About the author: Muhammad Ali Hujjati is in the 11th grade at Marefat High School and plans to study business or economics in the future.
“Allah-o-Akbar. Allah-o-Akbar. God is great. God is great!”
It was 3 a.m. The sound of Azan blasted from the loudspeakers of mosques, paving the deserted, lifeless streets of Mariaabad, Quetta in Pakistan. It was like a giant sitting on the shoulders of the air, getting carried to every house. Streetlights stood at the end of every street. Some of them were working, shining light, while others were broken. In addition to the Mullah and the muezzin, one who recites Azan, many other people were also awake, moving slowly and silently toward the mosques, to perform ablutions before saying their morning prayers.
“Tabasoom! O Tabasoom Jan!” Tabasoom’s mother, Fatima, was calling her name gently, in a low tone. “Get up now. The car might come.” She shook Tabasoom’s shoulder gently.
A slight smile appeared on Tabasoom’s thin lips, revealing the dimples on both cheeks. Then her almond-shaped eyes opened wide. It seemed as if those eyes had not been closed at all that night. The excitement of the trip ahead kept her from sleep. She immediately got up from her bed and performed ablution to offer the morning prayers before the car arrived. Prayers were obligatory since she was nine years old now. Tabasoom offered her prayers, folded the prayer mat and put on her socks. She was looking at her face in the mirror and arranging her scarf when the car reached the gate, honking.
Tabasoom ran towards the yard where everyone was waiting — her parents, her grandmother, and her uncle’s wife. She wished everyone good morning before joining them and standing beside her mother, who took her in her arms. Ramazan, Tabasoom’s father, who was standing beside them, patted his daughter’s head. Sadiq, Tabasoom’s uncle, was taking all the luggage and souvenirs toward the car waiting outside.
Tabasoom was going with her grandmother and uncle to Dhamorda, Jaghori, Afghanistan; the schools in Pakistan were not in session, and Tabasoom’s parents had decided to send her on this trip during the vacation, in part because Tabasoom had insisted. Tabasoom’s mother kissed her daughter several times and handed her a small backpack filled with some clothing, curried chicken meat, a few loafs of Naan, and a bottle of water to be used during the trip. Fatima thought that the hotels on the way served unclean food.
All three said their goodbyes and crossed from under a Koran held high by Ramazan, entrusting themselves to God’s hands. Everyone does this while travelling along the perilous path toward Afghanistan. Death is always present. There are two possibilities when taking this path. The first is that you will be killed by a landmine or by a thief; and if you are Hazara, you could get beheaded by Taliban. The second is that you will reach to your destination in the arms of your beloved ones.
“Don’t get sad or miss me, okay? I will be back soon!” Tabasoom said, smiling towards her mother, comforting her before climbing beside her grandmother in the backseat.
The car drove away leaving a hazy view as it produced a large cloud of smoke. Fatima threw a bowl of water behind the car for their safe arrival and watched the car until it turned to the corner. Then she closed the metal gate.
“I wish Tabasoom wouldn’t go. She has never been away,” Fatima said in a heavy tone, her voice trembling.
“Ahh! Don’t worry. My mother is with her. She would be hurt and would miss Tabasoom if we had not let her go. Moreover, it will be a great experience for her. Real learning is in experiencing,” Ramazan said, smiling. Fatima nodded; a slight smile appeared on her face after a few seconds of reluctance.
For Tabasoom, it really was a trip filled with new sights. She was watching the scenes excitedly while others in the car compensated for the last night’s sleeplessness by taking naps. Both Sadiq and Tabasoom’s grandmother had been talking with others at home all night, as if it was the very last night of the world. The excitement of the trip had stolen the sleep from Tabasoom’s eyes. She didn’t want to miss any moment of the trip. She leaned on the car’s window panel as it drove out of town. She was staring vacantly at the asphalt road, thinking about her friends and parents left behind.
When the car was passing the villages lying far away from the main road, the empty fields were visible. Tabasoom imagined the long golden wheat swaying and dancing there by the order of winds just a few months ago, before being harvested by the farmer. She witnessed the gradual rising of the sun for the very first time in her life, showing its face like a shy girl using the eastern mountains as a burqa or chador. But at last it showed its face to Tabasoom.
Now she put her head out of the car and enjoyed the cool and wild wind kissing her face and hair, struggling to steal the scarf from her head. She laughed at the odd sound echoing in her ears, produced by the wind entering her mouth as she said something. The other cars zoomed by like rockets. There were many colorful lorries racing madly along the road, as if they were in a race with the other cars. Tabasoom watched all of this, and it added to the excitement of the trip. But this excitement came to an end when the car reached Chaman, the Pakistan and Afghanistan border, at 8 a.m.
There was a long line of cars stopped ahead, waiting for the border gate to open. It was at this moment that sleep took its revenge from Tabasoom. She fell asleep and woke up only when the car was passing Kandahar, and the passengers inside were suffering from the hot weather. The trip was getting tiresome. They had been sitting in the car for eight hours, and Sadiq noticed this in Tabasoom’s face. She seemed gloomy, staring into space. Maybe she was already homesick.
“Mother! How good that we brought Tabasoom with us. Now we will sell her somewhere or even give her to a husband in Jaghori!” Sadiq grinned and pinched Tabasoom’s left cheek gently. And suddenly she felt apprehensive.
Her grandmother, sitting between them, pushed Sadiq’s hand and said, “Your uncle is just teasing you. Won’t we become blind if we did such a thing? We will return before your school starts.” This relieved Tabasoom, and she pushed herself closer to her grandmother who was embracing Tabsoom.
“Grandma! Why did we migrate from Afghanistan in the first place?” Tabasoom asked, lost in deep thoughts.
Her grandmother took a deep sigh and paused for a few seconds before saying, “Oh, my love. There has always been misery. Around 64 percent of Hazaras were massacred during Abdur-Rahman’s reign. Many were killed brutally in Afshar, Orozgan, Kandipusht and much more. Hazara girls and women were sold as slaves for two rupees. Discrimination still exists everywhere. Indeed, we have been like born criminals and have had enemies in our own homeland.”
“Who is our enemy, Grandma?” Tabasoom asked, astonished.
“Jahalat, ignorance! We have been suffering due to ignorance, Tabasoom jan,” replied Grandma kissing Tabasoom’s head.
Tabasoom suddenly remembered the day when she was asked in class by the teacher what her name meant. And she had no answer. “Your name means smile,” her father had said later at home. He had also said, “We named you Tabasoom because we believe that a smile brings more smiles, and you will also bring smiles and happiness to others in future.”
“Grandma! Our teacher says that we can kill ignorance with knowledge. I also want to become a teacher in the future. I will spread education and knowledge. I will finish war and ignorance using the power of knowledge and also bring smiles to others!” Tabasoom stated assertively.
The passengers in the car were discussing ignorance and how to destroy it as the car entered Zabol. Suddenly, a thick, black cloud appeared in the blue sky. The roads were deserted, and cars were no longer speeding along. Indeed, no cars were seen now. A pin-drop silence ruled everywhere, and a similar silence took over the inside of the car as it stopped. An army of men surrounded the car, a few with covered faces, while others wore black turbans. The only similarity was the fact that all of them had loaded AK-47s hanging on their shoulders covering their big bellies and long beards. The rifles were like brooms sweeping the men’s swollen bellies as they talked. They were talking loudly and barking orders at each other in a language that Tabasoom didn’t understand. In the car everyone was terrified and trembling. They read verses of the Koran to protect them. Sadiq was pale, looking almost dead.
“Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid! Everything is fine,” Tabasoom’s grandmother said, cuddling her hard as her eyes roamed everywhere. Tabasoom gazed at her grandmother and felt that she seemed older; the wrinkles on her face had increased in an instant. The car door opened, and everyone was dragged outside. The driver was told to return, and the passengers were taken by the men into another car.
All seven Hazara passengers were abducted by ISIS or probably Taliban that day. Nothing was done by the government officials. Nearly a month after the abduction, on November 8 2015, all seven dead bodies arrived with cut throats – even 9-year-old Tabasoom’s. The doctors said that their throats had been cut either by sharp metal strings or kite wire (Hazara International Network). Tabasoom’s lips were frozen in a slight, tight smile, and her eyes were closed peacefully. It seemed as though her soul was still in her body; if one didn’t see her cut throat, one would think that she was in a deep sleep.
When her body reached her home, it created great agony. When the quilt was removed from her face, Ramazan stepped back and leaned on the wall. He slid down crying silently. Fatima couldn’t believe her eyes; she pressed her daughter’s body to her chest and shouted, “Tabasoom! Tabasoom! My dear daughter. Wake up. You had promised that you would be back soon. I have been seeing your path every day. Wake up! Say mother once more.” Then she looked upwards and shrieked at the top of her voice, “Oh, God! Please take my life instead.” Then she fainted on her daughter’s body, crying. A light rose from Tabasoom’s body and her soul left her body at last, kissing her mother’s wet face as it flew towards the sky like a fairy leaving earth behind with all its ignorance and sorrows.
Suddenly her body became cold and her smile faded away.
Writer’s note: This story is based on an event that actually took place in Afghanistan in the fall of 2015, but it is made into fiction. The Hazara girl in the actual tragedy was named Shukria Tabasoom; she was the daughter of Ramzan Ali from Dhamordha Jaghori District of Afghanistan and was born in Dhamorda. During a journey from Jaghori to Quetta, Pakistan, all seven ethnic Hazara passengers were captured in the valley of Zabul, Afghanistan. The locations were changed in this fictionalized version.
The main point is that the real-life Tabasoom never received justice; this story honors her life and attempts to convey what happened that terrible day to a young girl filled with love and hope who life was brutally cut short simply