The Tiger

A short story by Mohibullah Zegham (from my first collection of short stories “Hill in the Human”)

Translated by Rashid Khattak

It was a market day. I had loaded 16 sacks full of potatoes in a truck and was moving towards Kunduz. After a long time I was going to the bazaar [again?] . Everything seemed strange. Traveling the vast desert of Shorao, the truck was raising clouds of dust. The desert was so flat that one could not believe it was the top of a huge mountain. We had not seen any other vehicle during the hour-long journey. In the past, the buzkashi competitions used to be held in this desert, but now there was no trace of horses’ hoofs. All you could see on the ground were the caterpillar tracks of tanks.

As we descended from the top of the hill and wanted to turn towards the bazaar, armed men in long velvet shirts, manning a check post, signaled our vehicle to stop. One of the gunmen, who had tied his long hair with a spotted handkerchief, came forward. He hovered around the truck for a while, then stopped next to the door and wiped off sweat from his forehead with a dirty sleeve, striped with white lines of salt.

“Who owns the goods?” he asked, squinting through dusty eyelashes.

“Me,” I replied.

“Come with me.”

I followed him. The man had tied his trousers so high on his waist that his legs were naked under the hem of his long shirt. I took 20-30 steps, following the footprints left by his service boots before reaching an old castle stronghold. It had rooms in its upper end all facing the courtyard. A creek was flowing through the courtyard. Three silk rugs were spread on a platform under the shadow of several large poplar trees, growing from the bank. There were velvet mattresses, covered with dust, all four sides of the platform. Five men? around a checkered cloth were busy playing dice. Near them, 10-15 long-shirted gunmen were seated.
One of the gunmen was puffing hard on a hashish cigarette. “Have it, have it,” his companions encouraged him. He coughed six-seven times constantly, waved his hand to thank them, and handed over the cigarette to another gunman.

The long-haired gunman sat on the rug on his knees without saying anything. One of the players collected money from the cloth. “May your hand be happy, may your hand be happy!” the long-haired man exclaimed. The other gunmen, sitting on the bank of a rivulet, also turned their heads towards him and repeated his words. “Distribute it among the boys,” the winner of the game threw two bundles of 10,000 denomination currency notes towards the long-haired gunman. In the meantime he felt my presence. “Qaleech! Who is he?” he asked the long-haired.

“Sir, he is the owner of the goods.”

“What are you taking along?” the man asked, staring at me.

“Some potatoes,” I replied.

“Where are you taking the load?”

“To the bazaar, for sale,” I said.

“Pay the tax,” he said.

“What tax? I haven’t brought them from another area. I have grown these in my own field.”

“Qaleech! the man seems a stranger. What do you think, is he not a spy?” the commander said, looking at Qaleech.

“By God, I haven’t seen him before,” Qaleech said, fixing his look on me.

During this whole conversation, I was thinking as to where I have seen the commander. His long hair, white beautiful face, red lips, black eyes darkened with kohl skillfully and a woman-like soft voice were quite familiar to me.

I remembered. He was Feroz Jan. His thin mustaches, few hairs of beard on his chin, long shirt and belt of ammunition around his waist had changed him to a great extent.

Feroz Jan was a keep of Haji Murad Bai. I hadn’t seen him for a long time. In the past, Haji Murad would invite us to his place. On such occasions, Feroz Jan would wear ankle-bells, wearing a woman’s costume, applying powder on his cheeks, lipstick on his lips and henna on his hands with eyes darkened with kohl, to dance for us. The drummers would fail to follow him, after midnight they would become tired and lie on the ground but he would dance to our clapping.

Five years ago, rumors spread that Feroz had shot dead Murad Bai and eloped with his younger wife. People said that Feroz had developed illicit relations with the new wife of Haji Murad. In fact, Haji Murad had won his younger wife, who was an age-mate of his daughter, in a competition of partridges. Otherwise, he was not fond of women. He used to sleep in a separate room with Feroz in the night. He would send Feroz to his home when he needed something. The women of his family wouldn’t cover their faces in the presence of Feroz.

One day he quarreled with his elder wife on some issue, and she taunted him about the illicit relations between Feroz and his younger wife. Murad wanted to kill Feroz, but the latter outsmarted him and put a bullet in his forehead. I had heard that Feroz had become commander of a militant organization, but I didn’t know where he was.

“I am asking you. Who are you and for whom are you spying?” the voice of Feroz brought me out of my thoughts.

 “I am Qadoos, a friend of Murad Bai. Feroz Jan, don’t you recognize …” I received a forceful strike on my shoulder before completing the sentence. I lay flat on the ground. They began to kick and hit me with the butts of rifles. I felt something warm, flowing towards my chin and throat. I touched it. It was blood.

The long-haired gunman pulled my hair to keep me standing in front of Feroz. I couldn’t stand. There was severe pain in my entire body. Feroz looked at me angrily and chewed the words to make his voice hoarse.

“Who am I?” he asked me.

“You are Feroz Jan” I said.

He hit my mouth with all his force and shouted: “I am a commander, I am the Tiger.”

The End
27 Aug 2007

Description of some of the terms:

Buzkashi: is a traditional competition mostly held in north Afghanistan in which strong horse riders compete either in teams or individually. A slaughtered calf or goat is located inside a circle drawn in one end of the ground. Every competitor tries to pick it up and take it to the other end of the ground. If a person takes the goat or the calf, others or the members of the other team try to get it from him or make him to throw it down.

Being keep or pathic: it is a relationship of pederasty between a young adult or even a child and an older man. The older, usually a rich and powerful man owns the younger for dancing or sometimes for sexual abusing. Even the owners of the keeps hold some competitions of dancing between their keeps, but they don’t think that dance is an art, for them dancing is a kind of shame and no respected person should dance.

Bai: is the rich person of a village, who has lots of properties.

Covering of face: in most areas of Afghanistan a woman is not allowed to show her face to strange men. A woman should cover her face with her scarf while facing any man except from her brothers, cousins, her brothers in law and cousins of her husband. Also a woman does not cover her face from a strange man when she thinks that he is not a man like others or she thinks that the man belongs to a lower social class, for instance our women don’t cover their faces from the barber of the village.