A Bird Was Not Created For A Cage

A fictional short story by Hakima

It was a beautiful morning when Jan Begum woke up.

She whispered to herself, “I hope today is a good day.” She repeated her wish three times believing that her day would end happily. It was like a prayer she said every morning.

Jan Begum walked out of her house, she looked at the sky, fresh and dark blue. She could see some of the stars, twinkling just like her own eyes. The air was fresh. The chilly autumn breeze rustled the colorful leaves. She took a deep breath and went to collect the eggs from the barn to cook for her family.

Just like other girls, Jan Begum had to do all the household chores. Every morning she woke up early before the others and readied the breakfast by the time the sun rose. As she was collecting the eggs, she sang to herself happily and twirled from one nest to the other. She would not do this if her father or brother or any other men were present, but this morning no one was so Jan Begum used this chance and made her own happy kingdom by singing and twirling.

But then her father walked out of the house and saw her. He stomped angrily to the barn. When Jan Begum turned around she saw her fathers’ angry face.

“You stupid girl,” he said. “Who gave you the permission to sing, huh? The next time I see you do this you will regret it. Go, before I decide to punish you now.”

Her father was always angry it seemed. He had dark eyebrows, short eyelashes, a long beard and he was big and strong. He thought of himself as the most unlucky person on earth to have a daughter. From the day Jan Begum was born he never smiled and never laughed. Jan Begum was taught to praise men from an early age. She was hated. Not wanted. She was known as the dumb one of the house, someone who was extra in the world. But Jan Begum was a positive thinker and she had created her own magical kingdom. She believed in magic and she knew that she would someday be a sorcerer. Of course everyone thought she was stupid and crazy. They didn’t know she was the queen of her own little magical kingdom.

Life went on as normal with Jan Begum making her own happiness, until one evening an unpleasant thing happened. She was in the house, the chores were done and she was imagining herself learning magic. There was a knock on the door. She went to open it quickly, expecting only her father. But he had brought guests that Jan Begum had never seen before. Her father angrily stomped into the house as usual. Behind him were three other men. One of them looked like he was 60 years old. He had nice Afghan clothes. The two others were a bit taller. They had brown Afghan clothes. They all seemed rich.

Jan Begum hurried to bring tea. When it was ready she asked her brother to take it to the guests but he was too lazy so she took it. But when she got to the door she stopped. She heard her father and the others talking about someone’s marriage. She would have not cared about it as she was not the kind of girl who would care about marriage and fashion, but they were talking about the bride price. She was suddenly frightened. She knew it was her marriage they were talking about and she knew they would expect her to marry, the old man. Her life was ruined.

One Month Later.

The village was decorated with flowers and everyone was happy except Jan Begum. She was at home and the village women were gathered around her helping her with her clothes. Jan Begum’s magical, colorful kingdom was darkened. She felt like she was not the princess anymore, her dress was beautiful but she thought of herself as a maid. She no longer smiled. She did not care what the women said. All she cared about was what would happen to her. She was only thirteen years old. Finally, the time came when she had to go and face her future husband and listen to the clergy-man say fancy words that no one could understand. Jan Begum’s face was covered with a long green veil. She could neither see anything, nor could the people see her face. After the clergy-man finished, they were married. No parties, no singing and no dancing, of course, because her father was poor. In one heart-beat she found herself in her husband’s house. The house was dark, creepy and old. Spider webs surrounded it. She had not expected that kind of house but she knew that she had to stay there for her entire life whether she wanted to or not. As soon as she stepped into the house, three girls, older than her and an old woman came to greet her. At least that is what she thought they meant to do. The three crazy girls ran to her. One grabbed her veil off her head, the other snatched her necklace from her neck and the third tore her beautiful dress.

“Easy girls, easy,” the old woman said. “Lets’ meet our new bride, shall we?” She turned to Jan Begum. “Now what do we call you?”

Jan Begum was afraid, but did her best to calm the shake in her voice.

“M-m-my name i-is Sh-shah Beg-gum.”

They all laughed at the fright in her heart that made the girls want to pick on her even more.

“Well, you look pretty straight, let’s get you in a better shape,” one of the girls said and pushed Jan Begum.

She fell face first to the ground. They all laughed while she struggled to stand up.

The mother said, “Understand young lady, in this house, you will respect the family, and never look me in the eyes when you speak. Keep your head down. Like a servant.”

They laughed again. One of the sisters said, “Would you like to know your schedule, young lady?”

“Yes,” Jan Begum said, this time keeping her face down.

“You must wake up early in the morning, sweep the yard, ready warm water for us to wash our faces, make-up our beds, clean the house, the bathroom, and the little cottage where you are supposed to sleep. We want all the household chores done before breakfast. After breakfast wash the dishes and prepare lunch. Take your own lunch with you and go into the forest and gather sticks till 6 p.m. Come home and prepare the dinner. Make dough and bake bread. We do not want cold bread ever. Eat your dinner, but not with us, then wash the dishes. After that, wash the clothes, and then sleep. Understand?”

“Yes,” said Jan Begum looking down.

They all left. Jan Begum leaned against the wall and slid to the ground. Tears dropped down her soft cheeks.

She raised her head up and said, “Please help me great one. I cannot do this alone.”

Jan Begum looked down at her dress that was torn and worn out. She went to the little cottage that was to be her home. It was dark, with mice scurrying and cats growling nearby. Jan Begum drilled a hole in one wall to let the light enter, then she changed her clothes and began working.

When she had finished cleaning the house, she noticed white foot prints. She followed them to the bags of flour.

She couldn’t understand what had happened. She had just cleaned that area. Then she heard giggling from outside.

The three sisters were laughing.

“Now she will be late in everything and when her husband comes, he will get angry,” one said.

“Yes, and he will probably gift her a nice black spot on the eye,” another said.

This amused them so much that they all lay on the ground shrieking with laughter.

Jan Begum quickly cleaned the place and as they had predicted, she was late at everything, and when her husband came home, the meal was not ready yet. He was so angry that he grabbed the stick beside him and started beating her.

After many weeks of living there, Jan Begum no longer had soft skin. The beatings left scars on her whole body, but not her face, because the villagers would see those. Each evening when everyone was asleep, Jan Begum climbed to the roof-top and looked at the shining stars. She thought of her old days, and her present days. She had to do all the chores as she had done at home but her work was never good enough and her husband was even angrier than her father had been. Tears ran down her cheeks. She just sat there the whole night and cried. In her mind, no longer did a kingdom exist. No princess. No queen. No nothing. But she still believed in magic. Morning came, Jan Begum went to the river to get water. She was stooped over because of the beatings. She saw her mother. Jan Begum looked into her mother’s eyes, and a tear dropped. Her mother could see the scars on her daughter’s hands and a tear slid down her cheek as well, but she didn’t say a word. Jan Begum hurried home.

When Jan Begum was completely out of sight, her mother put her jug down and let out her cries. She cried and screamed, but it was no use. They had already sacrificed their daughter for money. No one had realized her value but now that she was gone. The house felt empty and everyone wished they had Jan Begum with them still, but now it was too late.

Jan Begum tolerated everything for many years but when she turned eighteen she decided that she couldn’t stand it any longer. She decided that she could take care of herself. She would change everything.

On a clear night, the stars shined brightly in the darkness. Jan Begum packed some of her things to run away. Before she left, she looked at the house and felt sorry for the girls and the mother and the husband. She had given them a great gift in the years she had been there. The house was now neat and tidy and always looked nice. Jan Begum lit a lamp and ran away into the forest. She walked until she reached a good soft place and rested. She used her bag as a pillow and for the first time in many years slept quietly and comfortably.

She woke up early the next morning. The air was fresh and as the chilly wind passed through the trees and a couple of leaves fell on her soft, long hair. Jan Begum took a fresh breath and felt as if her own kingdom had awakened. She was the princess again. Everyone was alive and she was, somehow, happy. She picked her bag and the lamp and went off to explore more.

As she was walking by the nearby river, she saw colorful fish that splashed water on her face when they jumped. She laughed as much as she wanted. There was no one to judge her or stop her now. Lunch time was near, Jan Begum looked at the trees and saw fruit. She climbed up and ate as much as she could and it was the most delicious lunch she ever had. The next thing she did was to gather sticks and wood to make a shelter until she could be sure the forest was a safe place to live.

Meanwhile, back in the village, when the lazy sisters woke up, they found no warm water and no breakfast ready. They shouted and walked fast to the little cottage where Jan Begum should have been.

“You little brat, where are you?! Wake up lazy girl!” they shouted.

But when they reached the cottage they found it empty. The girls just stood their frozen. They soon learned that Jan Begum had passed through the village that day while it was still dark. Some women who were up early saw her but they pretended they thought she was doing her morning chores and didn’t know in what direction she had gone. They knew she had been mistreated and hoped she would be free. The sisters didn’t laugh at all.

Life continued happily for Jan Begum for several weeks until one morning when she awoke to the sound of men talking to one another nearby. She quickly hid under a tree and saw that the men were her husband, her brother and her father. Jan Begum stayed very still, barely breathing, while they searched for her. Eventually, they lost hope and returned to the village.

But having them so close scared Jan Begum. She took food and she left the forest and went to the desert. Life in the desert did not go well. During the day the weather was burning hot, but at night it was freezing. Jan Begum wandered for many nights and days. One day was particularly bad when the winds came up and there was a sandstorm and Jan Begum couldn’t see far in front of her. She wandered for hours until she came to an old house. It was made of stone, sticks and mud. She was very tired and hungry and the sands still swirled around her. She opened the door and fell onto the ground.

Later, when she opened her eyes, she found herself in a cool bed. It was made up with crisp white linens. She looked up the ceiling and saw weird plants hanging. When she turned around, she saw an old woman sewing a colorful robe. Jan Begum stood up and found she was wearing a comfortable dress. it was also white.

“Well, well, how you are feeling my girl?” the old woman asked.

Jan Begum was surprised to be called “my girl.”

“Much better now,” Jan Begum said. “Thank you very much for the dress, but I must go.”

The old woman laughed. “Well you can’t leave now, it is night and the weather is freezing you should at least wait till tomorrow,”

Jan Begum did not believe that she could have possibly slept that long but when she looked out the window she saw that the old woman was right.

Jan Begum said, “Okay. Thank you very much. I hope I am not distracting you while I am here.”

The old lady smiled and said that it was alright and that she had been alone for years and always wanted a friend to be with even for a day or an hour.

Jan Begum enjoyed her life there for a couple of weeks. The sandstorm had gotten worse and it was always a good excuse for Jan Begum to stay. The weird thing about the lady was that she never went out to work but still, her meals were tasty and rich. When the day finally came that the sand storm settled down, Jan Begum, sadly packed her stuff and was ready to go. The old lady was very unhappy too. In nearly one month, Jan Begum had come to respect the old lady better than anyone and the old lady served her with the greatest pleasure.

When Jan Begum was ready to go, the old lady said, “My dear girl, you do not have a specific place to go. You could get eaten in the desert by wolves or you could die wandering around in a sandstorm. I was wondering if you could stay with me? I have no daughter and you have no family.”

Jan Begum liked this idea and she agreed. Months passed, then years, and Jan Begum forgot all about her town, and its people, she enjoyed her new life and respected the old woman better than her husband, better than her husband’s sisters and mother and a little better than her own mother.

But her life did not go on like that. As usual, something happened that changed everything. One day, Jan Begum was lying down on her soft, white bed. The old woman was moving from one corner to the other looking for something, Jan Begum volunteered to help but the old woman refused and finally she grabbed something and went outside. Jan Begum’s curiosity did not let her alone and forced her to go and search the corner of the room. While she was looking there, she saw a small dim light coming from below. She thought it must be the entrance to a basement. Jan Begum pulled aside the rug but under that she saw nothing but the cement floor. However, there was what looked like a fourth of a marble and she touched it gently. She picked it up and looked into it and saw a tiny world. She saw creatures, trees, mountains but that world seemed different than her world. It was a beautiful world. Jan Begum took the marble and walked to her white bed and sat there looking at it. Maybe the old woman was looking for that piece of a marble, but why? And why was it only a quarter of a marble? Where were the other parts?

Soon the old lady returned. As soon as she saw the marble in Jan Begum’s hands she jumped up and down and happily clapped her hands. She ran and took the marble from Jan Begum’s hand.

“Where did you find this marble, my girl?”

“It was beside the old rug in the corner. What is going on? Why are you so happy?”

The old woman tried to get away without answering her questions but Jan Begum did not give up. The old woman sighed and sat beside her, on the bed and started the story.

“I was born in a peaceful family, in a peaceful city and in a peaceful country. To the others everything was going well and they accepted their lives and everything, but I did not. The problem I had was with the way the people behaved toward women and the way women were treated in the society. The other women and girls seemed to accept everything. They never talked out loud; they never spoke for themselves and on and on. But I was concerned about their future and about my own future. Whenever I spoke about their rights, they would turn their backs on me and tell me that I wanted to cause disagreements among families. One day, my mother’s friends came to our home and they talked about the violence the men did, but none talked about how to stop that. I could not tolerate any more so I went to them and told them that instead of talking about their problem, they should talk about a solution. My mother got mad. She beat me and kicked me out of the house that night. I convinced myself to forget them and from that day on they were dead to me. Unlike others, I believed in magic. I left home and traveled through deserts and jungles and forests until I ran into an old man. He was different looking with a white beard and only a few strings of hair. He took me into his home and I decided to live with him. I respected him as a father and he respected me as his daughter. Later on, I discovered that he was a magician. He taught me magic too.

One day, he told me that he wanted to show me something different — something amazing. I believed in him so when he told me to close my eyes, I did as I was told. He recited a spell which was hard to understand. When I opened my eyes, I found myself in a room. It was full of diamonds that were colorful and sparkling. They were beautiful. I found myself beside a marble. The marble was inside a heart-shaped diamond. There was a hole and the marble was placed inside it. When I looked closely I discovered that, strangely, my whole world was inside the marble. I could see my family, my friends and everything. The whole world I lived in was inside a marble. I was so surprised. After that I decided to live in that colorful room. My magic was a wonderful gift. I was alone since the magician had gone back inside the marble.

Life was wonderful for a while but one day the ground shook and a hideous creature appeared. It looked like a man. He was bent over and I couldn’t see his face because of his beard, hair, mustache, eyebrows and eyelashes. The creature or man or whatever it was tried to steal the marble. It was very hard for me to fight against him. I had not mastered my magic skills yet, but he had. And he knew some very good tricks. I kept him from stealing the marble but he broke it during our struggle and it split into four pieces. I found one piece and hid it, but the monster came back and turned the room into ashes. I moved and came into this desert hoping he would not find me. The piece of the marble got lost. I understood that whatever the creature wanted to do was not a good thing so I used my magic skills to try to find all the pieces of the marble, otherwise, the creature would find them before us and turn the little world into ashes, killing innocent people. We must try to stop it.”

Jan Begum’s mind was filled with a thousand questions. The story was so exciting, things she could hardly believe.

“Do not move,” she said. “It’s my turn to ask questions.” She took a deep breath. “But what has happened to the people? Their world is divided into four pieces. What has happened to the people?”

The woman smiled and said, “Do not worry about them. My great teacher, who I told you about, has put a spell on the world to make sure that it is apart only physically, but it will not last long.”

“But how could you not find the piece of marble with your magic?”

“You know, no matter how powerful someone is, his or her power can never work on a rug. The piece you found was under the rug.”

Jan Begum asked a lot of questions on many subjects until she came to this, “Why did you keep me?”

The old woman smiled and said, “When you first entered my home, I was startled. You were tired, hungry and thirsty. You did not have the energy to even stand up. When I put you up on the bed I wondered what kind of girl you might be. I used my magic and saw all the things that you had done, the things you do now and your future. When I saw all the things that had happened to you, I cried and I understood what a harmful and unhappy life you had so that is why I kept you and trained you. After that day whenever I looked in your eyes I would see myself, the way I felt when I was alone, away from my homeland. You had the same experience that I had. I understood that you are a very special and very powerful girl. You are strong. The only thing you lack is support, and that is why I kept you. I understood that you are a different girl. You do not just follow the majority and the tradition. You have your own world; your own imagination. And the thing that really motivated me to keep you was that you believed in magic and that is, of course, not something usual. You were just the right apprentice. You are great, Jan Begum.”

The old woman’s words warmed Jan Begum’s heart. “Well, can we get started now, I mean, practicing? I would really love to become your apprentice!”

So they started from that moment. After one year, Jan Begum became an awesome sorcerer. She and the old woman headed for their future and the future of the whole universe. They searched jungles and forests and deserts, but, unfortunately, they found no clue of the creature or the pieces of the marble.

One night, when they were both tired and it was dark and raining they entered a cave. Jan Begum found some red berries and fish. They cooked the fish and washed the red berries using their magic. The old woman was tired and fell asleep, but Jan Begum, as usual, did not sleep, she wandered around the cave using a lamp to light her way. She found claw marks. Each mark had different colors and each pointed to a different point. Jan Begum came to one that was much different than the others. It had patterns on it. She followed it till the end and at the end she saw the picture of a treasure. She knocked on the rock and was amazed that it had a hollow sound. She used her magic and removed the rocks and under its she found a stone box with a keyhole. It was impossible to open. She did every spell she could think of to open it, but it was impossible.

Suddenly a bear appeared, growling and threatening Jan Begum. She put a spell on the bear to slow it down, grabbed up the stone box and ran to wake the old woman. They escaped into the jungle and ran until they reached a river where they stopped to catch their breath. Jan Begum took the stone box out of her bag and showed it to the old woman. She tried to open it too but none of her magic worked either.

Jan Begum examined it more closely but could find no clue for how to open it without the key. They decided to keep going but they did not know where, so they just guessed a direction and went that way. They reached an ocean just as the sun was about to go down and rested there. Jan Begum sat on a rock and put the stone box beside her. She took one last look. The sun shining on the box illuminated a clue. Etched into the stone was a treasure map. Jan Begum quickly copied the map onto a leaf using her magic. Then she and the old woman started to follow the treasure map. The first thing they had to find was a tree with a special mark on it. To find it they had to go to a forest nearby. After many days and nights they found the forest and located the tree. The tree pointed to another direction but the treasure map pointed the opposite way. It made no sense. Jan Begum knew that they could not find anything this way even if they searched for a hundred years. They had to split up and that is what they did.

Jan Begum set off alone. She traveled and traveled until she came to a village. Jan Begum was tired so she went inside a house and asked them if they could give her a cup of water. Jan Begum rested near the shade of a wall. A little girl brought the water. It was fresh and cold, and drinking it cooled Jan Begum and made her feel better. After a short nap, she woke up and decided to look at the village and find out what kind of people lived there. She saw children playing, and men walking around and sitting in groups, but no women or girls older than 6 years old. This was not surprising. Jan Begum knew exactly why. She saw the men looking at her angrily and harshly. Before they could do anything Jan Begum rushed into a home — although they were not exactly homes. They were tents made from straw. Inside, was a woman, a fourteen-year-old girl and an old woman. They were busy sewing a robe. Jan Begum sat down beside them and asked if she could rest there for a few days. She told them about her journey and they must have understood her because they gave her permission to stay. When it got dark the men came home. After dinner, when the dishes were washed, the women slept outside in the dark and weather, while the men slept inside where they were safe.

Jan Begum did not like this, but she did not do or say anything. When everyone was asleep Jan Begum looked at the sky the same twinkling star she would see at night when she was with her parents. The night sky reminded her of the old days when everything was alright and normal. Seeing the stars prompted her whole life to flash in front of her eyes. After that she thought that she had a responsibility to make things right for every woman and girl. The first place she would start would be the village she was living in currently. Jan Begum had not closed her eyes yet when the roosters began to crow. The women got up and made the breakfast and readied everything. Then, the men woke up. They did not even bother to make up their beds or go outside to wash their faces.

The women started to go inside to take care of the beds but Jan Begum did not let them.

“This is not a woman’s duty. Whoever slept on these beds must make them.”

The men of course did not like this.

One said, “Shut up new girl, or else…”

“Or else what? Beat me? Take the sticks and wood and break it into pieces on me? Is this what you can do? Beat someone who is weaker than yourself?”

One of the men, perhaps the father of the family, stood up. He was a large man. Seeing him reminded Jan Begum of her own father.

“Time for some beating,” he said.

The women of course were too afraid and too weak to defend themselves, but they begged the father of the family to let Jan Begum go and not beat her,

One of the women whispered into her ear, “Quick get out! It is not good to be arguing with him.”

“No. It is perfect to argue with someone who forgets about the rights of others.”

By now the whole village had gathered beside the door of the tent.

Jan Begum said, “Why is it always that men are better than women? Why is it that the men eat and rest and have fun and enjoy life but the women always work for the men? Cook for the men? The life of women is like being in prison. Why is it that women can’t go outside? Work outside? Explore and at least get fresh air? Why is it that women are treated like servants? Why is it that no women or girls have the right to decide for herself?”

Jan Begum paced around and gestured with her hands. She was not afraid to look the men in their eyes. “I tolerated years and years inside a prison, working for cruel people and never having the right to decide for myself. Well, that is enough. No more of this kind of treatment! I could not shape my life the way I wanted, but I must, and will, change the lives of hundreds and millions of baby girls.

Let me tell you all the lifecycle of a girl. When a girl is born she is convinced that she is unwanted and that she is a garbage. When she reaches the age of twelve or thirteen she is forced into an unwanted marriage. By the age of fifteen or sixteen she has had three babies. By the age of twenty she is taking care of them as a young mother and by the age of twenty-five she will want to die because she is so miserable. This is how a woman is supposed to live; living, eating, cooking, and cleaning for others. if you ask women about their lives, I am sure that most will not be happy and they will prefer death rather than this sort of life.

However, a man lives quite differently. When a boy is born he is respected and praised by his sisters. He is considered higher than his sisters. He is considered the owner of his sisters and whatever he orders his sisters must do. This way he can stay in the house as long as he wants. He will stay home till he turns 60 and then he will marry a 12 or13-year-old girl and ruin her life. Is this the way God created us? Is this the way God wants us to behave; causing discrimination among each other and separating one from another just by deciding who is stronger? Are we animals? Because it is only animals who need power to live. In the jungle the lion is known as the king of the jungle and that is because a lion is powerful and if we humans decide like animals then we are nothing more than them. But we are humans. We are superior creatures and the only reason for that is that we can think. We can have feelings and understand each other, but if we go on like this then we are no longer humans.”

When Jan Begum finished her speech everyone, even the men, clapped. She was surprised. Jan Begum was so happy she could not believe that what she had said made the people understand how she felt! When she looked at the women’s faces she could see that they were happy, excited and surprised that someone could speak like that in front of the whole village and defend the rights of women. Jan Begum stayed in the village for one more day and then she set off. During that one day she saw the changes that happened because of what she had said. Women and the girls walked in the village anytime they wanted. Of course, not all of them dared to go out, but Jan Begum was sure that one day they would all go outside and work outside. They would feel strange at first when they did something they had never done before.

While Jan Begum was in the village the old woman traveled a long distance until she was too tired to go on. She sat near a tree to rest and thought about Jan Begum. She wondered if she was in danger? Neither the old woman, nor Jan Begum knew that the arrows pointing in two different directions were going to end up on top of a mountain cliff. As the old woman got near the mountain, Jan Begum was not that close, she was far away from the mountain. The old woman reached the mountain top. It was foggy and hard to see who was there, and as the old woman walked slowly she entered a cave shaped like a castle. She walked inside and somehow felt as if she belonged there. A familiar feeling about the place entered the old woman’s heart. She walked slowly and found pieces of diamonds. She looked up and saw the very place her master had brought her when she was young! She climbed onto a ledge and saw the heart and the hole in it. It had not changed except the marble was missing.

Suddenly, the creature rose up from under the ground. “So we meet again. You shouldn’t have tangled with me, old woman. You are a woman and you can do nothing. What a shame, but actually you are not that stupid and foolish. All the arrows and directions were meant only to bring you up here so I could kill you which will give me plenty of time to find the pieces of the marble, complete it and practice my magic on its people. I will make the humans my servant.”

“So you are not a human after all. Well, that is good.”

And their fight began.

Meanwhile, Jan Begum was deep in the forest, lost. She tried hard not to lose her self-confidence, but it was no use. She sat down beside a rock. She was tired and angry. After a short nap, she opened her eyes and saw that a snake had twisted around her leg. She was frightened at first, but she managed to control herself and not move. She waited as long as she could, until she couldn’t tolerate being still. Then she began talking to the snake. She asked questions about anything she wanted to know about animals.

if you or I were there we would have probably fainted or screamed or done something not nice, but Jan Begum was a nice girl and she did not panic. After she was finished speaking the snake looked so innocent and so gentle. He loosened and moved away. Jan Begum did not move. The snake came back then moved away again. Jan Begum realized that the snake meant for her to follow him. Jan Begum did and they finally ended up near a small hole in the ground.

Jan Begum did not notice but they were closer to the castle too, where the old woman and the creature were fighting. The snake slithered inside the hole and after a minute came back with a shining, golden key. Jan Begum was so happy and surprised. She thanked the snake and gifted him with a box filled with gold that she created with her magic.

Jan Begum took the stone box out of her bag and slipped the key into the lock. The box opened and the missing three pieces of the marble were inside. Jan Begum hurried up the mountain and found her way inside the castle. The creature was fighting with the old woman and it was obvious that the creature was stronger. The old woman had been shot by one of the creature’s magic bullets and she was badly injured. Jan Begum hurried to where she was lying.

“What should I do? I will do anything to cure you.”

The old woman moaned. “If you want to cure me then kill that creature.”

Her eyes closed and she laid there ice cold. Jan Begum cried. The old woman was the only one she had in the world. She looked at the creature. The creature just laughed.

“Oh, my god, would you look at this tragic moment!”

His laughter made Jan Begum burn with thoughts of vengeance.

“You killed her!”

Jan Begum stood and got ready to fight. The fight was equal for a few seconds but then the creature made a terrible noise and an army rose from under the ground. Jan Begum knew that she could not fight them all. She stepped back and back. Her magic could not defend her. Her face was bruised. She had scratches and shots in her face, hands and feet. Then one shot hit her head and she fell on the ground.

The army cheered. The creature came near her and said, “I am so sorry young woman. You must face it that women and girls are useless. They can do nothing important.”

Just then a man appeared in front of them. Jan Begum could not see him clearly because of the blood in her eyes. He fought the creature and it allowed Jan Begum time to get up. She did not know that he was the old woman’s master. Jan started fighting too, but the army was strong. Suddenly Jan Begum saw a rug on the floor. She snatched it from the floor and threw it over the creature’s head. He was helpless. Jan Begum tied him up with a magical rope and he was useless for the army. But still the soldiers were stronger. The master and Jan Begum were outnumbered.

But then, the ground began to shake and the whole village women and men, girls and boys had come running with wood and sticks and in no time the soldiers were vanquished.

Jan Begum thanked them all.

“It was the women who motivated us to follow you,” one man said. “We hope this can pay you for making us aware of the truth,”

Jan Begum smiled and thanked them again.

The master said a few words and the old woman stood. When she saw him, she bowed.

“Master, thank you for the help.”

The old man smiled. Jan Begum hugged her tight and said that she was glad that she was with them again. Jan Begum brought the three pieces of the marble and the old woman joined the other one piece she had and the little world was complete.

They were all happy but suddenly the creature escaped his bonds and stole the marble right from Jan Begum’s hand. She screamed and at the same moment the snake appeared and bit the creature who turned instantly to ash. There was silence then everyone cheered.

The marble was placed inside the heart once again and everything ended happily. Everyone returned home, but Jan Begum had something else in mind. She wanted to do something which she had dreamed since the time she had been forced into that unwanted marriage.

Jan Begum returned to the old village where she was born. Everything was just the same, nothing had changed. Jan Begum did not cover her face with a veil as she used to do. She could see some of the children whispering.

“That girl is going to get stoned to death just like the others who tried.”

Jan Begum did not hurry to a house or anywhere. She sat near a tree on the grass and took a deep breath. The men gathered around her, each with a big stone in their hands. Many women would have run away, but Jan Begum was different. Her head was down so no one could see her face.

“What now? You will stone me to death like the others?”

The men laughed harshly and told her to say her last words; they began to hit her, but she put a force field around herself and no matter what they did it was useless. Finally, they got tired and gave up. Jan Begum took down the force field.

“Now we can talk, right?” She raised her face.

Everyone was so surprised.

“It’s her! It is the girl who ran away!” one of them said. “Why did you run away stupid girl? You ran away and spent your time happily, but do you know what we went through. We had no face in front of the other villagers. Now you will pay dearly for every second, stupid girl.”

Jan Begum could not wait to tell them all she wanted to say when she was little and weak but now she had the power to say anything.

“I ran away because of all the problems you all made me face. I ran away because each time I had to do something it was for someone else. I ran away because what you all did to me made me think that I was nothing more than a servant. I ran away because I was forced to marry someone who I did not even know. I ran away because I was sold to people who did not respect me as a human; people who treated me like an animal. I ran away because each time someone forced me to bend down and work it made me think that I had no place in this world. I ran away because each time I was told not to look at someone while speaking it made me think that I was a garbage. I ran away because when I was young the only words I would hear were that I was a garbage. That is why I ran away. Do you know what it feels like to be forced to do something? Do you know how it feels to be weak and underestimated? Not one of you understands that. The question I want to ask you is why are women always considered the weak one, the stupid one, the crazy one? Why can’t a woman be the same as a man? Why can’t a woman say what she wants to say? Why can’t a woman say how she feels about a situation going on in the society?”

They all remained silent.

Jan Begum did not say a word and left the village. She had not gone far when her mother called,

“Jan Begum, my daughter please do not leave. I lost you once and suffered the pain of losing you and I do not want that to happen again. Please come home.”

Jan Begum’s heart was warmed and she smiled. “I will return but on one condition. I want an old friend of mine to live with us too.”

“Of course,” her mother said, smiling. “Anything, if you will stay.”

Jan Begum returned home. Everything was the same as she remembered. Each member of the family came to apologize to her and she forgave them. Her father, however, did not apologize. He looked at the ground and it was clear that he was ashamed of all the things he had thought and said about girls and women, especially about Jan Begum.

Jan Begum went near him and said, “Father, I forgave you years ago. I understood how hard it is not to follow the tradition and the other people, it was not your fault, not at all.”

Her father did not raise his head. He just said, “Thank you.” And life went better than before.

One evening, when all the household chores were done, Jan Begum was practicing her magic when there was a knock on the door. Jan Begum saw the three lazy sisters, the old mother and the man who used to be her husband. Jan Begum made the tea ready within a second with her magic and asked her brother to take it to them. She asked him to let her know what these people wanted. He readily agreed to serve the tea but was in a hurry to get to a business appointment and couldn’t stay. So Jan Begum listened behind the door as they spoke with her father. She heard words like, apologize and mistreatment and understood that they were talking about her and trying to make things right with her family.

Her father called, “Jan Begum, my daughter, come here.”

Jan Begum entered the room and the three lazy sisters ran to her immediately saying that they were sorry for all the mistreatment. Jan Begum forgave them all.

Jan Begum and the old woman turned the city into an amazing city, with buildings and cars and more. Each year they would celebrate women’s day and Jan Begum and the old lady would do magic in front of the others as a gift. The old woman had finally found a family and Jan Begum had found a teacher and they lived happily ever after!

Writing by Afghan writers. Editor/Publisher: Nancy Antle; Editor: Pamela Hart