Writer: Mustafa Behin
I was standing on the side of the road waiting for a taxi, the cars were passing in a row and no one cared, sometimes the drivers from a distance gave the signal to get on with no smile. Everyone was going everywhere in a hurry. Meanwhile, a little girl looked at the feet of passers-by and suggested everyone who wore shoes with a smile make their shoes sparkle. She looked at me from a distance and her smile could be seen from afar, and encouragement was obvious in her childish and confident face.
She crossed the street cautiously, I was wearing sneakers, so her eyes fell on my sneakers, she wanted to change her way and look for someone else. I called her; She approached me with special hope and followed me with her searching eyes to get into one of my pockets and get some money. She said:” hello” I wanted to shake her hand, But she did not let me. “My hand is colored, dear uncle,” she said.
Rahela is 13 years old, a girl with brown eyes and sunburned skin, and walks every day from Mahtab Qala to Pul-e-Khoshk looking for bread without any fatigue. She is wise and understands more than her age.
I asked her if she was going to school, and she said, “Ummm! “I went to grade three, and when my father was killed, my older brother and I had to work.”
Her father, who worked as a coal miner in Samangan province and was killed when the mine collapsed. She tells about her father with nostalgia that can only be seen in the eyes of a child. “I do not remember my father well because he came home once in three or four months. I remember that winter had just passed when he came and took me to school and the principal signed me up.”
When she started the third grade, she loses her father, and Rahela’s dream of becoming a teacher was buried with her father. She tells about her 15-year-old brother that like Rahela, has not been able to continue after the sixth grade and now works in one of the restaurants with her father’s uncle. I wait for her to talk about her mother as if she does not like to talk about her and swallow what she can say about her mother.
I have to ask her about her mother, she clears her throat and looks at the can of paint in her hand. “My mother…, my mother can not work. I do not remember exactly when it was but the weather was cold, and my mother wanted to weave the carpet. One day I was not home when I returned my father’s uncle was also at our home, and my mother was lying down and crying. My uncle said that she fell from the ladder when she took the carpet to the roof and her back is broken.”
Her mother has not been able to get up and work since then, and now she can hardly walk enough to carry herself to her backyard. Rahela is a girl who grew up with suffering and her soul is not used to anything better than suffering. I ask her about the last time she was so happy, she starts with enthusiasm.” It was before the regime of the Taliban. One day I was coming from Pul_e_Khoshk, a man who I think was very rich got out of his luxury car; I went to him to waterproof his shoes, but he did not allow me. When I saw his shoes they were very dusty, I told him again, dear uncle, your dusty shoes do not jibe with your luxury car and fashionable clothes. If you do not have a penny, I will waterproof them for free. As soon as I said that, he stopped and gave me one thousand afghanis.”
Rahela remembers the man with great excitement and what she did with that one thousand afghanis. “I bought sandals for my brother and a Berger for myself then I gave the rest to my mothers to collect for house rent.”
When she talks about her brother, her voice becomes stronger than before. It is as if nothing can stop her and she will finally get rid of the suffering. She says that she wishes she could go to school and become a teacher in the future and buy a bicycle for her brother.
When I asked her what life means to her, I expected to hear a childish answer such as children’s games clothes, and other things, but she said something bigger. “Life means five loaves of bread for me, if I could take bread home every night, it would be life,” she said immediately.
I was expecting everything else except that, Rahela is no longer a child. Life difficulties have made her a girl who can only think about the bread and sufferings of her mother as well as her brother. Even though she works all day, she still thinks about them first, just a woman can have a big heart like this, and Rahela is a girl and a woman.
But in the meantime, she thinks of something else, of the smile that comes out of a ruined body that can soften the heart of a passer-by so that he can give his shoes to Rahela for waterproofing. She thinks of a smile that is on the face of a girl who has suffered for many years and life means only bread to her.
When I wanted to give her some money, she said softly: “I wish your sneakers could be waterproofed, which I would do, dear uncle.”
This time when I shake my hand to say goodbye, she cleans her hand on her clothes and holds my hand tightly, smiles and leaves. In a few steps, she says to a man with a smile: ” May I waterproof your shoes, dear uncle?”
The man, without looking at her and seeing how beautiful her smile is, says: “Go my daughter, go, you are so stubborn, … With anger.”
Translated by: Ali Rezaei