Bread in winter

murtaza-ahmadi2About the Author: Ahmad Murtaza Ahmadi graduated from Kateb University with a degree in Political Science in 2011 and works at the Ministry of Higher Education. He studied English at Star from 2006 to 2008 and began teaching for Star in 2009. You can follow his blog here: https://kabuldreamseller.wordpress.com/

It was a hard winter. I was almost four years old. The weather was freezing and the Mujahidin had closed the roads in protest against the Afghan government. The dark shadow of hunger was cast over all Afghan families. The shopkeepers had no more flour to sell. The government also didn’t have enough flour for all the residents of Kabul City. Every day, we witnessed the tragedy of famine. Families were selling their sons and daughters because they didn’t have enough money to feed them.

Children, chilled to the bone, stood in the bakery lines trying to get bread. However, the bakeries could not sell more than five loaves of bread to each family and families who had more than five members, like our family, suffered from hunger. Therefore, my father and my four older brothers went to five different bakeries to bring twenty-five loaves of bread for our large family each day.

It was so cold and the way was filled with frozen mud and ice. The cold wind blew on our face and hands. Our noses and cheeks felt bruised by the numbing cold air and our plastic boots and torn socks offered no protection. My toes were painfully cold and tears fell from our eyes. In better days, we dreamed of playing with toys. But in those days we dreamed of warm clothes and food in our stomachs. The desperation of that dark and cruel winter made us all want to cry. But we remembered our father’s encouraging words, “Men don’t cry. If so, they are not zealous.”

On one of those harsh days, my brother Ahmad Tariq was standing in line in front of the bakery. He was in the middle of the line, surrounded by men and boys who were much bigger than him. Because he was so small, nobody saw him clearly. When he reached the front of the line and it was his turn to get some bread, the whole line started pushing each other and my brother’s neck was pressed against the bakery counter. He started shouting and screaming, “Don’t push! Don’t push!” but the men didn’t hear his voice. The blood drained from his face and his voice became even weaker. I was also shouting at the men in line, “Hey! Don’t push! You’re breaking my brother’s neck!” Suddenly the baker noticed what was happening and jumped into the crowd, pushing them aside and yelled, “You will all get bread! But if you hurt anyone, I won’t give you a morsel.” Then he gave my brother the bread and we both went home, completely terrified by what had happened.

When we were getting near our home, the sun was rising from the dark shadow of night and we began to feel hopeful that behind each darkness a sun is lying down with a happy face and bright hope. As the sun climbed higher into the sky, the people in the city got up with a hopeful vision of a new day. I listened to the birds singing, the ducks quacking, and the hens cackling. My brothers searched to see if the hens and ducks had laid any eggs while my mother tossed stale bread and seeds and wheat on the ground for them to eat. In the yard, the ice and snow was melting and dripping from the tree branches in the bright sunlight. Some drops splashed on my slippers and landed on my eyelashes. The snow glittered and sparkled and made my eyes squint in the brightness.

Just at that moment, I heard my father’s voice calling me for breakfast. When I entered the room there was only tea, mint and bread – no sugar or milk. During breakfast, everyone was talking about how hard they tried to get bread. Then my father looked at my brothers and I with his kind eyes and prideful look and said, “I am proud of you boys – the men of my family and the arms of my body.” Then he hoped for a better future for us all.