Zhwandun

Zhwandun

Mor had made pulao with whatever little rice she could procure. Baba had licked the plate clean, ignoring the five pairs of hungry eyes glued to his plate. Overcome by disappointment, my younger sisters had run out. But I, the eldest one now, witnessed his horrendous belching. 

I’ve befriended hunger, but today my stomach protests even as I admonish it to stop grumbling. “Have you forgotten? Baba says girls must adjust, learn to suffer!”

With no option left, I grab a spatula and scrape the pan with all my might. My frail hands ache and palms bleed, but I continue scraping until a few morsels crack away from the bottom. The charred residue makes me retch, but I’m desperate. I push the wretched contents down my throat and gulp a glass of water. 

Hot tears roll down my cheeks as I remember Khor’s gentle face. 

“Where’ve you gone?
Leaving me all alone.
I wish you were here,
Not death, but it is fate I fear”

Disparate voices filtering in through the courtyard send a shiver down my spine–an enraged Baba, a wailing Mor. My shoulders stiffen as I lean against the thin walls, hoping to make sense of the commotion. I can’t grasp the words clearly, but a brooding uneasiness grips my heart. 

It is familiar and scary. It reminds me of that cursed day when fate had cackled at our misery. 

Khor had wailed like a possessed woman, plucking her hair, tearing her clothes, banging her head on the walls. But her pleas fell on deaf ears. Her deathly screams, swollen forehead and blood-shot eyes terrorized me for many nights. 

“Parwana!” 

I know I’ve to go before Baba loses temper, but my feet refuse to cooperate. I quickly kneel on the mud floor and pray fervently, hoping for a miracle.

“Parwaaana!” The thin walls quiver under his frightful order. 

The moment I step out, I know… not only my parents, but even my God has failed me. Hunger, poverty, and greed are undefeatable. 

Baba is leering at the thick bundle of cash in his hands. Mor and my siblings are crying in a corner.

This is the price I’ve to pay
After all, a daughter must obey
No point in fighting
It is just history repeating

As I bid a silent farewell to the place that was once my home, I feel happy for my sisters, who won’t go hungry now. Mor may even make kabuli pulao for them, just like the last time when Khor left. But I know their joys are temporary… until one of them is sacrificed again. 

“I’ve lost life’s battle
Sold like cattle
To a man older than my father,
My childhood buried under this chador.
I’m nothing but a bird in a cage
Surprisingly, I feel nothing… not even rage”

I walk away, holding my head high. My sisters will never be terrorized by my screams. But the silenced screams will haunt me forever. 

Only me. 
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Glossary of Afghani words – 
Zhwandun – Life 
Baba – Father
Mor – Mother
Khor – Elder sister
Chador – Full body covering mandated by the Taliban
Kabuli Pulao – Rice dish made with lamb

Author’s note –
This story is inspired by a CNN report on the lives of girls in Afghanistan. According to the report, post-Taliban capture of Afghanistan, the country has slipped into dark times. Poverty-stricken parents are selling their daughters to feed their families. The younger the girl, higher the price. Families get around $3000 plus sheep and goats in exchange for their daughters. 
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