When I was in fifth grade my dad rented a house with a big dusty yard and a cement sidewalk in Kabul. The yard looked like a desert. My dad could not pay all the rent, so he found a neighbor to share it with us.
It was a Friday so I had no school. It was still morning when the old woman we shared with came out of her room and fell off the concrete porch. I went to help her get up. It was hard for her to walk. We called her Khala, or aunt. She looked like she was in her eighties, but she was much younger. Her husband looked about fifty and she was his second wife. She had been his bride before her fifteenth birthday. She must have been an ideal woman when she was young—tall, pretty, and one who could cook—a perfect woman.
But now, while helping her get up from the ground, I could feel only skin and bones. She told me once how her youth disappeared in her thirties because she had cried every day. It was ten o’clock in the morning and I sat beside her there on the front cement porch. Her hands shook. She finished peeling all the potatoes and she started to cook.
Her son, he was around twenty-five, passed us and went to their room. I was talking to her while she was cooking, and then the husband came. As soon as I saw him coming I went to my room. I never wanted to see him.
I remembered how I was sweeping the yard one day and he came to help me. I gave him the broom, but he said how we both are going to sweep the floor. He bent over me while taking the broom’s handle and I am still disgusted with the smell of his breath. When he opened his mouth his smell would travel around the room; his teeth were yellow and black. He burned tobacco and put the ashes in his mouth. The smell was of rotten meat and rotten mixed fruit. He kissed me on the cheeks and started rubbing his hairy face on mine. I let the broom go and ran to the house.
I hated him, but if anyone asked me the reason I said I had none. I did not know that what he did was wrong. If I complained, I might have said, “He kissed me.” And the answer would have been, “Everybody kisses you, it is a sign of showing love for kids.”
I hated his smile so I went to my room without looking at him. He did not see his wife cooking. Fifteen minutes later, from the window of my room, a hand gesture by the man caught my attention. He seemed to yell at his son and eventually he took off his belt and beat the boy. The next time he raised his belt, it hit the glass window and the window shattered. Only then the wife lifted her head and saw her son being beaten. If the son wanted, he could easily grab the belt and beat his father to death. But he only beat his dad when he saw his dad beating his mom.
His mom was beaten every day. Occasionally the son would come while the father was beating her and beat the father so the father could not get out of bed or go to work for a week. But if the father was beating him, the son would let him. The mother never told her son when she was beaten. This time she took a while to stand, then went inside and yelled at the husband. Her husband pushed her, and the woman was on the ground.
She slowly stood up, took a big glass jar, and landed it directly on her husband’s head. Suddenly the man collapsed in a flood of blood. The son left without eating the food. The woman started cleaning up the jar and cleaned the blood off the floor. She took her time cleaning up everything while her husband lay there unconscious. When she finished, she took a cloth, cleaned off the blood, looked for pieces of glass, and then wrapped the cloth around his head. He lay on the floor until he got up himself.
I woke up at seven the next day and on my way to school, I saw the man. His head was covered with cloth and he looked at me with the smile I hated.
We lived with that family for a year in Kabul. It was almost ten years ago. I still don’t why I hated him so much. Was it because he would not miss an opportunity to touch me or beat his wife? No, because I never knew what he was doing was wrong. I thought he loved me, like my father did. But I felt that something was not right.
Photo from ActionAid International.