There are some days that I remember much more vividly than others. November 20th, 1974, is one of those days. Looking back, I suppose you could call it the day I learned how violent even the simplest of transgressions could make me.
My parents were away for the weekend. This was nothing new, of course. With my father's recent promotion, they would always be taking little cross-country road trips, staying in fancy hotels and dining like royalty. They never took me or Assef, though. Of course, there was some excuse given, but like all the other times, it was just bullshit. They just didn't want us wasting their time.
I was sitting on the edge of my bed, head buried in the old Farsi poetry book Mahmood had bought me for my ninth birthday. My eyes would scan the page, reading the words carefully, trying to keep my thoughts focused. So many shards of tattered ideas were running through my mind, each as distracting as the last.
I found myself drawn back to one thing in particular, though. Adia. My new 'friend', my prized possession. She would become as loyal and obedient to me as a dog, I was determined to make sure of that. Her every move, her every word, it would all be under my control. The girl would become a controlled pet, a new challenge for me.
Assef poked his head around the door. "There you are, kiddo. I was wondering where you'd gone off to."
He crossed to the bed and took his place beside me. Looking over my shoulder, he glanced at the book I was reading. "I didn't think you cared much for poetry, kiddo,'' he mused, tracing his finger along the pages.
''I don't.'' I shrugged, tossing the book aside and rolling over so my head was in Assef's lap. His fingers gently glided over my scalp as he lovingly danced them through my hair. ''They're shit, for the most part. But they do keep my mind from wandering.''
Assef chuckled. "Well, I know another way to keep your mind occupied, little sister."
With this, he held up a wad of cash I knew he must have "borrowed" from our parents. His eyes sparked with mischievous delight as, laughing, he waved the money in front of my face. I reached out to grab it and he sidestepped me, teasing. "Ah, ah," he mockingly joked, tapping me on the nose. "The nerve of you, kiddo. Trying to steal from your own brother. I'm crushed."
I laughed as he placed a hand over his chest, feigning outrage and hurt. He was so expertly good at it, in fact, that had you not known he was faking, you would have thought he was genuinely upset. Assef and I were masters at twisting emotions to suit our endeavours - even our own. We were the only ones who knew what the other was truly feeling, who could see past the facade and into the mind and soul within.
"So, what d'you say, Saria? Fancy spending some quality time together. I've got enough here to treat you to lunch, and maybe even buy you something after. And you know Mahmood and Tanya won't even notice this is missing. Fuckers are pissing change out their assholes, after all."
I nodded, grinning madly at him. "Just let me go get my coat, Assef, and we can go."
"Alright. I'll wait for you downsta-" Before he could even finish that sentence, I'd flung my arms tightly around him and buried my face in his shirt, breathing in his safe, familiar, musky scent. He seemed taken off guard, if the way he staggered backwards was anything to go by.
"Thank you," I said. "You're the best brother in the world, you know that?"
"So I've been told." He ruffled my hair, kissed my forehead, and untangled himself from my embrace. "Go get ready. I'll wait by the gate, okay?" With that, he left the room, the door clicking shut behind him. Already dressed in lavender pinafore, with hair adorned in ribbons, I rushed to my wardrobe, threw it open and grabbed my navy overcoat.
The thought of spending one-on-one time with my dearest, most beloved Assef was filling me with a rare joy I seldom felt. So often we would be sidelined by the demands of parents, school work and even the worthless dogs we called 'friends.'
But not today. No, today would be our day. Ours alone.
We were almost halfway to the local market when an annoyingly familiar voice cried out; "Assef! Assef, wait up!"
I groaned. Oh God, no. Not him. For the love of all that is good on this godforsaken earth, why? Why? Why? For there, standing with a stupidly large grin on his face, arms spread in welcome, was Wali.
Wali was one of Assef's 'friends', and I use that term as loosely as possible. He was six months younger than my brother and like Kamal was as loyal as a lapdog. Unlike Kamal, however, he was also one of the most annoyingly eager to please people one could ever have the misfortune to come across.
Don't get me wrong, it's nice to have someone willing to be at your beck-and-call sometimes. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy that - perhaps more than the average person, in fact. But as with all things, there's a line. And Wali definitely crossed it.
My brother looked as if he wanted to tear his hair out in frustration. "Just.. ignore him," he suggested, though we both knew that would be an impossible feat. "Pretend he's not there, hopefully he'll go away if we don't acknowledge him."
Easier said than fucking done.
Wali bounded up to us, grinning from ear to ear. "Good afternoon, agha." He referred to my brother as 'sir', just as Assef had ordered him and Kamal to do when not in earshot of prying adults. "Miss Saria." He inclined his head towards me, but I ignored the gesture. The mutt had ruined my good mood significantly and I was determined to make boldly certain he knew of this.
"Wali," Assef said the name as though it were a dreadful swear word.
"What are you two doing?" Wali asked.
My brother, ever the sarcastic one, bit back a laugh. "Well, Wali, we're currently standing our fucking heads and while we're here, we're going to sing the alphabet backwards. What the fuck do you think we're doing, you dumb little shit?"
Wali bit his lip, shifting from one foot to the other. He looked like a kicked puppy, it was priceless. "Sorry.. Stupid question. Uh.. um.."
I stamped my foot, already in the throes of a tantrum. ''What. Do. You. Want?''
''I.. I.. just wanted to say hello, M-Miss Saria. I mean.."
Really? That's all you fucking wanted? You got all fucking flustered and bothered, wasted our time and acted like a right nuisance for THAT?! I inwardly raged, every cell in my body crying out to hit the boy. To beat him into submission, to hear him cry out and beg me to stop.
Stupid dog. How dare he waste our time over something as trivial as this? He'd made the journey to the market longer now, and if he thought he was going to tag along, the fucking shit had another thing coming.
Assef, probably sensing I was about to lose it, placed a gentle hand on my shoulder and squeezed reassuringly. "Let's go, kiddo. The filthy shit doesn't deserve to be talking to us."
He spoke the words in German - our mother's native language - as we usually did when we didn't want the other party to hear our conversations. Wali raised an eyebrow, mouthing 'What?' in my brother's direction, but Assef ignored him.
Taking my hand, he practically dragged me down the street, as we left our disgraced slave standing forlorn and unwanted, with his head bowed. Just as it should be.
The midday sun, which still provided some heat despite it being mid-Winter, beat down on us as we sat at our favourite cafe. Assef leaned back in his seat, long legs stretched out in front of him, his arm draped over my shoulder.
"Enjoying your lunch?"
I pushed the half-empty plate of Aushak - an Afghan ravioli dish - out towards him. "What do you think?"
His eyes narrowed and then, before I could blink, he'd grabbed me around the waist and pulled me over to him, tickling my sides. I spat out the water I'd just taken a sip from, and writhed, shrieking and giggling in laughter. My ribs are my most ticklish spot and Assef loved teasing me about it. It was all just in good sibling fun.
"Stop, stop, stop!"
"Ready to stop being a little smart-ass?" Assef tapped me on the nose.
"Ah, but I wouldn't be me if I wasn't a 'little smart-ass."
"True." He held me closer in his arms, and dug around in his pocket. "Here, go buy yourself something nice."
He pressed a wad of cash into my open palm, curling my tiny fingers upwards. I grinned, kissed his cheek, and jumped down from his lap. Assef leaned his head back. There was no need for him to go with me; he, unlike my parents, trusted me and treated me like an eleven-year-old rather than a toddler. I skipped past cooing mothers, and smiling fathers, all gullible fools who would never believe the darkness hiding behind the ribbons and curls.
It didn't take long for me to spot something. A large, blue and white striped kite, with glass string. Kite fighting was an extremely popular sport here in Kabul, and the winter tournament was always a fun event - though I never participated. Still, it'd be fun for Assef and I to have our own little competitions, our own games.
Thank fuck the man selling it was Pashtun. I wouldn't have touched it had it been a Hazara. Though I did wonder why he was doing a Hazara's lowly job. It seemed slightly out of place, in my mind. Oh well, not that it mattered. I handed over the money, and he praised me for being such a polite, ladylike young girl, his smile enhancing the wrinkles around his eyes.
I nodded politely, mentally envisioned him burning alive, and thanked him in my sweetest voice. Butter wouldn't melt in perfect Saria's perfect mouth.
I proudly waved my new purchase at Assef, then walked the few minutes to the low wall at the bottom of the barracks. It was secluded enough from civilisation, yet I knew Assef would be able to find me should he need to. I hopped up on the wall and began unravelling the kite string.
My legs dangled in mid-air, kicking back and forth. To all the world I would have appeared the ideal child. So charming, so poised. Not screaming or making a mess like so many other kids do. Seen and not heard. I had this act improvised to perfection.
"Well, well.. look what the cat dragged in."
Of all the people I've met in my life, none were more annoying than Farsef Sajihdi. A scrawny, perpetually whiny boy with a scar just above his collar bone, Farsef seemed to get a great kick out of acting tougher than he was. Assef knew his older brother from school, and apparently the apple didn't fall too far from the tree.
"Go fuck yourself." I'd heard my brother use that statement, and while at the time I didn't exactly know what it meant, I knew it was quite offensive. Ignoring Farsef's shocked expression, I turned, stuck my nose in the air and continued unravelling the kite string. I was about halfway through, when all of a sudden, I felt myself toppling violently backwards, and landed with a thump on my back, legs splayed up in the air.
For a moment, I could feel nothing but the stinging pain in my upper back and head. Pressing a finger to my temple, I growled at the sight of my own blood. The little shit bust my head open! I thought, getting to my feet and wiping my mouth like a cage-fighter ready to go into battle.
My lips flecked, with hands balled up into fists. I was animal, the lion ready to strike the zebra, the merciless beast. My fury was unparalleled. Never before had I known rage this strong.
Farsef leaned cockily against the wall, arms folded. His face was painted with a smirk, his eyes surveying the cut on my head with something akin to a twisted fascination. Truthfully, he looked like a toddler who'd only just seen blood and was utterly amazed by it. I wanted to wipe that smirk right off his face, and perhaps even rip his eyes out with it.
Then, the voice I had been longing to hear.
"What the fuck did you do to my sister?!"
Assef was storming towards us, fists clenched. The sheer tenacity in his voice was enough to make Farsef jump almost a foot in the air, inch backwards, and press his body against the wall as though hoping that by doing so he could make himself invisible. My brother took one long look at the blood trickling down my forehead and I could see the concern in his eyes.
"I'm okay," I mouthed, and as soon as I did, that concern changed. It was now fury, unbridled, brutal rage. An anger that burned like an untameable fire and would destroy everything in its path. Without even speaking another word to me, he turned and grabbed Farsef by the hair, slamming his head into the wall.
Over and over, he brought his fist down on the terrified boy's face, stomach and arms, leaving no stone unturned. It was the most amazing, thrilling thing I had ever borne witness to. How lucky I was to have someone so willing and eager to defend my honour.
"P-Please.." Farsef dropped to his knees, palms outstretched. "Please.. no.. no more.. stop.. please.."
Pathetic.. Begging for mercy already. Where's his fight gone? He asks for a challenge, then chickens out? Fuck that!
Snarling, I pushed the boy backwards and kicked him twice in the stomach, putting every bit of force behind it. His answering cry of pain was music to my ears. I began kicking him over and over, laughter mingling with his cries, heart beating faster. Never had I felt so alive.
And then, it happened.
Assef grabbed Farsef by the head, leaned down, and sunk his teeth into the boy's face. Like a wild animal, he pulled his head back forcefully and spat something to the side. Blood ran like a river down Farsef's face - the boy was howling and clutching his head. I had never seen so much blood from a person before. It was absolutely.. amazing.
My brother kicked something towards Farsef, a manic grin on his features. Holy shit! I thought, staring at it with wide eyes. He bit his fucking ear off!
It was absolutely sickening - the most disgusting thing I'd ever witnessed - and had I truly been the gentle, benevolent little girl I made myself out to be, I would undoubtedly have fainted on the spot.
"Impressed?" Assef smiled. "Anything for sister."
Then he bent down, grabbing Farsef's chin in his hand. "Not a word, boy. Not a single word. Tell a soul about this and you're dead, you get me? Stone. Cold. Fucking. Dead."
We left him in the ditch, with not a second thought. No guilt, no remorse. No concern whatsoever. He was my first real victim and I felt more proud of myself for that than words can possibly say.
You may call me a monster. I call it a lesson learned.