We are driving to the airport. Amin takes us on a back route, to avoid the traffic. It is one of the more bombed out areas that I have seen for some time – so much rebuilding now, the old destruction is less visible.
‘So you are going home – to see your father?’
‘He is sick?’
‘Very sick now. Perhaps close to death.’
‘God give him health quickly. What is he sick with?’
It is too complicated to explain the whole story; it would have to go back 50 years. I give one of the more recent ailments. ‘He has cancer.’
Amin nods. ‘Cancer of the liver?’
‘Cancer of the blood.’
‘He is before God now. How old is he?’
‘His years are full then.’
‘Yes, his years are full’
‘In Afghanistan, his years would be full. But perhaps in outher countries, people live to 100. Well, I will pray for him and for you, may he find health. He is before God.’
The use of subject pronouns in Dari is ambiguous. So Amin could mean, ‘It is before God’, meaning God will make a decision as to his healing. Or he could mean, ‘He is before God’, meaning given that my father’s years are full, God will judge him in an eternal way.
‘May you live long also.’
As we approach 40 Metre Rd, we are forced off the road by a convoy of armed vehicles, providing a security buffer to the two central, civilian vehicles – perhaps Ministers, or simply wealthy men. It used to the ISAF military who did this, but they are much less present in the city nowadays, trying to avoid civilian confrontations. The Afghan army has taken their place, and their approach is just as bullying. Unusually though, the men manning the gun turrets in the lead and rear vehicles are wearing ski masks, which gives them a lawless, hostile appearance.
At the airport we face the usual checks, but the process is far smoother these days. I tell Pieta that when she is searched, if anyone touches her inappropriately, she should scream. An man ahead of me turns around. His tone is officious and angry and he has a thick European accent. ‘What did you say?’
‘I was speaking to my daughter.’
‘You have a problem with my security staff?’
I have offended the chief of security. He must be contracted in here. ‘Yes, sometimes I do have a problem with them.’
He is unreasonably belligerent. ‘If you have a problem with them, you can lodge an official complaint.’
‘If I need to do that, I will.’ He moves away, I proceed in the queue. It crosses my mind to tell him about the airport staff in Mazar, who search everything, hold it up, show to each other, ask for gifts, delay passengers for up to half an hour while they openly try to take lipsticks, books, electronic goods.
I let it pass. We have a plane to catch.