kaiyan's "decency" becomes legacy in war-ridden kabul.


1. legacy


when the rich white kids look at kaiyan, with their narrow eyes and hard-headed minds, their “we are America the great” branded onto their bones, they don’t see Kabul or his father’s ghost or his humanity. they see war, because to them, this is what war looks like. an afghan kid dressed in thrift store clothes and spices, English words tangling on his tongue, and he is not just different like the rest of the world, he is worse.

but in Kabul, where the streets are littered with orphans and poverty and stray bullets, kaiyan saw what real war looked like. it is stolen childhood and women bleeding between their thighs, it is taking the long route to town so you avoid driving over the remnants of last night’s massacre. it is making choices. your life or someone else’s.

kaiyan he thinks of the choice he made, the bravery he had tasted in his blood, and he tries to hold on.

it disappears, every time, like smoke between his fingers.


it was dusk. the ochre sun had bowed its head, praying for the lives that the night would take (it always took, and took and took). his mother had told him not to be out. never be out after dark. dark awakens the wolves within them, slavering and guiltless. night is when they come out to feast, on flesh and fear, and in Kabul, everyone is prey.

but it wouldn’t be the first time he’d disobeyed his mother.

besides, it wasn’t dark yet.

he was on his way home, with the smell of nicotine on his breath and a paper bag of sweets rustling in his pocket. the workers and wanderers had scattered by now, windows closed, curtains drawn. but that didn’t mean silence. mortars were sputtering somewhere behind him, voices laughing around the block.

then, there was a scream.

and suddenly he is standing at the end of a back alley, where in the far corner a soldier slams a girl, no more than thirteen, into a graffiti painted wall. she screams again, tears spilling down her cheeks. kaiyan feels her terror dagger his gut. everyone is prey. as she crashes to the ground, her amber eyes find him and clench around kaiyan’s heart like hot golden vices, help

kaiyan thinks of his father, who would eclipse the gunfire and screams that polluted the afghan nights when kaiyan was young. his father, with his broken bones and warm smiles, always beaten, always brave.

people forget about honour in war, he’d told him, the time when it is most needed.

don’t be like them. don’t forget.

(in the end, it was honour that killed his father. but when he died, it was his honour that all the people had cried for).

kaiyan shoved the soldier away from the girl and her skirts, telling her to run. the soldier lifted his gun and smiled, silver fillings glinting in the flickering streetlight like silver bullets. and there it was, excitement. excitement for this big shameless game they call war.

kaiyan curls his fists and stares down the barrel of the gun, blood singing don’t forget like an ancient tribe preparing for battle. with his soul stripped bare, the girl’s prayers lost in the wind, it’s his father’s spirit that says, ‘have you forgotten your honour?’

the soldier scoffs, wolf eyes ravenous, ‘best to forget, than to die.’

‘I’d rather die in honour than kill for fun,’ kaiyan spits, but the tail of his words are drowned out by the roar of a gun. he stands still, waiting for the pain, for the thud as he hits the ground, for the last thing he sees (and, briefly, he is relieved he won’t have to see the streets of Kabul again).

but instead, he sees the girl’s arms clasped round his neck, the soldier’s body heaped on the floor, the dust clouding at the wheels of a truck as it drives by, the grey tendrils flowing from its guns, and the war goes on.

the whole neighbourhood hears the story, and when they do, they kiss his cheeks and pat him on the back and tell him salvation must run in his blood. he just tells them war makes heroes out of simply decent people.

you would have done the same.

and to that they would smile sadly, as if to say, it’s good there’s still some innocence left.

he is celebrated and cherished, but there are downfalls to being famous. there are downfalls to everyone knowing your name.

he’s smuggled out of the country days later, one of his mother’s withered hands in his, her other clasped over the locket resting on her chest. within the golden pendant is a picture of his father, and as they jerk over the dirt road to freedom, she holds onto it like a last breath. Kabul will wake up soon, maybe pick quinces off the trees or curse at the radio, and kaiyan will be nothing more than a memory, a thought, tangible as the air. kaiyan wonders if people will find the things he left and hold onto them, too.

when the rich white kids look at kaiyan, they see a legacy in the shade of his skin and the lilt in his words and the notoriety of his religion. it’s the legacy of the terrorists, the Taliban, the 9/11 attacks. sure, they don’t expect there to be a bomb in his rucksack, but he’s marred and impure. he’s different. he’s worse.

kaiyan left his legacy in Kabul. he hopes Kabul will hold onto it.


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