On a pretty warm morning in Kabul, I go out of the house, I could hear the sound of gunshots far away. It’s not strange to me, honestly, it’s been a long time since such things are not scary and interesting in Kabul. Because it happens every day and the sound of bullets and death are two things that have become of their habits for everyone. I get in the car, the driver says:” There is a war in “Karte Sakhi”, an old man sitting by me says: “It is not something new, we witness war every day.” Everyone keeps silent.
The city is covered in black and the sound of mourning can be heard from all sides, unlike the previous years; The black outfit perfects Kabul, does anything else than a black outfit perfect a city that has lost everything? Pole_Sukhta is as busy as always, with the difference that the most crowded part of this area used to be the well-dressed men and women who used to go to work and university every morning, now it has been replaced by vendors, and a large number of beggars, most of whom are young women. I cross the street, I go to the shoe repairmen’s place to get my shoes waxed, I go to an old man who is looking at the feet of passers-by and waiting for one of them to come to him to wax his shoes. On the other side, two women are sitting far from each other, and whoever passes by them, they up their hands to ask for help.
I greet the old man, and he answers my greeting with a smile, I ask dear uncle, do you have time to wax my shoes, he says with a meaningful laugh: “The only thing I have time for is waxing shoes. He opens his wax can carefully, takes a little wax and puts it on the front part of the shoe, then spreads it to other parts of the shoe, while the old man waxes my shoes, I take out my cigarette pack, light a cigarette and I look at the women sitting on the other side.
They mostly look at the women who are passing by and ask them for help in a special tone. Maybe they think that women understand them more and help more easily. The old man calls me, it’s done, when I wanted to pay, a child who is sitting with one of the ladies comes towards me, ups his hand and says: “Uncle, I didn’t eat breakfast.” I put on my shoes and wait to get the rest of my money. I noticed a man with clean clothes, a neat beard, and a white hat, who passed by the older lady and stopped in front of the younger lady. He was looking at her with a strange look. At first, I thought that he was sorry and wanted to help. The distance was so close that you could hear his voice, he took out his wallet and took out fifty Afghanis and gave it to the lady. He said: “Return the 30 afghanis.” The lady happily searched in her coins to pay the man the rest.
I wanted to walk; The man bent down and said something, at first I thought maybe he was saying: “Take the rest of the money, then I realized that the lady gave all her money back to the man angrily. Out of curiosity, I stood a little further away. The man rudely asks the lady: “How much are you?” I like you.”
The lady lowered her head and didn’t say anything, she was hoping to punch the man hard in the mouth, but it didn’t happen and the man said with a sarcastic laugh: “You may sell yourself to the rich, so we can’t afford it.” You might say why I didn’t say anything and just looked; In addition to dozens of reasons that I have as a reporter and storyteller, I honestly did not dare to say anything.
That man moved in a direction and got lost in the crowd. I wanted to go to that lady and talk to her, But I thought it would be annoying. I went to the old shoe repairman again. I asked: “Dear uncle, why didn’t you say anything to that man?! He said: “Why did not you say anything?” I didn’t have an answer and I kept quiet.
He started again and said: “Every day dozens of people bother these beggars and ask for sex in exchange for money, which one should I criticize?!
I asked, do you know the ladies? He said: “Not much, but they sit here every day and sometimes they ask me for a cup of tea. I asked the old man to ask that lady to talk to me. He did not accept and I had to introduce myself that I am a reporter and I want to write about what happened today; He mockingly said: “There are too many journalists, they put one in danger every day.” He meant YouTubers who will do anything for their income, even if they put someone in danger.
I explained to him and he said: ” Let me talk to them” he took her knees, got up, and went to the lady. He asked, do you talk to both of them? I said yes if possible. After talking for a few moments, the ladies agreed to talk. I asked them to go to one of the cheap restaurants near us and talk. They followed me worriedly, and to ease their worries, I asked the old man to come and have breakfast together. The old man happily agreed, saying: “Who does not like a free breakfast.”
We sat around the empty table and the young lady who introduced herself with the pseudonym “Roqaya”; I asked her to tell about her life; She started with a shy voice: “Dear brother, what should I say about my life, every day and night of the life of women like me is a story for those who are rich, it’s been seven years since I had to work.” Eight years ago, Roqaya’s husband, who was a shopkeeper, was killed by armed thieves in one of the alleys near the sixth district police station and they stole his money. After some time, her father-in-law asks Roqaya to marry one of his partners.” When I heard this from my father-in-law, I first accepted that there might be someone my age and I could live with him and my one-year-old daughter would have a better life.”
But Roqaya faces an old man over 60 years old for marriage, and at the price of being kicked out of the house and destitute, she does not agree to that marriage. “After that, I used to do laundry and clean people’s houses for a while. One day, when I was busy cleaning one of the houses, the owner of the house assaulted me and I could no longer go to the houses to work and had to start begging. It took me months to forget and I always thought my whole body was unclean and I hated myself.”
After that, Roqaya turns to beg and every morning she takes her daughter and sits in busy places of the city to get someone to help, but apart from being difficult, this work is always accompanied by sexual harassment for Roqaya, and men with sexual obsession ask her many times a day to go with them. She talks about the increase in street harassment after the fall of Kabul and says: “During the republic, the conditions were better and many men did not allow themselves to speak about everything that the feeling of being a man gave them along with gender discrimination. but after the Taliban takeover and the imposition of restrictions on women, the inhumane behavior of this group has given the majority of men who were forced to stop themselves from doing such things, to do anything by interpreting women as commodities by the Taliban.
“A lot of people look at us as people who offer sex for money, never thinking that if we wanted to do that, we wouldn’t need to sit on the side of the road.”
She says with tearful eyes: “I really don’t want my daughter to grow up in such conditions and learn behaviors that she won’t be able to overcome in the future.” One day when I was going home, a car stopped and respectfully asked me to get on, I thought he was a good person. But on the way, he touched me many times and pulled out his penis for me to see. I forced him to stop the car crying and wailing, my daughter did not come to my arms that night and said; You are dirty because the driver touched you.”
Roqaya has been harassed many times by the Taliban and says: “One day when I wanted to sit on Pole_Sorkh road, one of the Taliban called me and when I approached him, he touched my body and after that day, his look and behavior changed. I was always afraid and had to change my place every few days. She ups her tea and says: “That’s enough, maybe they know me now” and asks me not to mention any real sign of her in my writing.
I ask the older lady to speak, but she says everything by saying one sentence: “My son, it’s been a long time since I had to beg and they killed my son, who was a soldier; But I will never allow someone to crush his wife’s pride. Now that I am almost 55 years old, dishonorable men are also telling me bad things, she is young, they absolutely bother her.”
She laughs bitterly and says the last word: “A woman suffers from being born and giving birth until the time of death.”
Translated by: Ali Rezaei