A few days after the attack found me perched atop the very guard tower targeted by the suicide bomber. I saw the black crater to my right, and there was a burnt aroma lingering in the air. There was no traffic on the road, no more children in the fields playing cricket, no cattle or sheep. Just silence.
The Sergeant of the guard told us all intel had come in of another attack, this time with a red Corolla carrying another suicide bomber.
There were a few locals in work clothes and yellow construction helmets repairing the pockmarked tower. I started up a friendship with a man with JAFAR handwritten on his helmet. He was a few years older than me, and spoke excellent English. He was from Laghman, one of the more stable places to live in the country. After some smalltalk, we delved into politics. He shook his head with disgust when mentioning the suicide bombers. He said most Afghan men only see the faces of 5 women in their lives. What do you think happens when you get a 14 year old boy raised on the conquest culture of Islam, full of sexual frustration, being told by a person of authority you can have your fill of celestial sexual binges if you put on this vest and push a button?
He told me that if you ever tried to talk to an Afghan woman, her 6 brothers would come to your house and kill you, but not before slitting her throat. And if you ever saved enough money for a dowry, then you were presented with a strange woman, and her face might possibly be the first non-blood relative woman you'll ever see.
The wind shifted, and brought about an offensive odor. "What is that?" I asked.
"That? They found a leg this morning yonder in the ditch."
With the smell of a week old human leg sitting out in the stifling heat, I tried to concentrate to the remainder of the conversation.
I asked him if he ever had any contact with the Soviets in the 80s. He told me when he was 7 or 8 years old, a tank stopped in front of his house and the officer and sergeant got out to study their maps. The gunner saw young Jafar motioned him closer. He looked at his parents, who waved him toward the tank with a smile. When he got closer, the gunner reached into his pocket and pulled out a shiny foil wrapper and gave it to Jafar. He opened it and saw some butter cookies, which he ate. "I still have this taste on my tongue today" he told me.
Eventually his shift ended and the sun started to set.
I started to get bored.
Then off to the right, I saw a small 125cc Pamir motorcycle heading towards me. It slowed down. Then stopped. He was perhaps 800 yards off. He stayed still for a moment, turned around, and went back up the road.
Then I saw him coming back. But with a red car behind him. I got off the stool and stood at the corner of the tower with my binoculars. He stopped again and turned away, but the car drove on. It then s-l-o-w-e-d to an absolute crawl, and I approached the 240B machine gun that was lazily pointed toward the sky. The bolt was to the rear, and all I had to do was push the safety button and pull the trigger. The car seemed to slow down even more as it approached. Goosebumps erupted across my arms, my heart thumped and rolled ever more frantically. I clicked the safety button at 300 yards and rested my finger alongside the guard, then the trigger, and waited for something to happen. Centuries passed, and I saw the driver looking nervously at me, and I looked into his eyes for a moment. Then I saw movement behind him. A little girl with black hair and a giant smile excitedly waved her hand side to side at me. I held my finger on the trigger, then after they passed, I clicked the safety back on and pointed the rifle barrel above the car. I had to lean forward on the wall to support my weight as I commanded my body to stand down.
I don't ever want to have to do that again.
I slept poorly that night, with that gamey smell still in my nostrils and dreamed of the tell-tale leg hobbling out of the ditch coming to get me.