A short fictional story by Zahra Hussaini
It was a beautiful sunny morning. Though it was summer, you could still see the snow on the top of Baba Mountain. Zahra loved looking at the mountain every morning. She was a tall girl with black eyes, and black hair that sometimes came out of her hijab. Her smile was the first thing people noticed. It was a smile that made people happy.
One of the first things her teacher asked her when she began high school was if she knew what her name meant.
“Yes, sir,” Zahra replied. “It means ‘shining’.”
“Did you know that is also what Bamyan means?”
“Yes, sir. My father told me about it. And, I know that once upon a time, Buddha statues where shining, tucked into the mountain and that the whole city was bright at night because of them.”
“You are a clever girl. I know one day, you will shine like your name and like your city.”
“Thank you, sir. One day, I will make Bamyan proud of me. I am a daughter of Buddha (Dokht e Buddah).”
“What do you want to do?
“I want to write stories,” Zahra said. “Stories of girls in my country. I want to speak for them, but not by shouting. I want to speak in a way that everyone can understand.” She smiled. “I will put them in my poetry and stories. They will be beautiful and strong.”
“Excellent!” her teacher said.
At home that day, Zahra began writing her first story about a girl, who was facing lots of problems. A girl who was beautiful, who was strong and hardworking.
Zahra wanted to write a story about this girl and she wanted to put a poem in her story. She was thinking it must be so beautiful, if a girl is in it.
Zahra asked her teacher for help with her story and he was ready to help her. Zahra was on the way.
She was so excited and happy about what she was writing that she dreamt about her story. She wanted to finish her story as soon as possible and read it to her teacher.
Then one day, on her walk home, she heard a voice.
“You are so beautiful with your almond eyes.”
When Zahra heard those words, she turned around and saw a boy. She was scared and began walking faster and faster. But the boy kept following her.
She told him to go away, to leave her alone. But the boy wouldn’t listen. “I love you,“ he said. “Let’s be friends. No one will know.”
Zahra did not answer. She ran. She ran until she saw some people, then she knew the boy wouldn’t do anything to her in front of them.
The next day the boy came after her again. He was following Zahra and trying to become friends with her, he wanted to touch her. She did not know what to do. Days passed and it continued. The boy was following Zahra every day and everyone in the village knew what the boy was doing. The people of the community were talking and gossiping, among themselves, saying that they knew that this girl must have done something to encourage this boy, something wrong. Otherwise a boy would never follow a girl. She must be a bad girl.
Zahra’s father heard what people were saying and told Zahra that she could not go to school anymore. “You have spoiled our name,” he said. “Why did you become friends with a boy?”
“I have done nothing wrong father. I swear. He is following me every day, no matter what.”
“Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“I thought you would beat him up and then he would make more trouble for me, for us. He has threatened me. He said if I told you what he was doing he would do something bad to me.”
“I have a friend who is a policeman,” Zahra’s father said. “I will ask him to help me.”
Zahra’s father went to his friend’s house and told him the story. The friend listened respectfully then sighed.
“Brother, I have to tell you the reality of the situation. Bamyan is a small town and if you make a complaint, everyone will come to know about it. We are not living in a modern country. No one will say that it is the boy’s fault. All will say that it is Zahra’s fault, that she has done something wrong. I think you should take care of this a different way.”
“What should I do?”
“I think you know what the best plan is.”
Zahra’s father came back home and told Zahra she should not go to school anymore. “There is no any other way,” he said.
“But I can’t quit my education,” Zahra said. “Please. You have to do something and help me.”
“I will call your brothers and we will teach him a lesson,” her father said, reluctantly.
Zahra’s father and brothers went and found the boy. They beat him up.
After that, Zahra went to school happily for a whole month and the boy left her alone. Zahra was happy and she was almost done writing her beautiful story. The story told of the pain of being a girl in Afghanistan. She was writing how there was no way to heal this pain except through education. Her teacher was looking forward to when she would finish the story and share it with the class.
But the story was never finished. At noon one day, Zahra did not come home. Her mother was worried. She went to Zahra’s friends’ homes and asked about Zahra, but no one knew where she was. Her mother knew something bad had happened because Zahra was always home when she was supposed to be.
Everyone went out searching for Zahra. And, then around sunset, they found Zahra’s body near the river. Her face was shining like her name, but she would no longer shine in this world. No one knew who killed Zahra. People assumed that she was killed by the boy. But no proof was there.
And Zahra was not the only one dead. Many Zahras, many women and girls, were dead. All those girls and women in Zahra’s unwritten stories and poems, were dead. Zahra’s death did not change anything in Bamyan, it went on shining like always. Only the spirit of the Buddha collapsed out of shame that he could do nothing for his daughter, and his children could not save Zahra either.
Zahra was dead, but no one understood that the voice of a generation was dead.
About the Author: Zahra Hussaini was born in 1994 in Iran. After the Taliban was defeated she and her family returned to Afghanistan. In 2011 she graduated from high school and in 2012 began studying at Bamyan University. She worked for the Jesuit Refugee Services in 2013 as a teacher and an accountant. She started writing poetry in 2014. Many of her poems were published on the Afghan Women’s Writing Project website. She has just completed her Masters in Social Work in India.