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It was a very familiar neighborhood where everybody virtually knows everybody. The street was a mini-commercial zone with side street vendors, kiosk and stalls lined on both sides of the road. Happy villagers patronize the merchants with bright smiles that betrayed their love for life and peace they enjoyed amidst poverty and wants. Ever since the troop arrived a year earlier, the people had enjoyed relative peace and the constant harassment of the locals by the Taliban had completely ceased. The people loved their new friends from America but they still felt and see their presence as occupation. Nina was different, for she had already perceived intuitively that the Americans were of good intention and had come with the new gospel of freedom and human right to Afghanistan. She fraternized and had befriended Sergeant Smith who visited their provision stall regularly where she helped her sick dad as a shop attendant. She could have been given out for marriage long time ago, but as the only daughter with aged and ill parents, they decided to keep her for a while for assistance. Luckily, Smith came and the friendship had become a relationship. At seventeen Nina actually looked more matured than her age, and had assured Smith that she was willing to elope with him to US whenever he was ready. She was willing to elope because the consent to marry an infidel was unlikely to come from neither her parents nor relatives who were entrenched in their Islamic faith.

It was a bright Saturday afternoon. The sun seemed to have stood still, directly above the locals who had come out as they always do to take care of their businesses. A gentle wind flowed and swayed leafs of three branches as well as grasses nearby. Two boys of about ten and twelve years old herded their sheep across the road where a military truck just pulled by the side of the side. Nina was in her usual grey flowing dress, attending to customers who had come to buy food stuff. She doesn’t always see the need to don hijab as she perceived it as a cultural ploy designed to keep women in perpetual subjugation. She constantly and silently rebelled against norms she considered as a violation of true freedom and basic human right. She was a charming beautiful damsel whose sociability was sometimes misconstrued as flirtation. As she looked up and saw the military truck, she quickly ran inside the stall to adjust her wears and take a look at a hand mirror to make sure she was presentable before Smith, who will soon be around to check on her.

“Hello, my sweetheart. Are you there?’” Smith shouted as he came around and stood in front of stall with Jones and Tommy. They were well equipped in their military attires. Heavy jacket on top that seemed to be fully stuffed with weapons and what looked like grenades.

Nina peeked and gradually emerged with bright smiles that left her countenance shimmering in an impeccable beauty. “Yes, my dear soldier.” She said effortlessly in heavily accented English language.

She drew close and slightly embraced Smith shyly despite many eyes that were staring at them. While Jones and Tommy withdrew few yards away from the lovers, Smith handed Nina an envelope and promised to return at sundown before she closed for the day.

Because of crowd on this Saturday afternoon, the soldiers on foot patrol couldn’t spot the twenty-two year of man in an overflowing caftan, looking suspicious and somewhat jittery. Smith and his two friends had not walked up to a block away from the stall when the young man came in front of Nina’s stall where crowd was heavy. Nina was still in front of the stall staring at Smith as he continued to walk away. A loud ominous sound came out of the man in caftan “God is great,” in Arabic, and then ‘boom,’ the bomb underneath the caftan exploded. Smoke, fire, dust filled the air. Smith and his friends turned back and started running. Smith was running and was praying, crying and hoping for the best.

At the scene of the suicide were others soldiers who had arrived and encircled the crime zone. As the smoked of the suicide bomber cleared, a little away from Nina’s stall, were her half charred remains tossed gruesomely by the side. Away from that was her right arm lying separately which Smith recognized with the bangle he had given her as a gift. Smith sat on the road and barely held a sitting position. He looked dazed, confounded and was staring in a blank space not knowing what just happened. Jones and Tommy had their both hands on their head, shading tears and trying to help scores of others that were badly injured. Other soldiers kept piling up about two dozen corpses by the roadside.

Smith managed and stood. He wobbled to a side street where he will be away from the commotion. He pulled up a knife from the right side pocket of his khaki pant. He was about to slash his neck when a heavy knock at the door interrupted the nightmare. He woke up perspiring heavily in a cold winter morning in Huston, Texas. His mother was standing at the foot of the bed.

“Honey, your breakfast is ready.” She said with some concern about Smith who had been behaving weird ever since he returned from Afghanistan a month earlier.

“Where is Nina?” Smith inquired, staring at his mother as he sat on the bed.

“Who is Nina?” The mother asked. “You had nightmare again? Smith, you should try and see Dr. Williams for counseling today. You are no longer yourself. You are apparently losing grip of yourself.

“I am sorry Mama. I will be fine. I am coming” He wobbled into the bathroom to freshen up. He sat on the john and began to crying. He was crying for a lot of things. The images of carnages, of little children and young adults who lay dead on the ground in Afghanistan ran through his heart like a searing pain. Nina’s unforgettable death together with Tommy who just hanged himself a week ago in Maryland, left him totally exhausted in grief. In addition to these, Smith was losing his mind very fast and seemed to be sinking into an irretrievable depth of depression. He was banging on the wall of the toilet when his mother came to the door and started yelling.

“Smith, Smith, Smith, honey please come out!”

She screamed, shouted and yelled, but Smith wouldn’t open the door nor stop crying. His mother picked up her cell phone and dialed Madelyn, Smith’s only and elder sister who were working in Chicago to report the episode and seek direction on how to help her son… (to be continued).

About Duru Ernest

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