Have you ever killed someone?
No. No, of course you haven't. You wouldn't be able to. Your "conscience" would kick in before the fatal blow was even struck, telling you this was wrong, reprehensible. What right do you have, after all, to take a life?
And even if, hypothetically, you were to kill someone, then I'd wager none of you would be able to live with the guilt. How could you? You took a life, you destroyed a family, cut short someone's existence on this earth. You'd go mad with remorse, eventually caging under the pressure and confessing, wanting to take the full punishment for your crime.
So, let me rephrase my question.
Have you ever thought about killing someone?
The answer to that is yes. Don't deny it. We all have these thoughts, whether it be about an annoying friend, or a rude co-worker. I don't care who you are, not one person alive is so perfect that they've never considered killing someone.
Even those of you who, at times, shout "I'm gonna kill you" at a friend in jest, do you mean to tell me there isn't some small part of your subconscious that wishes you could kill them?
Maybe you don't know it, maybe you try to deny the want to kill, try to cover it up by claiming it was "just a joke." Maybe you're one of these people who "couldn't hurt a fly" much less actively go out and murder. Maybe you pretend to be a flawless being who doesn't think about murdering the people they hate, who wouldn't kill to save a loved one just as quick as I would for this and other reasons.
But we all know the truth. Call me a monster, call me evil, call me cold-blooded, call me whatever you want. At least I don't deny my impulses, at least I stand up and admit what I am.
So I ask you now, before you read on, to consider this before you judge me. Consider, perhaps, that we aren't as different as you'd like to believe.
After all, what separates you from me?
Perhaps. But the thing about those, I've learned, is that they can be very easily brushed aside.
I remained in the hospital for at least four days. Aside from two bruised ribs and a slight concussion from where my head had been slammed against the ground, I was in "perfect health" as the doctors described it.
Not the exact terminology I'd use, but what do I know?
Throughout my time in hospital - and even after I'd gotten out - there was only one thing on my mind. A task I needed to complete if I was going to find peace. A task that, back then, I didn't even know I was capable of.
I was determined to make her suffer, make her bleed. I wanted to see the bitch cry and beg at my feet, to look in her eyes as the life drained from them and to know I was the one who had taken it. It filled me with a great sense of both pride and satisfaction just from thinking about it.
She deserved to die, after all. She had hurt me, had humiliated and tormented me. The beating I'd received at her hands would stick with me for a long time after. Every punch, every kick, every cruel taunt spat at me, it was all driving me further and further over the edge. I had to be the one to meet out justice, to deliver her sentence. No police nor any other adult knew the right way to avenge my torment.
We had it all planned out, Assef and I. I knew from my expert detective skills, that Zainab often spent time in the woods just outside Kabul. It was within about twenty minutes walking distance and she would go there for hours on end, usually alone most of the time. I'd overheard one of her friends talking to her about it a few months ago - Zainab had said it was her quiet place, her place to reflect and be alone with nature.
Today, though, it would be her place to die.
Everything was planned to perfection. Knife? Check. Gloves? Check. Change of clothes in case of blood-spatter? Check. Foolproof alibi? Check - I would claim I'd been home resting and since Mahmood and Tanya were away there would be nobody to refute my story.
Everything would be perfect. The perfect crime, the perfect murder.
The perfect game.
I was on my knees, stuffing gloves and a freshly washed lavender dress into my old book bag, teeth grit in frustration as I tried to close the zipper, which had, as per the usual, gotten stuck. Assef crossed the length of the room, knelt down beside me, and took my little hand in his.
"You're sure about this?"
"About what?" I was genuinely confused by his question. It didn't occur to me, even for a minute, that he might try to talk me out of my plan. Assef was on my side, right? He wanted me to be happy and killing Zainab was going to make me happier than I'd ever been. Why then would he deny me this right?
With a sigh, Assef placed his fingers under my chin and turned me to face him. His blue eyes held such a loving concern within them, it was impossible not to be moved by it. He stroked the length of my hair, once, twice, three times, before leaning over and giving me a gentle kiss on the forehead.
"Killing her, Sar." He switched to German now, our go-to language when we didn't want to be overheard. "You're sure this is what you want? I mean.. I'm not trying to say it's wrong or anything.. God knows the whore deserves it.. but.. isn't it a bit of a risk? Wouldn't you just prefer to give her a beating and leave it at that. Eye for an eye and all?"
"No," I answered, without a moment's hesitation. "I wouldn't have put so much effort into planning this if I wasn't determined. She has to die. She has to pay the ultimate price for what she did. If that price is her life, so be it. I'm doing this, Assef, with or without your help."
Another sigh. Then, "Fine. Just.. let me dispose of the body, okay? Like I did with the pets we killed when we were younger."
"You always did love your butcher's role," I giggled, flinging my arms around my brother's neck and kissing his cheek. "But in all seriousness, thank you. For sticking with me on this."
"It's my job, kiddo." He stood up, offering a hand to pull me up off the floor. "Everything ready?"
I held the bag up. "Of course."
"Good. Then let's go."
And we went.
Out the door, down the drive, through the wrought-iron gates, neither of us speaking a word, the bag straps digging into my shoulder blades and making me somewhat nervous as I thought of what lay hidden inside. I couldn't stop imagining what would happen if the zipper broke and the contents of my bag spilled out for the world to see. It wouldn't take a genius to see the knife, the change of clothes and the gloves and put two and two together; to know I was intending to commit murder.
Suddenly my brother's hesitation didn't seem so stupid anymore.
If we get caught, it's all over. They'll execute us for this. They won't care that I'm a child. We'll be stoned or beheaded, or burned alive. Is this really worth it?
Yes, I realised, as we reached the forest. Yes, it is. Whatever the consequences, I had to do this. I had to.
No matter what it may cost me, Zainab Qualmari was going to die.
The forest was quiet, save for the occasional chirping of birds and the soft crunching of snow underfoot as we walked. I had my gloves on, and the knife safely hidden away in my dress pocket. I lay the bag behind a tree, then turned to my brother.
"Stay there. I'm going to go look for her."
"You sure you don't want me to -"
Assef gave me a look, but said nothing. I walked off, feeling somewhat guilty for how harsh I'd been. He was only looking out for me, I didn't need to be a bitch to him. I'll make it up to him later, I thought, now get focused, Saria. There's no time to break concentration. Stay. Fucking. Focused.
I trudged through the snow, eyes darting every which way, scouring the forest for my victim, the way a lioness hunts for prey.
She better be here, there's no point if she isn't. Where is she? Where is she? Where is she?!
Minutes passed, though it seemed like hours without her. Each passing second only filled me with more dread, more rage. This needed to be perfect and how could one commit the perfect murder if the victim wasn't there to be killed?
How could a game be won if all the players weren't available?
Finally, I spotted her.
She sat on a tree stump, her eyes closed and head tilted back. She was muttering something under her breath, whether prayer or poem I didn't know, nor did I care to find out. I stalked towards her, quiet as a mouse.
Within a minute or two, I was directly behind her. I pulled the blade - a twelve inch steak knife - out of my pocket and, without a word, drove it through the back of her neck. It squelched as it collided with bone, skin and muscle.
Zainab gargled and rolled off the tree stump, landing with a thud on her back. Blood gushed from the wound on her neck, the knife having gone right through and slicing her throat, too. It sprayed my dress, tights and shoes in crimson as I made my way to the crying, whimpering girl.
Her eyes widened in disbelief at the sight of me. "S-Sa... Sar..."
She clutched at her throat, horrified. Her legs kicked futilely against the ground in a desperate attempt to get away from me. Stupid bitch. Did she really think that was going to solve anything?
I knelt in front of her, lifting her head and reaching around to pull the knife back out. With a smirk, I dangled the crimson blade in front of her, wanting to see her reaction to seeing so much of her own blood.
But, aside from a few soft whimpers, I got nothing.
What. The. Fuck?
Where was the crying? The pathetic attempts to get up and crawl away, the garbled pleas as she tried to beg for mercy through her mutilated vocal chords. This wasn't how it was supposed to go at all! She was ruining my plan!
"Fucking bitch!" I snarled, and then all sense of reason, rationality and humanity left me.
I stabbed the knife into her flesh, repeatedly. In, out, in out. Over and over again. Blood squirted from each wound, spraying my clothes, face and hair. But it didn't matter a damn to me, so lost was I in the moment of it all.
It took only five minutes before the life drained from her.
Not as much of a challenge as I would have liked, but oh well.
The deed was done.
"She's all yours." I handed the blade to Assef, who had, thankfully, remained where I'd told him to. "Have fun."
"I think you had enough fun for the both of us," he said, laughing and wiping some blood from my cheek with his own gloved hand. "Go get changed. I'll dispose of the body parts."
Yes, you read that correctly. He said "body parts."
My brother intended, as he had done with the pets we'd murdered, to sever Zainab's head, arms and legs from her torso. "It helps hide the evidence better," he'd told me once, when I was eight and had watched him do the same to the family cat.
I slunk off behind a tree and quickly changed, using the blood dress to wipe my face before I stuffed it into the bag and rejoined my brother, who had already separated Zainab's left arm, right leg and half her head from the rest of her body.
Should have brought a better knife, I thought sympathetically as I watched him. His brow was drenched in sweat, hands trembling slightly with the effort.
"Assef?" I placed a gentle, comforting hand on his shoulder.
"Not now, kiddo, I'm working." He made to turn away from me again, but I stopped him.
"Stop. Let's just dispose of her as she is. I'm bored of this now and you look like you could pass out with the effort."
Assef gave me a look, and I thought for certain he would ignore me. Thankfully, though, he didn't and together we dragged Zainab's corpse to the middle of the forest, covering it with mounds of fresh snow and earth. Her arm and leg we scattered like Hansel and Gretel scattering breadcrumbs.
Once I'd kicked more snow over our footprints, we were ready to go.
The knowledge that I was now a criminal was... invigorating, to say the least. It made me feel strong, in control. Like I could take on the world and nobody would be able to stop me. It made me feel powerful.
It made me feel, if you will, like a god.