“Untitled” by Jennifer Eddy

It was warm and sunny day before the 2009 Afghan presidential elections. Sellers at the bazaar hustled as schoolgirls with white headscarves skipped hand in hand back from one of the many tent city schools in suburban Kabul, Afghanistan. Like so many times before, this moment was broken by others. Yet, this time is especially strange. I see a soldier who is a woman dressed and armed with the same camouflaged clothing and weapons as the men she is with, but with an additional appendage, a camera.

As she approaches, I cannot not help but think, “Why is this stupid American woman here? Why is she here walking towards me? What does she want? Can’t she see what’s happened to us?” She doesn’t even have enough respect to wear a headscarf. I remember when I was a young woman and wore my hair down. I want to tell her how I remembered who we used to be before the coups, the Russians, before you and everyone else were here, but I no longer have the strength to yell, and she would not understand anyway. I want her to ask what had happened to us, so I could tell her, “You happened.” Maybe if we were left alone for a century or two, we could to maintain some dignity. Why is she smiling and nodding? Why is she walking towards me? What does she want, another story of our suffering?

I wish she could understand that I’m old and I’m tired and I have nothing left to give her. Why can’t we just be left alone in to sort out our cruel reality? Maybe my grandchildren would be able to sort out a decent life for themselves if the outsiders went away. Of course, maybe we’ll just keep killing one another. Elect another crook as president or keep the one we have? It might be better that way. Its not like we have anything left anyway. Everything we ever had has been taken away or destroyed, either by them or ourselves. We have nothing left to give ourselves, let alone anyone else. Once we were beautiful and strong, but that died, once they came riding in on their metallic horses.

She walks towards me in the square where I am sitting and tells me she is conducting a survey of the political candidates locals are voting for and why. Staring softly, she asks through her interpreter, with a sympathetic smile on her face, whom I am voting for. I answer, “I’m voting for Karzai. He’s been filling his pockets for four years and now they’re overflowing, maybe some of the money will fall to us. If we find someone new, we have to fill empty pockets again, starting over from nothing.” She scribbles my comments on a notepad, smiles, nods and says the only word in Pashtun she probably knows, Tashakur (thank you), before riding away on her steel killing machine. I’m sure I will never see her again.

Jennifer Eddy was a participant in the 2016 University of California Student Veterans Summer Writing Workshop.