It is a place of sorrow.
The old man sits on the couch. He is about 65 and Asian in origin. Deep lines of experience map his sun-beaten brown and haggard face. He has thick bushy grey hair – more white than grey and reaching his shoulders. His blue-grey eyes are clouded with age and there are confused tears behind thick pebbled glasses.
The room is wrapped in a thick blanket of dark gloom. The red and black striped curtain covering the window, is drawn aside somewhat, letting some California sun in. But the dull rays of the early evening sun, fail to lift off the gloom.
It looks like a living room – about 15 by 15 feet and having pale walls with a few mediocre monochrome prints, hanging neatly, in square and diagonal layouts. On closer scrutiny, most of the prints are from some mountainous Asian country, most probably the border regions of either Iran or Afghanistan. Tribesmen in baggy clothes with guns held triumphantly across their chests and belts of ammunition hanging from their shoulders; some in groups in front of burnt tanks, some alone. But the eyes of all are marked with a silently burning ferocity.
Two floor lamps, one in each corner of the room, are alight and throwing intersecting circles of light. The door to the kitchen is half open and the counter is visible. The ceiling fan is rotating slowly, throwing shadows across the ceiling.
A large TV cum book cabinet is covering one complete wall. Thick leather bound volumes are lining the shelves neatly, their titles mostly in Persian or Arabic script. The large LCD screen is black and silent. The floor is dark wood, polished and buffed to perfection.
A large cream-colored Persian rug marks the center of the room – beautifully woven in lustrous colors, but right now darkened and caked with blood. There are two bodies on the floor. The bodies are of a young man and a woman, both in their early and late twenties, respectively. The girl lies onto one side with dirty blond hair covering her face. Her wound is not visible but blood soaks the rug under her stomach. She is dressed in a half cut white blouse and faded blue jeans, one foot clad in a long heeled black shoe, the other naked.
The boy is dressed in dark trousers and a blue shirt and lies face down. A white skull cap half covers his head – red with blood. Blood also drenches his shoulder length dark brown hair, a gaping wound visible right above the neck.
Dawood turn his face towards the right and looks at Marjan. She is in her early twenties – a beautiful and delicately-built girl with dark eyes and dark hair. Tall and charming, her face is currently stony and passive. She is wearing long skirt and a sleeveless blouse. She sits with her hands in her lap, tightly grasping each other, and stares straight ahead. A blue black gleaming steel pistol nestles against her thigh. She doesn’t look like a murderer.
There is a small ornamental table besides the sofa – dark mahogany with intricate golden patterns and carrying a few picture frames. Dawood absentmindedly toys with the small picture frames. He picks one at random and looks down. The complete family is there – Dawood, Guljaan, Parizeh and Salman, with a young Marjaan smiling in the middle.
Dawood caresses the image of his long dead wife with his thumb, trying to extract some warmth and reassurance. He looks at Parizeh and Salman, both in their teens and standing on each side of their parents, their eyes full of mischief and fun. Dawood looks at their bodies on the floor, lifeless and ugly in death. Parizeh seems to be sleeping calmly, one hand folded under the cheek, other spread outwards. Salman has both his arms spread outwards like he is diving down from a great height.
Dawood picks up another frame and thinks of a day in the distant past. It was Kabul and the white pomegranate flowers were in full bloom. He was dressed in black and looked handsome in an embroidered black cap. Guljaan looked like a princess in all flowing white. They were happy to be in love with each other and lived in their little house on a hillock on the outskirts of Kabul. Kabul was just a ghost of its former grandeur but still beautiful after the Russians had left. Life seemed like a never-ending fairy story.
Soon after marriage, the young couple was gifted with children. First Salman was born and then Parizeh. Dawood and Guljaan looked at the two smiling angels and prayed to the God in heavens. Their lives were perfect. Then heaven turned into hell and the pomegranate flowers went red with blood. Taliban rose to power in Afghanistan and all hell broke loose.
Dawood was a prime target for the Taliban because of his moderate and liberal views. He did not want religion to further complicate the lives of the poor Afghans. He just wanted love, understanding and tolerance. When the Taliban destroyed the Buddha statues in Bamiyaan, Dawood vent his anger in full force. It was a wrong move and the Taliban acted swiftly. Ten lashes, publicly delivered and Dawood went one step closer to realization. The second blow came when Taliban caught Guljaan walking in the bazaar without pardah. She also publicly received ten lashes. It took twenty lashes for the truth to dawn upon Dawood and Guljaan. Afghanistan was no more a place to live. It was hell. And Kabul had truly become the city of Kane. Taliban had brought religion and expelled God.
It took the last of Dawood’s considerable savings to get him and Guljaan out of the war-torn Afghanistan. They reached a refugee camp in Pakistan and then Dawood used his contacts to immigrate to the USA – the land of dreams and opportunities and a land far away from extremism and intolerance. It was a land where they could finally be free of oppression and enforcement of a violent brand of their once peaceful religion.
Dawood looks down at Salman. His once handsome son is now dead. It is strange how some children grow up to be the exact opposite of their parents. Salman was a pertinent example. He was fine as both a kid and teenager – a lively boy with a healthy interest in girls and sports. But then he fell under the spell of Laiba, a Moroccan girl with extremist tendencies.
Dawood always knew that Laiba was not the kind that married men and made their lives happier. Laiba was deranged and psychologically unstable. She had love in her heart no doubt, but that love was for a God, terrible in his fury and anger. Laiba was not a lover – she was a recruiter. And she recruited Salman.
When Salman joined forces with religion, he lost his happiness and interest in all things worldly. The country which gave him freedom and refuge and opportunities, became a country of heathens. Salman became everything Dawood had ever stood against. When Laiba finally left for Afghanistan, Salman wanted to follow. It took the last ounces of strength in Guljaan to stop him. She was already sick – cancer was wreaking havoc through her body. Seeing his mother in pain, Salman did not leave.
Parizeh was the exact opposite of Salman. She was shy and reserved as a child. But she grew into a fierce and independent girl. She had no interest in religion and specifically its extremist version. She laughed at Salman when he grew a beard and laughed more when he chose to wear a white skull cap at all times. She deliberately brought her male friends home just to infuriate her brother. There were embarrassing incidents. Salman could not control his anger. It was a matter of male Muslim honor for him. He fought Parizeh every step of the way. Their relationship was of black seething hatred.
Marjaan stood at the threshold between her elder siblings. She was independent like Parizeh but lacked her abnormal interest in sensual pleasure. She had an interest in religion like Salman but lacked his passion for extremism. She believed in a religion of peace, love and understanding. She viewed religion as an individual choice and not as an instrument of subjugation. Her approach brought her closer to Dawood. She was the prize child.
Then one day Guljaan died – surprisingly, a silent end to her long suffering. Cancer took her away. But Dawood knew it was not cancer. It was her constant longing for the pomegranate flowers and home, which finally killed her. The household disintegrated. She was the force holding the fabric of sanity together. She exercised a moderating force upon both Salman and Parizeh. She was the bonding agent between the two formidable forces. When she died, the bonding force departed with her and Dawood could only sit and watch while the world that he loved fell victim to chaos and hatred.
Dawood again looks at Marjaan. She has come a long way and is no more the smiling child in the picture. She is a young woman now and her cold impassive face does not betray the calamity of the moment. This was the day when Dawood’s family ended up being a family. Dawood looks at Marjaan and then at the two bodies, trying to make sense of what has happened. He remembers Salman coming home in a fury and confronting Parizeh.
‘You are a complete disgrace to this family. You have brought shame upon us.’ Salman shouts at Parizeh.
‘What have I done now?’ She asks indifferently, while polishing her nails.
‘You……you have done this!’ Salman throws a magazine in front of her.
Parizeh glances at the magazine out of the corner of her eyes but says nothing, her attention focused on her nails.
‘What’s the matter? Why are you fighting with Parizeh?’ Dawood opened up his eyes slowly.
‘Just look at this father.’ Salman picked up the magazine and placed it in Dawood’s lap. ‘Rather don’t look at it. You can’t. Parizeh is naked in there.’
‘I am not naked. I am wearing a swimming costume.’ Parizeh laughed.
‘You look like a shameless whore.’ Salman shouted at her hoarsely. ‘God’s curse be upon you.’
‘God’s curse be upon you.’ Parizeh mimicked her brother. ‘I don’t care about your God and his curses.’
Salman just left the room and Dawood closed his eyes again, praying that the matter ended right there and then. Only a few moments had passed when Parizeh’s screams jolted his eyes open. Parizeh was lying on the carpet, screaming with pain and Salman stood with a cutting knife dripping with blood.
‘Oh God! What have you done? Dawood was unable to get up. He watched helplessly, while Parizeh breathed her last.
‘I have done what you should have done a long time ago. She was a threat to this family’s honor. She was a threat to our religion’s honor and she was a threat to my honour. Today I have removed this threat forever.’ Salman seemed almost possessed by his inner demons.
Dawood watched as Marjaan approached Salman silently with Dawood’s gleaming Colt in her hand. But before he could warn Salman, Marjaan raised the pistol and shot Salman in the neck point blank.
‘What have you done Marjaan? He was your brother.’ Dawood stood up slowly. ‘Salman was mad. He had misconceived notions of his male and religious honor. But why you, my child? Why did you kill him?’
‘I killed him for honor too father.’ Marjaan slowly sat on the sofa and placed the pistol in her lap.
‘Honor? Whose honor?’ Dawood thought he heard her wrong.
‘My own honor father. My honor of being a woman.’