According to my mother, the day of my birth remains etched in her memory as a harrowing experience. “It was the dead of winter, with unrelenting cold and snowfall every day,” she recalls. “I woke up early morning with the intention of baking bread. As I had preheated the clay oven, my stomach was writhing in pain. And within an hour, you came into this world.”
The birth of a daughter was a source of immense anger for my father, leading him to completely cut ties with my mother and stop talking to her. In a matter of days, he left for Iran and never returned, leaving me to grow up without ever having the chance to meet him. The few faded photographs of him that remain in my possession are bittersweet reminders of what could have been, evoking both a sense of longing and a deep-seated hatred for the man who was never there for me.
At the age of ten, my life took a tragic turn when my grandfather passed away, leaving my mother and me defenseless. To make matters worse, the community we lived in was filled with people who would hurl hurtful insults at my mother whenever a man was seen around our house, eventually leading us to abandon our home and our old way of life.
The passing of my grandfather had a ripple effect that would ultimately change the course of my life forever. Less than a year after his death, the people in our village came together and delivered a devastating ultimatum: we had to leave the village. I can still vividly recall the image of a white-bearded man draped his knees in a striped green cloak who spoke those fateful words, his voice echoing in my mind even to this day. Though he may no longer be alive, the impact of his words still reverberates within me, a constant reminder of the cruelty that humans are capable of.
As a child, before we were forced to leave the village, I would hear whispers from kids my age, some of whom would make sarcastic comments about my father’s supposed death from freezing during his journey to Iran. Others expressed their sympathy, but my mother still clings to hope that my father will one day return. However, to me, he is dead and gone, and the only thing that remains are the few pictures that I have of him. Sometimes, when I look at those pictures, I can’t help but wonder how different our lives would have been if he had chosen to stay with us. Perhaps then, we wouldn’t have had to endure so much suffering and hardship.
In the few pictures I have of my father, he has a bony face and medium height. Even in his youth, his face bore wrinkles, and unlike my mother, he never appeared to smile in any of his pictures.
The seeds of my family’s troubles were sown after the passing of my grandfather. His brother’s son had proposed to my mother, hoping to secure her as her own in order to gain control of the land that had been left to us by my grandfather. When my mother rejected his offer, the family of the boy resorted to more insidious means of getting what they wanted. Gradually, they began to spread rumors about my mother, accusing her of being a “prostitute” and engaging in other shameful acts. However, I alone know the truth of the matter – the hardships that my mother had to endure in order to maintain her dignity and reputation for years.
Despite our best efforts, we were eventually forced to leave the village and seek refuge in Kabul. I remember the day vividly, in particular, when finding the house belonging to my mother’s father proved to be a challenge, as my mother had forgotten its location. We wandered aimlessly through several alleys until we finally stumbled upon the house. It was then that I learned for the first time that my mother, like my father, did not have a brother.
My mother, now in her fifties, was born in Kabul. She is a woman who has carried the weight of her sorrows for many years, and the pain and fatigue are etched on her face. When she married my father, she agreed to leave her hometown and accompany him to his village in the Jaghoori district of Ghazni province, where he lived with his parents.
My mother often reminisces about the early days of her Matrimonial life with excitement that she still carries with her. “After we got married, we moved to the village,” she recalls. “It took us three years before we had a child, and then you were born. I was overjoyed, but your father was angry and left. He had wished for his first child to be a boy and had already chosen the name ‘Omid’ (hope) for him. But he never returned, leaving us hopeless.”
Life in Kabul started with an onerous hardship for us. My mother invested the little money that was left by my grandfather, in a carpet loom, threads, and other materials needed for carpet weaving. Since my mother had learned the skill of weaving carpets as a child, she started weaving carpets to make a living. As for me, I attended school for half a day and helped my mother in weaving carpets during the other half of the day.
While my mother was living in the village, her mother passed away in Kabul. Upon arriving in Kabul, my grandfather did not allow us to live independently. But his second wife proved to be an ill-tempered woman, rendering peaceful coexistence impossible. As a result, my mother made the decision to live apart and face her trials alone.
The callouses and indentations on my palms and fingernails from years of carpet weaving serve as a constant reminder of a time when surrendering to death seemed easier than fighting to live. During moments of weariness, my mother and I would huddle together, and despite my limited understanding of life, she would open up to me, “Life can be even more arduous than this, my dear Sima. But since we have survived hitherto, we will be able to keep pressing on.”
My mother clung to Radio Azadi’s In Search of the Missing program as her sole beacon of hope in locating my father. Every Sunday and Wednesday, we would tune into the voice of Zarif Nazar, the program’s host, on the radio that my mother had purchased, never once missing a broadcast. My mother beseeched her father to contact the program and provide any relevant information about her missing husband to the host so that it could be announced on the radio. She clung to the hope that someone, somewhere, might have seen or heard something that could lead to his discovery. But, after that, all we heard from the radio was my grandfather’s voice, announcing the name of a missing person, “Ali Mohammad, a resident of Jagoori district, Ghazni Province, who had vanished without a trace seventeen years prior….”
It is conceivable that my mother’s unrelenting optimism and yearning to locate my father sustained her throughout the years. Even after all this time, she still cherishes the first and only gift my father gave her – a turquoise ring that she wears on her finger, rarely removing it.
Now that I reach 27 years of age, it is apparent to me that my father may never be found, and his remains may not even be intact. However, while waiting for her husband, my mother continues to cling to hope, and frequently declares, “My daughter, hope is the last thing that dies in man.” Despite my persistent urgings, my mother has refused to remarry, and I cannot fathom where her unwavering commitment to my father stems from as a woman. Thanks to her unconditional support and devotion, I was able to attend Kabul University and study Public Administration and Policy, and after graduation, I worked tirelessly in various institutions to ensure my mother lived the life that was denied to her for so many years. However, our hard-won progress and happiness were short-lived, as the Taliban’s resurgence plunged us back into the same dark times we thought we had left behind.