That is what a suicide bomb looks like. It sounds like nothing else I have ever heard. An incredibly loud bang, that shudders the entire building. When a headline says, ‘Bomb rocks Kabul’, it is true. I am sitting at my desk and when the bomb detonates, I cringe. We scatter outside, trying to locate the explosion. It is not far away: maybe 300m, at the end of our street and a bit to the right.
We watch the plume rise and people flock towards the site: the voyeurs, the worried, the fascinated: the normal response that chaos and destruction brings. A few people are coming the opposite way: a young boy, accompanied by another who is holding his arm. The first boy holds his stomach, and it is only after he passes that I register that his shirt is soaked with blood. There is a medical clinic just down the road from us, though I have never seen it open. I hope it is today.
I phone Julie; she has been picking up the kids and they are still in the school corridor, just waiting a while, with all the teachers and students. Then I phone colleagues: again, everyone ok. Up the road from us is another NGO that we are close to, ideologically and in practice, and their director phones to make sure we are ok. Their windows have all been broken in the blast, again: there was a suicide bomber last year (that I also happened across – Good Friday’s suicide message ), that blew out their windows too.
I sit down and try to work and notice my pulse is high. I go into the next office. Karima, my colleague is staring vacantly at her screen. I ask her if she is ok.
‘I am ok, but my thoughts are not ok.’ Tears rise in her eyes. I don’t know what to say. I turn, then turn back: ‘Karima, go and sit with Suraya. Drink tea’. Suraya works with the other NGO that we share a compound with. Karima dabs her eyes, but as she stands up, she breaks and begins to sob. I try a sort of smile, and leave, and a moment or two later she walks heavily across the yard to Suraya’s office.
Nasir comes back into the office. His brother studies at the school, just in front of which the bomb detonated. His brother is ok, but Nasir himself had driven through that exact stretch of road maybe two minutes earlier, returning from the town. He sags in his seat.
I send all the staff home.
You can play a lot of whatiffery at times like this. What if Nasir had been late? What if I had been going out that way? What if it was a little closer? Or Julie had been taking the kids out? Or? Or?
I leave the office and drive home, and by the time I reach the main road, the bomb site is largely cleared. Shattered windows the main evidence, and throngs of people, standing, talking, gazing.
I get home and find the diesel heater has flooded. There is several litres of gunky black fuel that I need to siphon out of the heater or we will have our own little explosion. An hour or so later, I have removed a small amount of the dieset and seem to have absorbed the rest of it through the pores of my skin and by soaking it into my good shirt. We can now light the heater and start to warm up. We need a bit of warmth and rest at this point.