Grieving Mothers Left Behind

Creative Non-Fiction by Emran Poya

It was late at night when he returned home from a heavy-working day. He did not have the patience and energy to wait.

Right from the doorstep, he shouted, “Is my dinner ready?”

“Yes, we all were waiting for you to come; the meal has already gotten cold,” his wife replied. “After changing your clothes, come to me, I want to talk to you.”

Maryam was so excited to surprise her husband with the good news they both had waited for months to hear. Maryam’s husband could not hesitate even a minute to change his work-clothes; he ran to the kitchen with all the cement and plaster on the clothes he brought from his work, two pieces of bread in his hand. He did not expect good news as every day there was a kidnapping, a bomb, explosion, or a killing on the news.

Maryam smiled at her husband. “Ali, guess what?

“What?”

“I am pregnant!” Maryam shouted, tears of happiness in her eyes.

This news drained away all the tiredness in Ali and left him with tears in his own eyes. The tremendous feeling of joy did not let the couple sleep that night; they talked, laughed, and drafted some good plans for the future of their coming child.

From that night onward, Ali worked tirelessly for longer hours and harder to save a bit more money for the day they would welcome their first child. Ali’s mind was full of dreams for his child, even as his colleagues discussed political issues regarding the election results in dispute between two candidates. The uncertainty about the future of the country was rising day by day among the people. But he never paid any attention. He was happy that his dream of becoming a father was coming true.

Days passed and Maryam felt the heaviness in her belly day by day, and the enjoyable movement of her baby kicking filled her with love and compassion about becoming a mother. However, the sudden outbreak COVID-19 made them anxious and swiped their happiness away. Ali’s work was disrupted. There was no employer to come to the cross-roads where Ali waited every morning to take him for day-work. Still, there was hope for the secure birth of their child. The only hope that could cure their fear and anxiety was the presence of Doctors without Borders (MSF) nearby in Dasht-e-Barchi hospital, a poor residential area with over a million inhabitants.

Maryam and her husband, with all other family members, waited nine months to welcome the first child in their family. Not only Maryam’s family but many other families were waiting to welcome their own new-born babies.

Similarly, Rahima, a member of Afghanistan’s army, was pregnant too. Being in an Army in a conservative country like Afghanistan needs great courage. The country’s news is full of sad stories about women’s lives — rapes, violent killings by family members, and harassment on the streets, or even in the office where they work. Even with all these obstacles, Rahima succeeded in being on the frontlines of the Afghan Army. She was brought to the maternity hospital on the same day as Maryam and many other mothers ready to give birth to their first child.

The fathers, grandparents, and all family members were outside the maternity ward, and gazed up at the door, waiting to take new-born babies and mothers home. They were sure and certain of the birth since the MDSF was in the maternity ward of the hospital. Cars and ambulances were carrying women giving birth to the maternity ward, and the numbers were increasing.

Abruptly, gunfire started at the hospital gate, smoke rose, and firing continued. Inside the maternity ward, the room was filled up with the noise of new-born babies and the screams from mothers in pain. In the course of some minutes, the hope and happiness of these families turned into grief. The mothers who were giving birth stopped breathing; new-borns made their first and last noises of their lives and were killed with a harsh bullet. Fourteen people’s lives came to an end. The birds flew from the trees in the hospital. The narrow street of Dasht-e- Barchi filled up with ambulance alarms, police cars, and people sobbing, running without shoes towards the hospital, terrified about what might have happened to their family members.

After hours of gunfire between the national police and the terrorists, all the terrorists were killed. News reports said that some new-born babies, mothers, and doctors were saved by the national army. Sadly, some mothers, including Rahima, along with two-new-born babies, were killed. Later on, after the burying ceremony of Rahima, the family said that there was evidence that showed that even though she had given birth and was in pain, Rahmia still stood up against the terrorists in the maternity ward and fought till the last minutes of her life. Maybe her steady fighting was the reason her child lived. This shows how strong and brave Afghan women can be despite all the hardships they confront in their country.

Ali also took home his injured wife and buried their first child. They buried the baby along with their hopes, happiness, and the plans they made for him.

Still, hope remains. Maybe one day Ali and his wife will be able to have another child. Maybe one day Rahima’s surviving daughter will follow the footsteps of her mother into the Afghan Army. Maybe the child shot in the leg will run faster and farther than anyone else in the country. Maybe all of them will stand up for change in Afghanistan, and open a new chapter for the country.

Note: Names in the story are pseudonyms

About the Author: Emran Poya just completed his MBA in IT from Punjab Technical University, India. He is also a peace and women’s rights activist. He is a member of AIESEC in Chandigarh, and of the Global Youth Peace Forum.