Homayra was born to a poor family and lost her parents when she was four years old. She lived for a time with a relative, but with no parents to care for her, her brother-in-law forced her to marry at a young age. She married Anwar, and bore three children.
Homayra’s husband worked for the Afghan National Amy and often traveled far from home, and Homayra grew silent over the years. Her father-in-law was an old, unkind, and angry person. He often screamed at her: “Do you love my son more than me?”
One cold day, a week after she had last heard from her husband, Homayra became worried and went to her father-in-law. “It has been one week since my husband has called me,” she said. “Now his phone is off. What should I do?”
He was no help and so she decided to go to her own brother. She walked several hours to her brother’s house to ask his advice. He was too poor to help her search for her husband, but he said, “Homayra, wait one more week. He will come back. Don’t worry, my sister.”
Homayra cried every day and night. After two weeks, people at the bazaar started to talk. They said Homayra’s husband had been killed by the Taliban. He was killed wearing his army uniform, riding home on the bus to see his wife.
The bad news had broken—and eventually it reached Homayra’s house. Poor Homayra was shocked. She cried and did not know what to do. Her children cried with her.
Homayra called her brothers and told them the news. Together they searched for her husband, but the people who had been on the bus said, “We saw the Taliban take him.” The passengers said the Taliban soldiers instructed them to tell the man’s family: “The Taliban killed your son. Do not search for him.”
When Homayra‘s father-in-law heard the news he asked people to join him at the mosque to pray. “You do not need to search for my son any longer,” he said. “I know the Taliban killed him.”
Homayra’s husband was dead. The children were young and did not know that their father was gone, yet they no longer had a father to hug them, kiss their dirty faces, and play with them. Homayra cried and cried, but she could not change what had happened.
After three months, Homayra’s father-in-law told her she had only two choices. “First, agree to marry my young son. Or second, leave your children here with us, leave our home, and go to your brother’s house.”
But what mother is willing to leave three small children, the youngest not yet one year old?
Homayra replied to her father-in-law. “I want to go to my brother’s home and talk with him about this matter.”
They let her to go and she said to her brother: “I do not want to marry again, and I do not want to leave my children. What should I do?” She cried, but not only for her husband. She cried also for her children, the youngest just ten months old.
Homayra’s brother said, “You can stay with me.”
But Homayra’s father-in-law grew violent when she returned and told him the plan. He warned her, “I will take your children unless you marry my son.”
Homayra called another of her brothers and said, “Please help me. If they take my children, I will kill myself.”
This brother came to Homayra and helped her run away with her children in the middle of night. The children were afraid in the dark and cold, but Homayra said to them, “Don’t cry, my children. Your uncle will take care of us.”
When Homayra arrived at her brother’s home, she faced new troubles. People looked at them and said, “Your poor brother! How will he take care of these orphans? You should leave your children and get married again.”
But Homayra did not remarry. Her life has been difficult, but she bears the hardship because she refused to marry her father-in-law’s young son. Prwana is now about two years, Mohib is six, and Firoz is four.
Now, when they see their friends with their fathers they come to Homayra and ask, “Mother, where is our father? When will he come back? When will he hug and kiss us? What does he look like? Mother, we miss him.” Some days they talk among themselves: “Our father will come and bring cars for us.”
Some nights they have bad dreams and in their sleep they say, “Please leave our father. Don’t kill him. We need him.” And they cry. Homayra wakes and sits with them all night. She says, “Don’t cry my children. Your father will come and bring chocolate for you. He will bring new clothes….” But the children still cry and say, “You are lying. You always say this, but where is our father? When will he come back?”
These questions linger without an answer. Homayra, like so many widowed women in Afghanistan, can deceive her children, but not herself.
Photo by Martien Van Asseldonk