My feather is a bird’s wing, new fiction by Afghan women

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This book is the culmination of that two-year project: the first anthology of short stories by Afghan women, written in the Dari and Pashton languages, and translated by Afghan translators.

The following excerpt is the story “The Most Beautiful Lips in the World” by Elahe Hosseini, translated from Dari by Dr. Negeen Kargar.

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A lady in white watches you from afar. You stand up and look back at her – how she looks like your mother! You walk through the carnage, piles of fallen cement and pieces of metal. She left. Among the human flesh and blood, you see a wrist adorned with gold bracelets lying on the ground. The arm, cut at the elbow, full of blood, shines from afar because of the bracelets.

You step on the bloodstained velvet dress, pieces of flesh stuck to it. You walk over the broken materials of the wedding hall looking for your pot of espande. You can’t find it. You search everywhere for your span, even in the dust and smoke of the explosion. You cough constantly. As you pass by where the bride and groom were standing, you walk over flowers, which were neatly arranged a short time ago. Now they lie in tatters under broken chairs and tables. You step on the colorful decorations hanging from the ceiling; now they lie, like the velvet robe, covered in flesh and blood, on the dusty ground.

Every deceased person who lay there was dressed for the feast – shiny, sparkly dresses. You see a little girl with golden hair. She’s lying like a doll, staring at a cloud through the hole in the ceiling above her. You want to kick her and make her angry. You hear the kids laughing at you, bullying you, saying, “Muska has split lips,” and you yell at them, “What’s your problem? What do you want from me?” You see a little girl standing among them, saying to you, “We can’t understand you because of your lips. Why are they torn?

You feel happy; you don’t feel resentment; you don’t bite your lip. You stand on a black loudspeaker and, one by one, you pull the white, bloodstained tablecloths from the tables. You fly over them all. Then you go to the middle of the wedding hall and you turn, faster and faster, your skirt and the velvet flowers of your dress open. You spin and laugh and laugh. Again you see the lady in white. You are happy to see your mother again. But – is she mad at you? She looks outraged. Why doesn’t she come to you? You want to go hug her, hug her tight and be near her, but she disappears again. How far does it disappear?

She stood on her right leg and twirled the pot to release the smoke. She took some coal and spread it from the dirty sack over her shoulder and put it in the pot to make more smoke. She could remember her father’s words with the burning of every rue seed. She said to herself: They are infidels. Their place is in the depths of hell. They must die to rid the world of cruelty and depravity.

His father’s voice grew louder and louder in the smoke from the street. As he pulled the vest tighter around his body, he held her trembling little hands in his. He smiled at her and said, “My child, why are you worried? Your mother is waiting for you. I read this prayer to you – you will see your mother. You will go to heaven and you will meet her.

His words crossed his mind and his blood circulated faster and faster in his veins. She took off her shoes on the beautiful tiles in the wedding hall.

A lady was shouting from the middle of the room, “Hey, where are you going? Her voice disappeared into the music and noise of the wedding. Muska picked up a white scarf, embroidered in red and black thread with an image of lips, and kissed her. There was a sentence written on it: The most beautiful lips in the world.

Her father used to say: “When you were little, your mother used to sew this for you. She embroidered the image of your lips with her hands. It’s your only memory of her.

She smelled the handkerchief and watched the bride and groom as they danced.

Little girls and boys approached her and taunted her: “Muska, the girl who burns the swordfish, why are you limping?

Everyone laughed and danced to the music.

They were dancing around her. The little girl in the velvet dress and golden hair took Muska’s hand, looked at his lips and said, “You’re wearing a beautiful dress!” Is it from your mother?

Muska wanted to spin his jar of swordfish towards the little girl’s face, but his hands were shaking. Someone told him to look at his pants: “So baggy! You look like you’re wearing the skin of a dead man. Someone called her Labshakari! Labshakari!

The little golden-haired girl opened her eyes wide in joy at having found something else to say. “Smell her – she smells fresh. She finally took a shower. Today she smells good. She’s clean. The girls approached and started sniffing her and laughing out loud.

One of them approached and hit her, before fleeing in the middle of the party. Muska’s neck moved strangely. She felt a burning sensation on her tongue, then spat a mouthful of blood-streaked saliva onto the white tiled floor of the wedding hall.

A lady with curly hair that covered half her face cautiously walked towards her in her high heels, then shouted to security, “Who let that span girl in?” She repeated the question several times. Then, with a sudden shock, she saw the blood-soaked white handkerchief on the floor. She shouted, “Blood! Blood! May Allah curse you. Seeing blood on the wedding day is bad luck. She ran after Muska to catch him, but . . .

*

Muska cleaned her mouth with her white handkerchief, closed her black eyes and found herself in her mother’s arms. With a shout from Allahu Akbar! she threw herself towards the place where the newlyweds were standing. After the explosion, her hands and feet flew up into the air and returned to the wedding hall floor one by one, like chunks of flesh and blood.

The women were running madly; the explosion took them by surprise. They were used to suicide bombers, but not to a wedding. Tables and chairs were blown across the hall, as other guests stood motionless in terror.

The explosion spared neither the women who took refuge in the corners of the room, nor those who were hiding under the tables. It sent them from ground to air, air to ground, in seconds.

The ceiling collapsed in thick smoke.

You turn your head in the hall, from the entrance to the back. You can’t see your mother among the rubble – just broken chairs and tables lying on top of the corpses. The girls applaud you and you dance again.

“We found your street pot!” said the little golden-haired girl.

You get off the table and join their circle. The women and girls you had seen lying on the ground, half-naked in torn, flesh-pasted colored garments, drowned in blood, now pass by you. The girls follow the crowd. The golden-haired girl shouts, “Let’s go.”

You say to yourself, my mother! I have to find her! She was here.

They walk away and greet you. You see your mother. She stands a few feet away. She doesn’t laugh, doesn’t smile at you. She does not speak. She just stares at you in disbelief and her face glows from afar. Perhaps he is wet with tears.

This story is a work of fiction, but is inspired by the real events of August 18, 2019, when a suicide bombing took place at the Dubai City Wedding Hall in Kabul.

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