The Writer's Cramp contest entry for 12-27-2018.
|The Taliban soldier stood still on the highway listening. His brown dusty tunic, which usually hung to his knees, flapped in the breeze. It made it hard to hear, and he needed to hear. Turning his black turbaned head, he hissed for silence from the eleven crying teen-age girls squatting on the roadside. Some cupped their hands over their mouth and nose to stifle their sobs. Some grabbed a portion of their scarf to muffle their faces. All sound from them ceased. Better, he thought, glaring over the disgusting group. These arrogant girls did not know their place. They would get no sympathy from him. Weep all you want. Equal with men? Bah! Thought they could attend school just like boys? His scrawl deepened. For this particular group of she-devils, school's out for ever. Eyes to the sky, then to the distant horizon where the highway dropped out of sight, he scanned for an enemy. The drones were the worst. You could hear the military vehicles coming, but not the drones. The soldier scanned the sky again feeling sure he was in someone’s cross-hairs. He kept his vigil on the village as well. With heightened concern, he noted the rest of his raiding party was flushing the huts of children, old men and women. Where were the younger men? The intense afternoon sun defined the creases around the Taliban soldier’s squinting eyes and unkempt black beard. This same sun made their current raid on the girl's school usually risky. Normally they would perform their raids hidden by the night. But to capture these perpetrators of an abomination, their raid had to be executed during the hours when the school was in session. And the school needed daylight. Something was wrong. Still his companions flushed out no village men. The Taliban soldier saw a glint from the village. His rifle snapped to this shoulder and he fired off a round. The girls screamed and dove from their squat positions to lie flat upon arid, pebbled ground. A hole appeared in the Taliban soldier’s forehead followed by a series of rapid shots from a dozen hidden rifles knocking down several more Taliban fighters.
"Setara, you look a million miles away," whispered Yasir squeezing her hand. Amusement lit up his eyes. Setara smiled back. Her memory of that terrible day, all those years ago, faded. She had been one of those Afghani girls quaking in terror. Now, because of her Yasir’s courage, she could lay her other hand upon his, her rescuer and husband’s, hand with affection. Well, she conceded, he did have helpers. All the village men came bravely to its defense that day. Yasir’s shot, however, rang out first.
“Education is important,” Yasir insisted in the early days of their romance. He encouraged her to continue her education - even after they married. Today she thought, due to Yasir’s support, I’m a nurse in Afghanistan. Well, actually, today she is a tourist traveling on an air conditioned tour bus sight-seeing in Uzbekistan. Currently, they were touring an ancient beautifully decorated Muslim school which held classes down through the centuries.
Setara caught a movement. Beckoning quietly, the tour guide ushered their group out an arched doorway and back onto the bus. Things have changed since the defeat of the Taliban, Setara thought. Opportunities increase each year. Setara idly gazed from her bus window. She could see the sunlight illuminating a student in the school library. The student was a girl. Setara smiled to herself. At that moment the teen-age Uzbek girl raised her scarfed head from her book. She saw Setara smiling. She smiled back. Driving forward, the engine noise and dust rolled in the school’s open window. And the bus and the tourists are gone.