It was November 2007; I was in my second year at Kabul University in the Law Department. In November we have final exams in schools all over the country, and I had a test that day in one of my classes. When I finished, I saw my friend waiting so we could go home together. We left the school grounds and were waiting for the bus to arrive.

Our school had a large entrance gate with two checkpoints at each side, one for females and the other for males. Police were there 24 hours a day. No one could get into the school without an ID or an official letter due to security concerns. It was a cloudy, chilly day. The sky was dull and the atmosphere oppressive. The leaves were changing color and beginning to fall, a reminder that winter was on its way.

Both of us were talking about the exams when suddenly we heard a startling sound and turned toward it. We saw two stopped cars with people shooting at each other. One was a police car and the other held a prisoner who was escaping from jail in his bare feet. He was a gangster related to a large, powerful criminal group, and his cohorts were trying to rescue him from the prison. They were shooting carelessly without thinking of bystanders on the street.

When I saw people killing each other, my hands and legs began shaking. I couldn’t feel my legs anymore. In my shock, I was unable to think or talk. I saw a policeman lying on the road with light-red blood coming from his shoulder. I started to cry, and at the same time I felt bullets passing by my ankles.

Jet-black smoke was coming from somewhere and I could tell something was burning. A stray bullet had set some boxes on fire. I started coughing. Then I heard a voice say: “Move, Emaan, move!” It was my friend. She pulled me toward the school gates. I did not realize what she was doing, but she was screaming: “They are killing everyone. They don’t care who you are!” My brain could not follow what she was saying. I was frozen. Only when my friend shook my hand did I start to move.

In a minute, the university grounds had become a battlefield. More police and gangsters showed up and there was more shooting. My friend pulled me inside the school and immediately all the exit gates closed. No one could get out or in. We stayed in a classroom with our professor until it was safe to go home.

Now, as I narrate this story, I am reliving the moment and feeling the trauma. I have seen many events similar to this, but I never can forget this one. Every time I talk about it, that policeman’s face appears in front of my eyes and I feel guilty for not helping him. His face and eyes were asking for help, a hand to reach his hand, but no one stepped forward; everyone was struggling for their own life.

By Emaan

Photo: Massoud Hossaini/Agence France-Presse