By Anne Carr
“It’s very simple, remember….” Zarak paused for a moment as he looked down at the two wires sticking out of his vest.
“You just touch the two wires together. That’s all you have to do. You won’t be harmed and you just run back to the others.”
“D’you know where we’re going?”asked Shaukal.
“No, I heard them say it’s important that where we go is a surprise,” said Zarak.
“D’you think it’s far from here?” continued Shaukal.
“No, I think it’s near. I think it’s the checkpoint on the mountainside or,” Zarak hesitated, “maybe the police station in the market. No-one will stop us going through the checkpoint to the market so early in the day.”
Zarak and Shaukal had met in the Afghan mountain madrassah only a few months earlier. Both were 12 years old and their parents, poor Pashtuns had accepted the sale of the sons with relief at the money they received and pride in the cause. The boys were illiterate and in return for their studies in the madrassah had been provided with food and shelter and an amulet of Koranic verses to protect them. They were brainwashed daily by the madrassah teachers and shown photos of how infidels tortured and killed women and children.
After two weeks of intensive propaganda and reduced food rations they had been taken blindfolded to another room and told to wait. After a few minutes, their blindfolds were removed so that they could see the Mullah.
“When this explodes,”the Mullah explained, pointing to the padded vest, “you will survive because God will help you survive the fire. Only infidels will be killed. You will be saved and you will go to paradise.
“Tie to go”, said another voice from behind as the blindfolds were retied around the boys’heads. They were roughly pushed out of the room, down the hallway and into a vehicle with the engine running. As the vehicle lurched off, picking up speed on the mountain road, in the gloominess of the van without windows, Zarak could feel Shaukals body next to him.
“My heard feels like a chiken feather floating in the breeze,”
Only kilometers away in the opposite direction, an army humvee engine was turning over impatiently waiting for Sergeant Marla Jackson’s senior officer to join her. It was their usual early evening mission to reconoitre the mountain are that led to the town market and police station. At this time, early in the day the market would be full of shoppers taking advantage of the local bargain – countless fat white feathered chickens for which the market was famous.
Marla checked her watch as she became more and more impatient. She let her mind wander away from the early morning sunrise of the Afghan mountains and back to her recent leave in Western Oklahoma and the glorious panhandle sunsets none more spectacular and curious than at the Anubis Cavers – shallow shelters eroded out of a sandstone cliff-side. As intrigued as she had been on previous visits, Marla had watched as the sun began to dip lower in the sky. During the last hours before sunset at every equinox a drama unfolded. She had been to the caves with her then fiance, a geology student. Before completing his studies he had also, like Marla, decided to join the military and had been deployed to Afghanistan where he was killed in a roadside bombing the border with Pakistan. For the last few years, returning to the caves was a kind of ritual for Marla before she began each new tour of duty. It was a way to remember their time together and renew her interest in a curious and ancient scene.
Panting from the climb into the second of the five caves she stared again at the incised panel on the back wall. It was about four and a half feet long and of very complex design. The image that always fascinated her was what some had called “just an old coyote”but that had later been identified as an image of Anubis, the jackal god because of the royal flail or Egyptian whip with a handle on his back, the same flail that is shown crossed on the breast of the Pharaohs and the god Osiris as symbols of authority.
She looked at her watch. She knew that at the instant of sunset was the climax when three things happened simultaneously. The whole complex panel that included an image of a sun as well as the head of a sun god would be filled by the shadow of a thumb shaped rock at the entrance to the cave and the entire figure of Anubis including his flail would be illuminated. Anubis, Lord of the Underworld according to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, who decided the worthiness of individuals to enter the afterlife by weighing their hearts against the weight of a fluffy white ostrich feather. Once admitted into the realm of the underworld, Anubis would faithfully guard that dead persons’s identity for eternity. Marla didn’t blink because she knew from experience that within seconds, when the sun had slipped, the entire panel would be in shadow for another six months until the spring equinox.
“Drive, corporal!”barked her senior officer bringing her consciousness quickly back to the humvee and rural Afghanistan. She shifted into gear and slowly edged up the steep mountain road toward the market entrance.
As she drew up to the gate, Marla noticed two young adolescent boys huddled close together, walking slowly yet occasionally looking back over their shoulders.
Seconds later there was a loud explosion followed by smoke, screams from injured people running away from the market entrance…….and than a cloud of fluffy white chicken feathers began to rain down on the humvee’s windshield.