to meet. But when he came over, after asking if I had any charras, all he could talk about was money. Sign your house over to the girl. Buy gold. Buy clothes. And then there was the matter of what I was going to give him in way of a commission.
I told him I was ready for all eventualities if the girl was right. Shah Hussain thinks she is a Peshawari girl. If she speaks tolerable Pashtu, and is of course, gorgeous, I wouldn't care. But her father is in Saudi Arabia, and wouldn't be back for another two weeks. I told them before I would talk anymore, I needed to see her picture.
I feel better, and safer, going back to Bajaur.
On to matters of visa.
The fellow in the Peshawar Passport Office who wrote me a two week late exit visa when I was leaving for the Emirates told me to come in two weeks before my visa expired. On my registration papers one month is written. I went in two weeks ago.
I told him I had seen a picture of a girl I liked, but I needed to wait until her father came home from Saudi Arabia, on October 10, to see if I can arrange to see her. Also I told him, I had a ticket booked to the United States on October 14, which I do, unless I change it. (I thought it best not to tell him I was mainly waiting to see if my prostitute girlfriend and her boyfriend were going to try to kidnap me to Bajaur again.) He told me to come in on the 23rd, the day before my visa expired.
A few days later Arif told me two fellows from the Special Branch came by his shop to see me. They said they would come back the next day. It was just a routine report, they told Arif. They wanted to see my house. After all these years, they were finally dropping in? When I met with them the next day, they barely spoke any English. They were very petty peon officers and their job was to go check on foreigners.
"How do you speak to foreigners?" I asked them.
"Many of the foreigners we check on are Afghan, or Pakistanis from abroad." they answered. "And we know how to speak some English. 'I am a police officer', 'show me your passport', 'your passport number?'"
They had 9th grade educations. How Pakistani, I thought. That is why I love it here.
Yesterday I went in to the Passport Office again and spoke with the officer I had seen before. He said it wasn't in his authority to extend my visa, and I should go to the office of the Special Branch Police. The way they have been toward me lately I knew they would do little to help me. I walked in and exchanged greeting with the officer I usually deal with.
"My visa expires tomorrow." I told him.
"Do you want to leave the county?" he asked. A normal reply.
"No." I answered. A not so normal answer. "I would like to explain."
"Then you can speak to our chief." he told me impatiently, motioning me over to the chief's desk.
I've known the chief for years, and he has never seemed to like me much. I've never really seen him do much more than sit at his desk and sign an occasional stack of papers. I'm not even sure if he speaks English. He has never spoken it with me. I explained my situation to him.
"There is nothing I can do to help you." he said, starting to look away. "Why did you wait until the last day?
I explained how I was told by the fellow in the Passport Office to come in on the 23rd and he would help, but now he told me to come to them.
"There is nothing I can do to help you." he repeated. "Go to Islamabad."
When I rode back to the city, the two flunkies from Special Branch, who finally checked me and my house out the other day, shared the rickshaw with me. I paid, of course.
"Did you get your exit visa?" they asked me.
"No. I need to go to Islamabad."
"We'll come to your house tomorrow, and check if you have gotten it." they told me.
"I'm not even going to Islamabad until tomorrow." I said.
"If you don't take care of it, we will arrest me." they proclaimed.
In the evening I spoke with Atique, my lawyer. I asked him if he had any friends in the Ministry with higher power than a Section Officer (still a fancy pencil pushing upper class peon it seems). He gave me the name of a friend, but when I got there I found out he had been transferred to Peshawar, like my last friend from Atique, a Joint Secretary.
The Section Officer told me I would have to take care of the problem in Peshawar at the Passport Office. He couldn't understand why they had even sent me to Islamabad. Going in circles, as usual. Tomorrow it is back to the Passport Office. My first bid is to try for an extension until November first. If that doesn't go over, I'll try for October 15. If that fails, I'll try for a seven-day exit visa (I'll go to Delhi for a new visa), and if that fails, I'll ask if I can be put in a comfortable cell and given a bag of nuswar.
If I could call Nasreen, I'd tell her, if she still wanted to kidnap me, to have a Datsun waiting at the Passport Office. I'll ask Atique if he knows of an immigration lawyer, but then, they might not even have them here. Who, in their right mind, would want to immigrate here?
I rode on the Flying Coach back to Peshawar, listening to the driver play the same Lata cassette I have heard for the last fifteen years, the bus swerving and honking around tongas and water buffalos. I'm so used to it all. It's still good to be home. The weather is starting to cool down. Asadullah's shot gun is hanging, loaded, on my wall. My Llama is chambered, either in my pocket, or right next to my bed. God, I hate to think of leaving here. I am just getting comfortable after all this madness.
How can I still love that lovely treacherous bitch? I don't know, but I do. Most people wonder how I can love this dirty backward country, but I do.
It is nice to be thinking sanely again. If you can call wanting to live in this dirty backward hole, record Pashtu music, become more entangled with this mad culture, and even waiting and hoping that Jezebel Nasreen shows up, sane?
Maybe I'll just go up to Bajaur with a thousand rupees, a few suits, and a big bag of subzi. Tell them I spent all of my money in initiating the sale of my house. That I will pay them on October 15. Try to get her to come to Peshawar with me. Once I have her in my house, then it is my game.
Now I have a new visa possibility. A friend of mine's father is a peer. He says the head of the Special Branch prays his Juma prayer at his father's mosque. He tells me it would be a good time to meet with him. So we are going today. We will set up a meeting in his office for tomorrow, Insh'Allah. It seems to be looking up. Maybe I can stay until mid-November?
Well, typical to Pakistan, the fellow from Special Branch didn't show up at the mosque for Juma prayer. Nor did Bacha Peer, my friend's father. He went hunting. The mosque was at a shrine, out near Wazir Bagh. I prayed next to a close friend of Papu Khan's, a well-known local mafioso who was just gunned down the other day in front of the Peshawar Court House. He kept his bandolier on while he prayed. It held a Mouser fully automatic pistol, and a 30-bore black Chinese pistol. It would bump my side as we prostrated ourselves toward the front of the mosque during prayer.
After prayer we went across the road, to a garden enclosed by walls. Many men and boys were sitting around drinking tea, smoking charras in chillums, and singing songs. Big trees with birds singing in their twisted gnarled branches. Dry Asian jungly. Malongs were living in small mud and thatch huts. Many wealthy people with extra land in Peshawar set up places such as this. A good place to hang out with people intoxicated by God, and other substances.
I'm still hoping I can get a few more weeks here. I've got to try to get to Nasreen one more time before I have to leave. I went to Dubai looking for her. Bajaur is just up the road.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Why Arif doesn't buy a new chair for his shop.
Besides the rickety wooden slat chair behind his desk that Arif sits on when he is working, and the smoothly worn aged wood bench in front of the dusty wooden type storage bins, that used to be the front step coming down into the shop, there is one other chair in Arif's shop. It is a wooden framed wicker chair, and the wicker work of the seat is half unstrung with a large hole, where the wicker work is worn through.
"I won't get another one." Arif was saying, with a laugh. "People still sit in that one. Besides, my customers don't sit in it. That chair costs me money. Only friends sit in it, and they all drink tea. Noor Mohammad, do you know the story of the mullah whose clay istidja lota broke?"
"No I don't." I answered. Anwar Khan looked at me, giving me his toothless grin, and settled back to listen as Arif narrated.
"You see Noor, there was a mullah, and he had a favorite clay lota he kept in the mosque, which he always used for to make istidja.
"One day, when he went to use it, before the prayer, he discovered that someone had broken it. He was crying because of this, and when the people said, ‘Oh mullah, why are you crying so? It was only a clay lota, and you can buy another one in the bazaar for a few rupees.'"
"The mullah answered, ‘But that lota saw my private parts! If I buy a new one, it will see my privates!'"
Anwar Khan cackled and coughed and spit on the cement floor.
He looked at me as Arif laughed and squeezed me with a tight embrace around the shoulders, and explained.
"So you see Noor, that is why I don't buy a new chair. This chair has seen our asses!"
He started laughing anew, and poured us each a fresh cup of qawah.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"City people tell me I should just forget it. You don't think that, do you?"
"I was brought up in the village." Shah Hussain replied. "There is a great difference in city people."
"You don't think I should forget it, do you?" I continued, plying for a more definite answer.
"I'm young, and I've never loved. But I know what love is." he smiled. "You cannot forget, in this I am certain. And in this, if you need some help, I am ready for anything."
A Majubeen song was playing on the tape player.
"Listen closely to the words of the next few lines." Shah Hussain said. "Do you understand their meaning?"
'Kho janana, murg me qabul day, judai ee nashoom kaooma.'
(Oh darling, my death is accepted, but I can never accept separation.)
"Thanks." I told him. "Just the words I need to hear. Echoes of my sentiments, exactly."
Pashtu isn't such a great language for practical matters. At least not what most people consider practical. English is practical, a machine language. Pashtu is better suited to describe mud villages and the barren desolate rocks and mountains of tribal territory. The veiled gaze of girls dark shy eyes and beauty marks, of unrequited love and revenge. Things, in this day and age, being quickly pushed out of this mechanical world.
Maybe tribal territory is a bit harsh and violent, but I really feel myself there. I'm going back. Now that I've been on that dirt road, leading to their fort, how could I stay away? As much as I love her, I am bent on teaching her a lesson. And as it has always been, I've just got to see her one more time again. The final card may have to wait until I'm back, but I want to get to that fort once more, before I leave.
No definite plans, but just to go up there and play it by ear. Stay at a village closer to the fort. I know it is dangerous for me to go back into tribal territory, especially at this time. Even the government would arrest me if they caught me. From Majubeen to Bob Dylan, more words come into my mind, as if an inner voice musical collage.
'If my thought dreams could be seen, they'd probably put my head in a guillotine - but it's all right mom, it's life and life only.'
Not completely sure as to what I am planning. I don't plan to hurt her. That much I do know. Insh'Allah. I do know this is no joke. I am serious. That fort is a good place to hide from me, right on the Afghan border, but not good enough I guess. I was close to knocking on their door last week.
I was visiting Haji Makoo in his shop, before I went back to Bajaur with Shah Hussain. Haji is a dear friend I have known closely since my days in Kabul in the seventies when I used to buy most of the embroideries and koochie dresses for my shop from him and his family. I told him I had been hanging out with a mafhrul girl in Bajaur, and that the Bajauris' were dirty people. I left it up to his imagination about what kind of girl I was exactly referring to.
I saw him again a few days back in his shop in Ander Sher. He asked me if I had been back to Bajaur.
"Yeah." I answered. "I've got to find a girl somewhere in Pakistan."
He busted out laughing.
"Noor Mohammad, you have become crazy in Pakistan."
"Yes." I answered. "And this crazy is fun."
We sat on a luxuriously rich red Turkoman rug in his shop, amid piles of exquisite koochie embroideries, and ate skewers of lamb kebab dripping with grease, hot fresh roti, yogurt, and tomato and onion salad, brought to us by a local restaurant boy.
Then we walked over to Mahabat Khan Mosque for Zohr prayer. The floors inside the uzu hall had been completely resurfaced in new pure white marble, as had the fountain and uzu tank in the central courtyard. There is still that here for me. And Ander Sher is a little Kabul, though I must admit lately when I walk through Ander Sher I spend more time looking at gold nose rings than at Afghan embroidery.
A gentle balmy breeze is blowing. But from the roof of my house, the mountains of Bajaur are lost in a haze today. And those haramis' (bastards) are up there. I've got to look her in the eye and tell her, and tell her . . .
What will I tell her? Thank you for the lovely production you prepared for me in Bajaur... Thank you for the sightseeing excursion... Or should it be slightly more forceful, like... I should kill you, bitch!
I sleep with a loaded pistol in the almari next to my bed. When I'm not asleep, the pistol is in my pocket. Better security than a blanket. Or a valium. Could the Bajauris' come crawling over the roof and down the walls of my house like the scorpions? I'm not taking any chances.
From my roof can be heard the sound of dozens of Azans and the ever present daily din of Peshawar. Now I can just make out the Khyber mountains and the mountains of Bajaur in the clouds. I hear my mind saying,
"I'll get you, you faithless bitch."
So the mantra has finally changed. It used to be 'I love you so much, what am I going to do about you?' Well, the 'what am I going to do about you' part is still there. But what I want to do has changed. I hate to say it, but I can't wait to get back in those hard dry desolate mountains. At least I hear the Mohmands have stopped fighting the government. For a while.
The day I came back from Tribal Territory I saw Haji Mahboob in his shop. He didn't know I had been back to Bajaur. I don't see him every day, and I had only been gone four days.
"Noor Mohammad," he asked, "is there any news from that side?"
"No, not yet." I told him. "But I would like to make some of my own. I'd like to go back to that fort one time, before leaving for the United States."
"If you are going, Noor Mohammad, let me know." he told me. "I'd like to come along and see that Bombuna Mama."
Mahboob is a great friend, and I love him dearly, but in this matter I knew he was only talking. I answered him,
"Okay. Let's go! I'm going back next week. I just came back from Bajaur this afternoon. I walked on the dirt road to their fort yesterday."
After that he didn't say let's go again. People seem so civilized, so citified here in Peshawar. I do understand though, they have responsibilities to their families, their children, their businesses. They all say I'm an educated smart American guy. That I should think right. But is it my true nature that has pulled me out through the veneers? I would rather be out there. Suddenly Peshawar seems so tame. This isn't buying embroidery in Kabul, nor riding the Flying Coach to Lahore. I understand what this is, and it is not a game. And yet, it is.
In this, Shah Hussain is at least with me. He is young and unattached, and he is a Mohmand. His roots are in tribal territory, just a short walk away from their fort. I'm not as young, but I am blind and in love with a faithless Pathan harlot who has nearly gotten me killed trying to steal my money.
The money is the smaller part of it. It is the happiness she dangled in front of me, and then treacherously tore away that burns at me so. The happiness I felt sitting on that charpoy with her, outside that mud fort in Bajaur, gazing over dusty fields at the mountains of the Afghan frontier, discussing the plans of our marriage to be.
I was so ready. We would have our marriage at the fort. The neighbors would come across the fields carrying their guns and firing in the air. None of the crowded city streets, nor the crowded city laws, of Peshawar. The open spaces and freedom of Tribal Territory. We would have a house in the city, and we would be able to spend time in Tribal Territory with her family. A perfect dream. To have in-laws with a fort in Tribal Territory. Outlaws for in-laws! We could hide from her family in Lahore, until her American visa was ready. Then we could go to America for a year or so until the heat (from Akbar's family) cooled down in Lahore. And we would live happily ever after.
And then I was playing a game with her, her supposed brother, and mad uncle. To save myself, and to get her. Well, I have won the first hand. I suppose I have. I'm alive, and free, and out of Bajaur, out of their fort. Now to try to arrange the cards. How can I work it to get her, and not get myself kidnapped or killed in the process? Can I kidnap her? I could steal her out of Pakistan, and keep her in Thailand until her American visa came through. Then take her to the U.S.A. for a year. After, I could bring her back to Pakistan and tell her, 'If you like the dirt and filth of living under a burka in Tribal Territory, there it is. You can go! You are free!' Ultimately, I could never hold her against her will.
And what of the choice I offer her? I myself would prefer life in the Northwest Frontier and in Tribal Territory to the boring sedate life of America. But it is nice to be able to visit modern and different places like that, and I still have a huge house in Peshawar. So now is time to make plans.
Shah Hussain and I bought cloth to make more Bajauri looking clothes. We each got a different shade of drab green. Mountain colors. In Tribal Territory most people wear drab greens, browns, or tans. And inexpensive cloth. Not my usual expensive city fabrics, but a courser variety.
"This is really crumby cloth, Noor Mohammad." Riaz, the tailor, told me. "It is very cheap."
"Yeah, I know." I answered smiling, proud in my wise choice. "It only cost me twelve rupees a meter. I need a special suit. I have some special work up in Tribal Territory."
"Okay, I understand Noor Mohammad. This is cloth like a Mahajur would wear. I will make you a suit in an Afghan design."
He must have thought my work had some connection with Afghanistan and Afghan refugees.
"No. Definitely do not make it look like a mahajur. I don't want to look like an Afghan. I don't want people to think I am an Afghan, nor that I have anything to do with Afghanistan. My work is in Pakistan"
Here, I was mostly thinking of the Pakistani authorities. I not only do not want to be confused for a mahajur, I don't want anyone thinking I am a journalist trying to sneak across the border into Afghanistan. My destination lay just this side of the border, just short of Nawa Pass. I am after a Pakistani girl, not any news of political portent.
But that could never be explained. I can't very well say, 'No I'm not going to Afghanistan, I'm only trying to find a Pathan girl hiding from me in a fort, which just happens to be down the road from Afghanistan.' Not a story to be believed. And in Tribal Territory, not a story to be tolerated.
At present I'm again in the process of dealing with someone as to meeting a girl, this time from Chakdarra, on the way to Malakond, for marriage. He is a Peshawari, and I find it hard to believe a Peshawari can help in arranging a marriage with a Pathan girl, but no harm in sussing it out. If I am careful. I am trying to get out of this fatal addiction, and another Pathan girl is the only solution I can see. But as I learned in the Dubai gold bazaar, it must be the right girl. But I am so tired of it all. At least, this weekend, I will be relaxing in the mountains of Bajaur. Maybe even look up some old friends.
For me being up there, and speaking, is like walking with a sprained ankle, and not wanting anyone to notice. There are certain words I have trouble pronouncing, and I have to be careful not to use those words, or mumbling them when they come up.
I'm back to loving this stupid country, but so many people here have the terrible habit of lying and cheating. I am also dealing with some people from the T.V. station who want to do a recording studio partnership with me. They want to make a studio for recording commercials, and we can record Pashtu music on the side.
Both the guy with the girl from Chakdarra, and these fellows from the T.V. station tell me I am their Muslim brother, and they just want to help me. That I should be careful, as people here are dishonest and liars. Obviously the kind of lines that instantly make one suspect. Shah Hussain has become my shield in my dealings with people. It is much better with a local obviously in my camp. Otherwise people think I am alone, and not really aware of what is going on in Pakistan. After dealing with the Bajauris', these Peshawari people don't seem like much.
The other night the fellow with the girl from Chakdarra was giving me this jive story about wanting to be my friend. I have trouble believing anybody who tries to speak to me in English. And there has been too much talk of money in our conversations, and his story keeps changing. Also I haven't seen the girl, or even anybody from her supposed family.
To add to my distrust, according to him he is some big money changer. The other day he offered to sell me dollars, to take to America, at an impossibly low rate. He needed me to front him some rupees, and then I needed to wait until his people bring the dollars out of Afghanistan. I told him I had very little cash. He accepted five hundred rupees. All very sneaky.
"I have lots of American friends." he was bragging. "I have an M.B. in English, you know."
We were speaking in Pashtu, as he understood my Pashtu better then my English. Maybe, because I am such a simple man, my English isn't so easy to understand? And I don't usually care for the types that cultivate American friendships.
"I don't have lots of friends." I told him. "I used to have more, but I am getting rid of friends. I don't need any more. I do have a few good friends, strong friends. I'm not looking for anymore, especially non Pathan friends."
"I want to be your friend, Noor Mohammad." he continued.
"Good. I hope so. Because you definitely don't want to be my enemy. Maybe one day I'll take you to visit some of my friends in Bajaur. But you probably won't come back." I laughed. "Understand?"
I feel like I am fencing with him. I feel like I'm fencing with everybody.
In my fencing with Noor Gul, I'm afraid I might have struck too swiftly. Dealt him a fatal blow, in my unexpected haste, and scared him away.
He called my house again yesterday. Shah Hussain was sitting in the room with me. He answered the phone.
"Is Noor Mohammad Khan there?" said the voice on the phone.
"Who is calling?" Shah Hussain asked.
"Give the phone to him." the voice demanded.
Shah Hussain handed me the phone.
"Yes?" I answered, "Who is this?"
"It is me." said the voice on the other end. I knew the voice. "What have you decided? Do you have the money?"
"No, but I am working on it. But I need to talk to her. I need to see her again."
"That is impossible, without the money."
"Is she with you? I want to talk to her."
"No, she isn't with me."
"Well I need to see her. And as I told you, I need to marry her in Peshawar. We can't do it in Tribal Territory. Besides, I don't think you are really her brother. Your accent is of Bajaur, not of Mardan." I threw in. Shah Hussain grimaced at my hasty words.
"I will think about it." said the voice on the other end.
"Remember, tell her I want to speak with her. If not face to face, at least on the telephone. If not, I may just come up to Momad Ghat." I said, dropping the hint that I knew his address. Shah Hussain grimaced again.
"I will call you back in a few days."
He clicked down the receiver.
"Why did you tell him that?" Shah Hussain complained to me. "Do you want to scare him away? You might have well as told him you were planning to knock on his doorstep."
"I don't know. It just fell out of my mouth. I wasn't expecting him to call. He surprised me."
"Noor Mohammad, maybe now, you have become a simpleton, like most of us stupid Pathans."
Well Noor Gul, maybe we'll see you again soon. I'm going back there Saturday. Maybe I am still crazy. Maybe more crazy. But not the empty crazy I was before I saw her again. Now I'm fully crazy. I want to see her again. To get in the last word. Maybe teach her a lesson. At least she is in my life again.
My thoughts are even too tribal for most of my friends in Peshawar. I keep thinking maybe I should just let this go like they all say. But I can't. The emptiness would just return. I want to see her. I guess I'm not so Pathan that I want to kill her. I want to spank her butt. I still love her so. I want her to know she is in my power. It is driving me on. I want to establish if those people in that fort are really bad and crazy, or just fakers. Where they live, so far from any police, or army, or government control, they can do anything. I have to be careful they just don't, as Haji Mahboob says, 'open the fire' on us when we come knocking on the door of their fort. But I am determined to wash my face in the cleansing soap of revenge.
Maybe what I need is to just get away from here. And I'm being pulled away from here by certain responsibilities in America beyond my control. I hope not before I can resolve this. I feel this obligation for coming back to my mother alive. She could never understand all this. If she were only Pathan. It would make things so much easier. Then she would never let me pass her door until I had avenged myself in this matter.
The thoughts going through my head so sweetly insane are obviously not things I learned while growing up in West L.A. But that is such a long time ago. The only growing up I can really remember now, are hot dry desert nights in Herat, walking dark narrow covered dirt lanes with my dutar preciously clutched under my arm. Cold snowy nights in Kabul, listening to my ustad play sweet melodies on his rabob, a bukhari heating the carpet and cushion strewn room . . .
Shopping for hand grenades and anti-aircraft guns in Dara Adam Khel with Afghan Mujahideen. Two months spent in Rawalpindi prison. Any other growing up was done at Nasreen's side, in her house, in her arms, in Samnabad. That is all the memories left to me that are real now.
And then there are my thoughts, my plans.
We could buy a motorcycle, a dirt bike, with the strongest tires available. If we couldn't buy two Kalashnakovs in the Nawagai Bazaar, for sure we would be able to rent two, and leave a twenty thousand rupee deposit. We could pick up a couple fire bombs, and half dozen grenades for good measure. After that we wouldn't have to care if the army was checking for weapons on the roads or not. We wouldn't need the roads. From Nawagai we could head southwest, over the mountains. There is only one low mountain to cross. Even I could practically get there from Nawagai blind folded.
We'll come down that dirt road, leading on to Koda Khel and coming out of the dry barren rocks somewhere north of Gandao, cut our engine, and silently coast the last hundred yards to their fort. They will think just another vehicle passed by on the road. If we leave Nawagai at the first crack of dawn, we should arrive at the fort before they are stirring outside. A few properly thrown fire bombs should bring them running outside, and hopefully not kill any innocent people. And then we could shoot down Noor Gul and the uncle. Hopefully we could pull it off without having to shoot any of the women or children. I am not a violent man.
But then these people may really be hard core. Their fort is very remote. They didn't pick such a remote place for meditation purposes. The more remote the residence in Agency, the more desperate the inhabitants. Maybe they would bolt the heavy wooden doors, and open fire with their machine guns over the mud walls and from the tower. They do have grenades inside, also. That I do know.
And what about the neighbors? What happens in Tribal Territory when a fort is attacked? Do the neighbors bolt their doors and stay inside and uninvolved, as most people in Peshawar would? The general consensus from Pathans that Shah Hussain and I have asked is chances are the neighbors would come to their aid. How would we ride out of there, on a motorcycle, dodging a hail of machine gun bullets? And what if we got Nasreen? The three of us would never make it over the rocky terrain on one motorcycle.
How much money can I scrape together? Enough to get an old Datsun, and fit it with heavy steel plates for bullet proofing, and a machine gun? I could get a few out of work Mujahideen, Peshawar is full of them, and plow down their front door. We could even make licence plates and uniforms so we would appear to be the frontier constabulary. That might work.
This will have to be thought out more carefully. Sure, I want my revenge, but more than that I'd like to get Nasreen, and live. If I can just get my hands on her. Shah Hussain has some friends with a place in the remote fringes of lawless Baluchistan. Maybe just far enough away to hide her away from the Bajauris'.
And then, what will I do to her. The proof I am not really a full-blooded Pathan is the fact that I don't think I could ever bring myself to kill her. I just want her to know that she is in my absolute power. That I have her to do with whatever I like. And what is that? Probably no more than to offer her a life with me, if she wants it. To dangle in front of her a carrot that even I don't really want. But then for her it is something not yet seen.
And if she doesn't want that? What is left? To spank her butt, give her her life, and let her go back to the dirt and squalor of Agency? I want to live in Peshawar, surrounded by Tribal Territory. It is so invigorating to visit Tribal Territory, for a while, but to be sequestered there could leave a lot to be desired. But then, what good have cities shown her? Maybe she is really tired of all of that?
"Noor Mohammad, you should color your hair and moustache darker, and let your beard grow out." Shah Hussain told me. "That way no one will look at you at all."
"Why don't we paint your nose red, and your ears black? Then no one will look at me either."
We were getting ready to go back to Bajaur again. No course of action had been decided on, but we both felt the desire to be in free and dangerous places. I had to get back and try to think of what to do. I knew I would only be able to come to some decision in those desolate mountains.
"Look yar," I told Shah Hussain, I'd love to be here when your friend Shah Jan comes to visit you, but I must go to Arif's shop and tell them I will be away for a few days."
"Noor Mohammad, do you think it is wise to tell anyone where we are going? Maybe you should just say you are going to Lahore?"
"Maybe you are right, but Arif and Anwar Khan know me too well. They will know I am going to Bajaur after her. I can't keep it from them. I see them every day. I can't leave without informing them."
"Okay, you know what is best."
"Of course. I am a perfectly sane rational man. A smart educated American guy, as they say. See you later."
Mukhtiare was very worried.
"Please don't go up there, yar." he pleaded with me. "It is so dangerous. And there is nothing we can do if you have any problem."
"Don't worry. It is safe up there for me now. And besides, I like the fresh air."
"Noor Mohammad." Arif said. "You should go see your family in America. And then, when you leave, tell you mother not to worry if you don't come back. Then you can go to Bajaur, and get yourself killed."
"Don't worry, Arif, I promise not to do anything too crazy, insh'Allah. I know your chair and tea is waiting for me. It isn't as if I were going somewhere really dangerous, like downtown Los Angeles."
Again we traveled in now familiar stages. The words of a well known Pashtu song playing in my ears...
"Ra shah Peckhawar la, kameez tor mala rawola... tahza, tahza guluna, dray selor mala rawolla."
(Go to Peshawar, bring me a black blouse . . . And fresh, fresh flowers, bring me three or four . . . )
She had asked me to bring her a suit from Peshawar. Was it black, or was it red? I had been so busy staying out of Bajaur, when I left Peshawar to go back I had forgotten her orders. The flowers I'd have to get at the Momad Ghat florist.
At the checkpoint before Gandao Shah Hussain elbowed me so I would look at the large sign on the side of the road. It read `No foreigners beyond this point, by order of the government.'
"Don't worry," I whispered to him, "there isn't any government beyond this point."
A swarthy skinned guard looked in the mini van at me suspiciously.
"What are you looking at blacky?" I scowled, in my best casually guttural Pashtu. "Where are you from, anyway, the Punjab?"
Shah Hussain applied pressure on my foot with his chappal.
"Excuse me brother," I said, looking away from the guard to Shah Hussain, "your foot is on my chapal and you're ruining my polish. It cost me two rupees in Peshawar, a week ago."
There were some chuckles. The only way a polish can last a week in Peshawar is if you don't wear the shoes.
In Gandao we spent some time walking in the bazaar, and at the tea house at the bus stand. An old Farzana cassette was playing on an old tape player, covered in a grease encrusted embroidered cloth cover. The wooden charpoys were dark brown and smooth with age. Gnarled wooden posts held up the rickety roof of the wall-less tea house.
While we were drinking our qawah two men got up and left. Shah Hussain kept his head turned away from them. One was a burly Afghan with a black bushy beard, and a black turban with silvery stripes. He had a stick with feathers and balls tied to each end. The other man, Shah Hussain whispered to me, was from his own area. He didn't want the man to see him as he didn't want word getting back to his family he had been in tribal territory.
The man from Shah Hussain's area was older than his companion. His white beard was cut angularly and he was wearing a white skull cap. He had a falcon perched on his arm. In their village, Shah Hussain informed me, his daughter had made friendship with a man. Her mother knew of it. He had killed his daughter, and his wife.
They were hunting eagles. The last time we had been at Momad Ghat, when we had been talking with some fellows off the side of the road, four new white Pajaro jeeps passed us, and turned off the road to the koochie camp in the dry rocky nearby hills. We were told Arab sheiks pay up to fifty lakh for a good hunting eagle. I found that hard to believe. Either they were exaggerating, or they had their figures mixed up, I thought, but for sure the Arabs do pay a lot for their hunting eagles.
I closely watched every arriving and departing vehicle as we talked. I got up to pay for the tea. I was beginning to enjoy more and more Shah Hussain's nervousness at my relating to local people.
We climbed into the seats, behind the driver, of a Datsun headed to Nawagai. Two Afghans squeezed into the remaining room on the seats next to us. One was wearing a turban and had black piercing eyes and a dark blue-black beard. He exchanged a few words of greeting with Shah Hussain. Then he focused his attention on me.
"Where have you been, Noor Mohammad?" he said, smiling. "I haven't seen you in a long time. Did you go to America?"
Shah Hussain and I looked at each other. It's hard for you to go anywhere undetected, his eyes told me. I wasn't quite sure where I knew the fellow from.
"Have you seen Moleem lately?" he asked. Then I realized I knew him from my friend's shop in Peshawar. "Has Haji Sahib come back from Afghanistan yet?"
"I saw Moleem last week. Haji Sahib has come back from Ghazni just recently." I answered.
We made some more small talk, but nobody paid me any attention, assuming I must be an Afghan businessman who had been in America. We topped the Nahakki Pass, and sped down into the lunar landscaped bowl of Mohmand Agency. My blood always stirs at the sight of those arid and forsaken mountains. Especially around Momad Ghat. I craned my neck to see if I could see a familiar face in the forms milling around the junction. I couldn't even see a florist.
My Afghan friend asked the driver to stop as he was headed to Afghanistan. Shah Hussain and I also got out. My friend asked me if I were going to Afghanistan.
"No, I have some friends down the road I want to see." I told him.
Shah Hussain and I began walking down the road leading toward the pointed craggy mountains leading into the Nawa Pass. We came to the dirt road turnoff leading to Bombuna Mama's fort. Only I barely recognized it. The wood cutter's hut had been moved several furlongs down the road towards Afghanistan. All that remained of it was the stones that had composed it's base.
And the big imposing fort that had scared us from going past it last time was gone. No, it wasn't actually gone, it was in ruins. It's crumbling mud walls remained standing in places. What had happened? Had a family feud gotten the better of it? We weren't in the kind of place to ask, and besides, there was nobody to ask, anyway. We could only surmise. We remained on the road, walking past the wood cutter's hut, until we came to the small village of village Shaqak, at the feet of the mountains of Afghanistan.
"If we are going to keep walking, let us at least go back and walk on the dirt road to Bombuna's." I told Shah Hussain. "In fact, we can just cut across from here."
"What about not leaving the metaled road?" Shah Hussain asked, smiling.
"What about not going to Bajaur?" I returned. "I fuck the kus of their metaled road!"
"That is a very beautiful use of that expression." Shah Hussain laughed.
"Yeah, I know. I got it from your refined cousin Habibullah. He is a master craftsman with words."
We came onto the dirt road, from behind the ruined fort. It was hard to believe all that remained were a few crumbled mud walls.
"I once had a friend in Kabul named Sharif." I reminisced aloud to Shah Hussain. "He was a sharabi, and a philosopher. One time when he was drunk on wine he looked at me, holding a burning match, and said, 'Noor Mohammad, human existence is like a burning match. One day there is fire, and then phoof,' he said, blowing out the match, 'it's gone'."
Five miles down the road we came to a fork in the gravel rutted road. There was an old mud caked mangay off to the side of the road with a tin bowl covering the top. I tipped some water into the bowl and drank.
"How is it?" Shah Hussain asked.
"Muddy, but its cold and refreshing. Have a drink."
"You really drank it?" he asked in partial disbelief.
"Sure, what is the problem? Do you want me to boil it for you? Come on, drink man. The mud of the mountains of Afghanistan adds the flavor to it."
After he had drunk, he gazed where the track we were following divided into two, and asked me,
"Do you remember which way you went when you were with them?"
I thought a moment.
"I don't remember the road dividing. But I think it is the track to the right. I am only judging by the position of the mountains. It is only a guess."
After we followed the track I had chosen for several more miles, it seemed to be heading too much to the north, and back around into the far mountains.
"Shit!" I told Shah Hussain, emphasizing the word trying to implement his study of American slang. "We must have taken the wrong turn. We're heading around the backside of the mountain. Their fort was back there." I said, pointing back and to the south.
"Let's continue on." he said. "We've already come this far, and besides, we may be able to approach their fort from the backside."
"Okay." I agreed reluctantly. We had gone rather far to turn back, and it did seem possible we would be able to double back around the mountain. "Anyway I know, it is your Pathan way to come from the back side."
"Fuck your backside."
"I know your nasty Pathan ways, toba. That's what I was afraid of."
As we walked a woman approached us along the trail. Her chadder was over her hair but her face was uncovered. Being completely veiled is a luxury for city women. As she passed us she said stary mashi
"Ah, this Tribal Territory is very nice. Even the women greet you.
The piled gray granite rocks of the mountain came down and ended in the brown dirt at our feet. Up the backside of the mountain we could see several tattered green and orange flags, on gnarled twisted poles, fluttering in the dry wind in the distance.
"It looks like a zirarat up ahead." Shah Hussain said.
"Or a Mohmand used car lot."
"Let's go up to it." he continued. "Maybe there is some malang there. I am a Mohmand. This is my land. I will ask him to give us lunch."
"That sounds okay to me. At least we can ask where this track leads. I'm not in the mood to visit Afghanistan today."
As we wound the rocky trail the jagged stone walls of the zirarat came into sight, growing inch by inch out of the chaotically strewn rugged rocks of the mountainside. Squatting on a rock in front of it was a malang, in a long gown of many colored dirty patches, his matted hair blowing in the wind. He wore necklaces of large agate beads and many rings with equally large stones. He spit out his nuswar, looked at us with bloodshot eyes, and stood.
"Salaam aliekum." he said, raising his hand, holding a tasbee of square cut white agate beads.
"Waleikum asalaam." I answered.
"Where are you from?" Shah Hussain asked him.
"Only Allah knows." he answered.
"How long have you been here?" Shah Hussain asked.
"That also is known by Allah." he said. "And where are you going?"
"That also must be known by Allah." I echoed his words. "Can we rest here for a while?"
"How long will you stay?" he asked.
I thought it rather impolite.
"Allah will decide." I answered. "All things are written."
We followed him inside the piled stone walls of the zirarat. The rocks shielded us from the wind. He gathered a handful of dry twisted sticks. In a corner he kindled a small fire and without speaking began to brew tea in a charcoal blackened and dented aluminum tea pot.
"There is nothing in these mountains." he said, as he squatted in the smoke of the fire. "As we know Allah guides our steps, I know you wander in these empty deserted mountains after some enemies. It is the way of Pathans. Is it not?"
"Is it?" I asked, I myself not knowing what I was doing there. "Do you know what God knows not, brother?"
"This I do know." he continued. "If you will listen to my words?"
"Forgiveness is a necessary part of life. A part of growing. A part of living. If we do not forgive others for the wrongs and hurts they have done us, then our pain turns to hate. And just as love is life, so hate is a kind of death. If we hate, a part of us dies. With part of us dead, we cannot grow properly. We grow crookedly, misshapen by hate. Just as these sticks I am burning. We can burn in that fire of hate. So we must learn to ask others to forgive us, and we must learn to forgive others."
"But just as the fire must make the water boil in order to make tea, must we not right a wrong. Must we not cleanse our shame with the soap of revenge? And revenge is permitted in the Quran Sharif, is it not?"
"Yes, revenge is permitted for believers. But the Holy Book also says, 'God loves the man who forgives more'. And the Quran Sharif also states in Sura The Bee, 'If you punish, let punishment be proportionate to the wrong that has been done to you. But if you are patient, it is certainly best for the patient'. What is the crime that was done against you?"
"Yes, I realize it does, though sometimes a man wants to forget such wisdoms. When he burns with resentment and his blood boils hot. But I am not out looking for revenge. At least not yet. I am only looking for a friend, who is now an enemy. I am only following where my feet are leading."
"Sometimes when we blindly follow our feet on the trail of an enemy, we find revenge at the end of our trail. And we must take it, or it takes us. He that chooses the devil for his friend chooses an evil friend."
"But I must speak to her one more time." I said more to myself aloud.
"Ah," the malang said. "I should have know there was a woman involved in this. 'Don't be led by passion,' my friend, 'lest you should swerve from the truth.' The Quran Sharif states that in the sura Women. I will say no more my friend, what Allah ordains shall be accomplished."
Unfortunately his words rang true, though they were not the words I wanted, or expected, to find out among those ragged rocks. My dreams shivered like dying reflections in the Kabul River at sunset. Where would I go from here?
My time in Pakistan is so limited now. My visa's time is running out. That I should even be concerned about such mundane things shows that I must be returning from insanity. What a sweet, carefree garden it was.
How can I extend my already over extended visa any more? I can't very well say I need a visa extension because I am waiting for my hooker girlfriend to come out of the mountains of Bajaur and try to kidnap me again. And now the words of that malang keep coming back to me, with their truth and wisdom. And it's the sane who can listen to reason, wisdom, and truth. But what is truth? To the insane, his own truth is truth enough for him. But now I am thinking rationally. Coming so freshly from the freedom of insanity, the slavery of sanity feels so painful at times. The pain of ripping off a bandage. Draw the pain out slowly, or just wrench it off and feel the stinging and the cold air on wound.
Can I do it? What is my choice?
As Shah Hussain and I walked through Shaheen Bazaar, now dark and quiet, toward Kalan Bazaar, I was lost in my own thoughts. He broke the silence,
"Noor Mohammad, my brother, I have one story to tell you before you leave Pakistan."
"Yes, what is that, yar?"
"There was a young Pathan boy. Some enemies killed his father. But he was too small to take the revenge. The enemies left the village. When he grew up he could not find them."
"Well, that is a pretty bad story." I told him.
"But that isn't the end of it." he went on. "You see, his family was very poor, and they only had a little piece of land. But he worked hard, and one day, there was enough money saved for his mother, in case something should happen to him. Then he bought a rifle, and though it was forty years after his fathers murder, he went searching for the enemies."
"Now the story is becoming better."
"Yes. It becomes better. One day he came to the village where the enemies were living. And he waited in their fields. And when they came out to the fields one morning to work, he killed them all. Dead! He had his revenge."
"Ah, now that sounds more like a Pathan story."
"But that still isn't the end of my story, Noor Mohammad. Do you know what happened after he took his revenge?"
"He ran away to Agency?"
"Maybe. But first he went back to his native village. And there, do you know what the people said to him?"
"No. What? Don't go to Bajaur?"
"They asked him why he had acted so hastily. Why he had taken the revenge so soon."
"Ah cha, yar. I get your point."
"Yes, Noor Mohammad. A Pathan can wait a hundred years for his revenge. In these things, the wait does not matter."
We came out into the lights of Kalan Bazaar. Raheel was walking from rickshaw to rickshaw, with my forty kilo overstuffed suitcase still balanced on his head, dickering for one that would take me to the airport for a few rupees less then the others. I glanced at my watch.
"Maybe a Pathan can wait a hundred years for his revenge, but PIA, I think, won't wait an extra minute for me." I said to Shah Hussain.
"Raheel, what are you doing?" I shouted over the din of rickshaw horns and tonga bells. "I don't have anymore time to waste. I will be late for my plane. My people in America will kill me if I don't show up this time."
"I'm sorry boss," Raheel apologized, "This banchod rickshaw wallah wants thirty rupees to go to the airport. I told him not a pesa over twenty will you pay."
I looked in at the rickshaw driver,
"I'll give you twenty-five rupees, to the airport." I said, "Let's go."
"Brother, now is the time of much traffic." he replied, looking at my suitcases and accessing the situation. "Give me thirty rupees."
I thought of how fast I would soon be spending the extra five rupees (20 cents) he wanted.
"Okay. But drive me there quickly."
"Yes, we will arrive very quickly. Insh'Allah. Get in!"
I looked at Shah Hussain as Raheel squeezed my bags into the tiny rickshaw.
"Okay, yar, take care of yourself. And be sure to call me instantly, if Noor Gul, or Nas should call. I am not sure how long I will have to stay in the United States, but it should be less than forty years."
"I sure hope so." he answered. "I will become crazy if I have to wait to much time in your antique house, in this backwards and crazy place. You know the only other good friend I have here is Shah Jan."
"I will be back as soon as I am able." I said. We embraced. I turned to Raheel,
"All right, my little brother. You take care. And say my goodbyes to your respected mother Bibi Ji, your sisters, your wife, and my little girlfriend, Sarrish. And everyone in the neighborhood."
"Okay boss. We will all miss you. And your girlfriend, she will became cried because you are leaved. I will write you all the important news, and will keep you informed. All to all. Not to worry in these matters. Over and out."
"Po ma kha day kha."
"Po ma kha day kha shah."
I crammed into the back seat of the rickshaw, and we sped off, horn buzzing, into the dust of the night. I looked back, out of the rickshaw's door. Shah Hussain and Raheel turned and disappeared into the darkness of Shaheen Bazaar. I glanced one last look at the tower of Ganta Ghar, and prayed it would not be long before I saw it again.
These are a few of the ending chapters of my book "Some Time On the Frontier - A Pakistan Journal" that is being uploaded in the gallery http://www.pbase.com/noorkhan/novel