Skip to content
Give readers a window on the world. Click to donate.
from the May 2011 issue

To Arrive

When you get off the airplane, it will not be like Kabul airport, or like other cities of Afghanistan for that matter, where they drive stairs up and attach them to the door and then take down the passengers one by one. These days, there have been improvements everywhere, old man. But we, we are lagging behind, and war has taken us further and further back. The only thing we think of is devastation, and not creation . . . they will drive the bridge up and attach it to the airplane door, and when you have passed through, you will arrive in the airport’s waiting room.

You are very tired. You have traveled from Kabul to Tehran and from there to Frankfurt before arriving here. Copenhagen airport is a mess, like all airports are. Hordes of travelers, black, yellow, and white people from every corner of the world, depart and arrive. Even though you have been to several chaotic airports before, you will feel lost right away, but that is not your fault. You don’t know any foreign languages. Not a single word. Sure, you know “yes” and “no” and “hello master,” but they don’t count as real words. However, you are strong and confident on the inside because you know that this is the last airport and you will no longer be alone. Your son is there, among the people waiting at arrivals.

You feel a strange craving for naswar and tea. Your head is spinning. You haven’t chewed any naswar since you set out from Kabul toward Copenhagen a couple of days ago. It would have been embarrassing if you were to chew naswar. You are aware of this and for that reason you have bought a pack of cigarettes instead. If you had had naswar, you would have been afraid that they would arrest you for possession of narcotics at Tehran airport. And as an Afghan, your guilt would be proven in advance. Naswar is dangerous. Even you have realized that it serves no purpose. It makes the mouth dirty and damages the teeth. And it does not give the same pleasure as before. The more you chew it, the greater the craving for pleasures that don’t appear. And if you can’t get hold of any naswar it will be disaster. As right now; you have a headache, your ears are ringing and your eyes are crossed. And these cigarettes don’t give the same pleasure as naswar, but you haven’t learned how to smoke yet. You haven’t found out how to inhale the smoke. You tried it a few times in the transit halls at the airports but you started to cough.

\You will forget the headache as soon as you reach the arrival hall and you will adjust your glasses so that you can easily spot your son among the people. How many years is it since you last saw your little king? It was during Karmal’s government. He had deserted from the military. If not, he could have been conscripted and sent to the front, perhaps to Panjshir. Who knows if he would have made it back alive or not. So many young people that went but never returned. Together with his mother, you had prepared to go to his garrison with some clothes and some money for his expenses . . . when his letter from Pakistan arrived; a folded piece of paper that one of your friends had brought from Pakistan. It had been sewn into the lining of his coat, and read, “Dear Father, I have deserted from the military. I am in Pakistan at the moment. Don’t know what to do. If I could find a decent job, that would be great, if not, perhaps I will go to Iran . . .”

Your son’s desertion from the military had made you happy. His mother was also pleased and said that, “He is in God’s hands now and our hearts are appeased.”

—Our son will no longer have to serve the infidels.

—He will not fight the mujahideen.

You had even felt a desire to write your son telling him to go to the mujahideen regiments over there in Pakistan, to take up arms and return. This time in a trench on the other side . . . his mother had not allowed this, “Who would he kill? You know, there are soldiers on this side who are just like our son, but who haven’t been able to escape yet.”

It was true what she said, but that aspect had not crossed your mind. A mother’s intuition rarely steers her wrong. After this, accompanied by your wife, the boy’s mother, your bragging had started. You used to visit friends and acquaintances and you steered the conversation to the war and the front, and said, “Our child, God’s gift, is a deserter. God’s beloved does not fight against the Mujahideen.”

If someone gently put their finger over their lips, to signal that you should not talk about this, and that such talk could take you to KhAD, you would boldly say that one should not fear them.

And you really were not afraid of them. Maybe you knew that your white beard still merited a certain amount of respect and that it would keep you away from KhAD. Also your wife’s white ringlets that . . . you had sent your son a message that he should not go to Iran. She had said to you that he will end up like Fazlu’s son . . .

 . . . Who had deserted from military service and gone to Iran. He had not taken any papers with him, and after some time they arrested him and drove him back across the border into Afghanistan. He was once again caught by soldiers who brought him straight to the front. There was neither night nor day for Fazlu’s wife. Only two eyes filled with tears. She used to sigh and wish that the hearts of the infidel Russians should be grilled.

He had not gone to Iran. He thought that he must obey your and mother’s prayers, and since you didn’t agree on whether he should go, he was not sure himself about it. Even though some of the friends he had recently met insisted that they should go to Iran, that there were plenty of jobs there and that the Iranians themselves were preoccupied with the war. Beyond the trenches, Afghan workers made their economic wheels spin. But he had not gone.

—It was those very prayers of yours that made me escape the military camp . . . by God, there were soldiers who had been arrested again . . . by God, there were soldiers who had stepped on mines . . . by God, there were soldiers who had fallen into the hands of the Mujahideen and been killed . . . by God, there were soldiers who had fallen into the hands of the people and because they had not been able to give them weapons, they had been beaten and harassed. But I, due to Mother and Father’s blessed prayers, had not even been flicked on the nose, not even once . . . surely it was your blessed prayers that gave him the opportunity to go to Europe with the help of smugglers. Although he had intended to go to Germany the smugglers had brought him through Denmark and said: “If you would like, many are accepted here . . .”

There was something with this Denmark that had attracted him but he didn’t know what it was. And for a while he had searched after that very thing his mind told him was there in Denmark, though he didn’t know what it was, until . . . he had told the smugglers, “I will stay here, you can go wherever you like.”

And what an aspect of dignity the Afghans held before people around the world. Before he had said that he was an Afghan, the Danish policeman had stood up in reverence. He had been bewildered by the fact that these are the ones that stood up against the Russians. What can it be in this lean figure, probably exhausted after several months of traveling on foot and crossing borders, that enables him to stand up against a power like Russia? They, the Russians, had enjoyed a strange authority here in Europe and in the world around, but now they had experienced the dignity of the Afghans in the war; those who had risen from the depths to the highest point.

And how impatient you were, you wanted to go, run, anything to reach your son. He is so brave and proud. He is someone to trust in. He is your future. Your future rests in his hands, your only child. Even though you had only seen pictures of him, what is a picture of him compared with him in person. He will be much better than the photograph of him, more vital; stronger and steadier than you were at the same age. You didn’t really have a youth, old man. You don’t remember much from that troubled era. It was only pain and affliction. It was toil, and toil, and toil, and toil. Never any amusement and no proper food to eat. It is that youth that has caused your back to bend; your figure was bent by the weight of life’s miseries. But your child? He is strong and steadfast. The pictures of him had been as such. Also these unfortunate ones missed out on much of their youth. Before they had learnt to distinguish their right from their left hand, the war arrived and no one was around to guide them . . . Even though it got better once they could take themselves to a peaceful country. But where were the thoughts of finding peace. Constantly war and news about war. A mind filled with the horrors of war – how could one forget about what happened there and shut oneself off from it? It is true that you now are far away from the heat and the sparks of that fire, but you can still sense the scent of its smoke and still hear the moaning voices from the things being burned in it. How will you find peace of mind? Where shall the anxious travel to find peace? Still, it would be better if you were inside the hardship and not on the outside. To endure war from the outside is even worse . . .

There is a flickering before your eyes, you can’t recognize your son amid all these people. Could your son be standing next to his wife, a nice Danish girl, no, he could not have gotten married, that he would have told me. Maybe he has, and not told me, that is not unlikely at all. As soon as the young ones arrive here, they soon entrust their hearts to some blonde girl with blue eyes.

—It’s the season of youth, you know. If it had been you, it is not unlikely that you would have done the same thing, old man.

You are talking to yourself.

—And what difference does that make?

You consent to your young one getting married even though deep inside you are not content with it. You had hoped that your son would marry a girl from his country, or from another Muslim country. Maybe he has married a Danish girl and made her a Muslim. This thought pleases you. He has created another person that utters the holy word of the prophet. Do you know how charitable such a deed is? Even you should be satisfied with that. Or perhaps he has married a Muslim girl, or even an Afghan one. Sure, nothing is impossible. There are quite a lot of them here, Afghans, they are all over the world now. By the blessings of the war, all have been spread about, scattered and dispersed.

Your son and his wife are probably waiting for you now, with a bouquet of flowers. As those people who are running forward to embrace and kiss the arriving passengers, so also will your son run toward you and take you in his arms, and perhaps a child will come running and twirl around your legs saying, “Hello, Grandfather.”

And maybe you will bend down to embrace him. Kiss him and kiss him . . . you are the root, your son the tree, and he is the fruit. The fruit is always sweeter than the tree. He will be the apple of your eye, old man You haven’t had any grandchildren yet. His poor mother was not around anymore, and if she had been . . . had been alive—but they didn’t let her go on. You come to think of how . . . and you quickly dismiss those painful memories. Now is not the time for any sad thoughts, the painful thoughts must be joyful ones now . . . So where is he, why does he not come, this child? . . . You look around in confusion. You have come to where people meet arriving passengers. So where are they, they who will receive you, old man? Some are looking at you with wonder . . . where could he be from? Your appearance is neat and seemly. You have put on nice, clean clothes. You bought a smart suit from Sarayi Rais in the Mandawi bazaar. Smooth and ironed. You knew that you didn’t need . . . but what caused those people such wonder, was your perplexed and confused appearance. You are alone, with empty hands. You haven’t picked up your suitcase. You didn’t know where to collect it from. You had asked what would happen to your bag at Tehran Airport and they had told you not to worry about that, that it would follow along automatically till you reached your destination . . .

And they had showed you the way to another airplane. You sat down among all those strangers. Even though all of them are human beings, the feeling of being alone is intense. As if they are of another species, another type. And now the longing for your son increases. The moment when you will be in your son’s protection must be near. What a feeling of defenselessness you experience, “Where are you, guideless one?”

You turn around in all directions. A bit wearied . . . but perhaps you feel indifferent; you don’t know if you should be sad or not. At one point you feel as if you have mistakenly gotten off at the wrong stop; at the wrong airport. You turn around. You want to go back into the airplane to get off at another stop, but you come to your senses; do you think this is a bus? It is an airplane. And this was its destination. But if this place was its destination, then where is he, this guideless one?

Once again you turn around in all directions and call your son’s name a couple of times, “Didār . . . Didār.”

You push aside the people around you and look in every direction. You have opened your eyes wide, as if to sharpen your sight, and you rub your eyes so that they will no longer be blurred.

—Didār . . . Didār . . . where are you, Disappeared Didār—Didār-e nādidār.

The memory of your wife is brought to life—when his mother was angry with him and he ignored her, she used to say, “Disappear—Nādidār.”

Let those past memories go now. Get hold of the present, this immensity, this might that has inflicted such a burden on you and will squeeze you; will crush you. It is a great pressure, the present. You have trouble breathing. If Didār were here, he would have carried a part of this burden on his shoulders. He would have removed the burden. He is young and knows how everything works here. He could have spoken in the language of these people. How hard it is, not knowing. God forbid I have come to the wrong place. You let your thoughts run back to those airports you have passed through coming here. Where did you board the wrong airplane? Tehran? Istanbul? Frankfurt? Your mind is too exhausted to figure out where you made the mistake . . . it was not in Frankfurt, that is for sure, they had been very precise there. It must have been in Tehran or in Istanbul where everything was in disarray. Don’t say it happened in Kabul . . . that place is a real mess. Perhaps you had boarded an airplane going in another direction. Say it went to Delhi and you thought it was Tehran, and from there to Japan and you thought it was Istanbul. Then, let us say, to America, and you thought that was Frankfurt. And now you have arrived in another country which you think is Denmark.

It feels as if you have gotten off on another planet and you can sense a strange feeling of fear. You feel a pressure in your stomach and on your bladder, and feel a little sick as well. Now, you turn around in all directions to find out where the men’s room is. But what will happen if you walk toward the men’s room and then miss Didār? He would be here to support you. You bastard, don’t back out on me now.

You walk away quickly to find the men’s room. You open your eyes wide and spin around in every direction to spot the toilet symbol on a door. The picture of a man standing. You know that if you can’t find it, you will have to ask someone—dabelyusi—and somebody will show you the way. Your son had taught you this, both in his letters and via telephone, and you had memorized it. WC. You had visited it one time at every airport. It is old age and the thousands of infirmities it brings along.

Nothing else will make you happier now than to find a restroom. Not even finding Didār. The picture of the standing man on the door appears even more welcome than the picture of a laughing Didār who open his arms to embrace you. On the door next to this, there is a picture of a woman standing; the men’s and the women’s. You rush into the men’s room . . .

Tired and worn-out, you walk back. There is some kind of pleasure in this tiredness. New experiences. You have never before in your life experienced so many new things than during these two or three last days. A lust and desire to know and see things has been brought to life inside you; all these new experiences and environments. Even though fathers rarely acknowledge every dimension of their sons, your Didār has more experience than you. Although he has seen more of life’s good and bad, you don’t envy him; he is your own flesh and blood. You are proud of him.

Now again you find yourself in the crowd, spinning round in all directions. Would you recognize your Didār if he were there among these people? His appearance must have changed during all these years. You will not recognize him, even though you have the photo of him right here in your pocket. If you had had the time, you would have taken the photo out and observed it closely once again. Or, like those policemen with photos in their hands looking for criminals on the run, you would have cast an eye at the photo and glanced at the crowd alternately . . . no, God forbid, God forbid Didār would be a criminal on the run.

But Didār must recognize you. It is much easier for him to find you. Even though some people in this crowd looked like you, would he miss you? So where are you Didār? Something, at the bottom of your heart, still bestowed you with a sense of confidence. The police. This is Europe, if you have come to the right place that is. Here you can trust the police. The police here in this place are not like (in your heart you apologize to all the nice policemen) the double-dealers in underdeveloped countries who act as both the accomplices of thieves and companions of the caravan. Who, whenever they catch sight of an ignorant, start to think on how best they can lighten his wallet. Here, in this place, there are European policemen whom you can ask where to find Didār, whom you can tell that you have lost him, and that you have even lost yourself in your search for Didār.

But you think it is a bit early to call on the police. You don’t want to give up the pleasure of searching. In this way, the recovery of the lost will appear much sweeter. You walk around on your own, maybe . . . no doubt about it, Didār is on his way here but has not arrived yet. How will he get here, by train or car or . . .? A vague picture of a derailed train appears in your mind and arouses a sensation of muteness inside you. Maybe the airplane arrived early. I must be patient and wait for Didār.

What to do with this relentless headache that has dug its strong claws around your head and keeps squeezing it. A constant pressure that is about to burst every vein in your brain. You had seen in the restroom mirror how red your eyes had become; dry, bloodshot, and squinting. The longing for naswar will not let you go and you feel a pressure inside your throat. Cigarettes. You must sit down somewhere and have a smoke. Don’t say that smoking is forbidden – it’s not. A man is smoking and reading a magazine on a bench. Now and again he knocks the ash of the cigarette into the trashcan next to the bench. You sit down, too, on the bench close by. With shaking hands you light a cigarette. What a soothing effect it has, this smoke that makes the eyes tear and burns the lungs. Now you don’t have confidence in anybody. Not even in your Didār.

You had said, “What can I do with this loneliness Didār?”

He had answered, “I don’t know, if you could . . . someone else. . .?”

This had offended you: “How could I? The soil on your mother’s grave has not yet settled. You who are her son, how can you speak like that?” Your Didār was right, old man. Why do you have to be alone? What is the use of staying at somebody’s . . .?

—No Didār. You have changed since you left for Europe. You don’t know what faithfulness is any more. You have forgotten what fidelity means. I lived together with your mother for more than forty years.

—So, what can we do Father?

The only thing that made you happy was to write letters to your Didār who reminded you of your wife, even though . . . no, Didār does not disrespect his mother when he says such things. Your Didār is a realist. For that very reason he had said, “Leave that rocket-torn house of yours for a while. And if you can, leave the town as well.”

You had written to him, “How can I? The memories of her are everywhere. My memories of her are what have kept me alive,” to which he had responded, “That is why I’m telling you this. Set yourself free from those memories, Father, they will destroy you. They will pour down over you—from the doors and the walls, in the alleys and the streets; they will close in on you and remind you of her night and day. They will ruin you . . .”

You had written back, “That’s enough Didār. Don’t tell me what to do. I need you here in person; come here.” He had answered, “Should I come there Father? People hardly tolerate you being there, why would they allow me? As soon as my feet touched the soil . . . that soil is not mine anymore Father. One’s homeland is where one can live. That place is no longer my homeland.”

It is very painful, old man, when someone says such a thing. He had turned his face away and written this, Didār, so that you would not see his tears, old man. He had discussed this with the authorities and said:

—I want to bring my father here to stay with me.


Didār had answered, ”My mother is dead and he is all alone. He needs my assistance.”

The authorities had said, “Do you have any document that verifies her death?”

Didār had laughed and said angrily, “What document, where would I get that from?”

—Your government should certify that she . . .

He had banged his fist on the table. It had frightened the municipal clerk.

—Do you want the murderer to sign and stamp the certificate saying “I have killed this person,” is that the kind of certificate you are after?

This is the downside of this Europe. They have established their laws in such a way that they demand a certificate for everything. They had said, “We will take your request into consideration and send the decision by mail.” Didār had sat down to wait and so had you—letters arrived from everywhere and letters didn’t arrive from the municipality and letters arrived from everyone and letters didn’t arrive from Didār—he had become faithless, Didār.

Until: Finally it is settled, you can come here, Father.

—What will I do there? All of my things are here. Every day I go and visit your mother’s grave.

—Come here, Father. Leave Mother alone for a while. No more of this distress. Let her be in peace down there. She didn’t even once experience tranquility in her life, Mother.

—You had gone to Pakistan and taken the documents to the Danish embassy.

—Where is your passport?

You had run off to get your passport. The longing to meet Didār had made you impatient. Until everything was arranged and your airline ticket was in your hand, each day felt like a year. You had returned to Kabul.

Even though he was not around, it was easier to bear the absence of Didār from here.

Your cigarette was finished and the invisible claw had released its hold of your head.

Where is he, this Didār . . .?

Once again your eyes are going round and round. How long should you wait like this? You should do something. You stand up. The first thing to tackle is to make sure that you have come to the right place, that this is the capital of Denmark, that the airplane has not arrived at another place by mistake. To make sure that there has not been an airplane hijacking on any of these flights, and that they have taken you to another country. You ask a man and a woman who are talking to each other. Both of them turn round when you approach them.

—Injā Dānmārk?

You have uttered the word injā, which is Persian, in a low voice, and Dānmārk louder. You explain the word injā, which is incomprehensible to them, by body gestures and sign language. You have pointed with your fingers at the ground beneath your feet. They have understood. Also you have understood that body gestures and sign language is the only language that everyone around the world can understand; that is one and the same for all. Also they, with a mix of their own language and sign language, have nodded their heads saying, “Yes, this is Denmark.”

That reassures you a little. You ask again to be sure, “Injā Kopinhāgin ast?”

—Yes, this is Copenhagen.

When a connection is established, the veil of mutual non-understanding is removed. That feeling of being left outside fades away and the feeling of being part of humanity grows. The joyful feeling of loving someone follows man, and that of being loved. Now you are convinced that you have come to the right place, but soon this confidence makes you worried instead of calm. So why has he not come, Didār? Where has he gone? God forbid something has happened to him . . . maybe . . .

You are panic-stricken. How will I find out what has happened to Didār? You ask the same man and woman with similar body gestures as before, “Didār pesaram, nayāmada, nist.”

You have given them to understand the word nist by signing “no” with hand gestures. But you have Didār and pesaram left, how can you explain . . . perhaps the police would understand. The European police.

You set off after the people who have come from the same direction as you. The exit must be in the same direction that they are moving in. It is. The arrow that indicates the way out makes you realize that the exit is in this direction. This is also an alphabet that everyone in the world understands. You become happy. With this alphabet, body language, and other signs, you are not that helpless anymore. Perhaps you could do this on your own now. If only this headache that has come back would leave you alone. Your stomach is clenched with hunger. On the airplane you had not eaten anything except for some fruit and salad.

You will get yourself out of this dizziness. Get up now, stand. You stand. You have stood on your own feet all of your life. Several times all kinds of incidents have tried to knock you off your feet. You have fallen but have soon stood up again. First trembling, then steady, the air outside sharpens your senses. You walk away, strolling.

—This is also an experience . . . I will walk until the end.

All you ever wanted is right here, so don’t let this moment pass. Still your eyes are searching for Didār. Cars are coming and going. Passengers are getting out of them and getting into them. You recognize the taxi signs on top of the cars. You stop for a while to see if Didār is coming, if not, you will have to take one of these and go to the police station. People are coming and are passing by. Everyone with a smile on their lips. You have seen a lot of people here, everyone is happy. You didn’t see a single one who looked sad or depressed. Even though you were not in the condition to see things clearly, you can’t recall having seen a single sad and ugly face. Every face was attractive with smiles. How they are enjoying it, old man. These people really know the meaning of life. They can see the value in each thing that is given to them. They can appreciate each and every part of their bodies. They do not let their bodies go to waste by being hit by a bullet; by mine explosions, by gunshots or grenades. Once again, you come to think of Mother, in the wrong place at the wrong time . . . she had not been alone, thousands of others . . . how miserable this life had been for you, old man. You didn’t understand the meaning of it; others deprived you of it–you lost it But these people, they understand, a lifetime of happiness, and good for them

How long will you stay here? Didār is not coming. You will ignore him. You think that you have told Didār not to come to the airport. You walk away toward a taxi. The driver behind the wheel winds down the window. You bow down and say, “Police.”

The driver understands. He says something. You understand that he has said “take a seat.” You have made yourself ready to establish a relationship by means of body language. To understand and to be understood. You get into the taxi. Once more he gesticulates “where?” You repeat “police.” So, what will happen? If you ask after Didār? And if they ask where Didār lives? You have his address ready. The envelopes of Didār’s letters are in your pocket. You will show these to them. So why are you not going to that address now? Why should you go to the police station? It is possible that the police will fine Didār for having left his father alone at the airport (This is Europe and people are fined for their bad deeds). No, that is no good at all. Elated by these thoughts, you take out the envelopes from your pocket and show them to the driver. He reads, nods his head and says something. You understand that he knows. Perhaps he even knows your Didār. You say Didār’s name a couple of times, and the driver also repeats his name before he drives away. By rubbing two fingers against each other, to imitate the counting of money, you give the driver to understand that you do not have any money. With your hand you gesture the sign of “no.” And again, you repeat the sentence pul nadāram, I don’t have any money. Then you point at the address once again and repeat Didār’s name. You say the word pul again and you utter Didār’s name once more, and again you are waving those imaginary banknotes in front of the driver. The driver has become a wizard of understanding and starts laughing. He fastens his seat belt. He has agreed. You become pleased. To understand and to be understood is not that difficult if one is somewhat logical, people can understand if they only want to.

The driver sets the car going. You fasten your seat belt with a little help from him. They have come up with all kinds of solutions to keep man safe. Both of you are happy. The driver points at the car stereo and you can make out the word “music” in what he says, and you give your consent to it. The warm and comfortable interior of the taxi is filled with pleasant music. After all of these troubles a calm sets in. You have entered an expressway on which cars are rushing ahead with a sound soft as velvet, smooth and silent, toward a city that appears in the fog far away. You can hear Didār’s voice clearly saying, “welcome.” You think of your Didār rushing toward your flight, what if you had not gotten into this taxi. How slow he drives this . . . you frown at the driver’s composure, as he gently hums a song.

At first, only one or two buildings appear along the road, and then, without knowing how it happened, you find yourself in the city. The city looks sad in the despondent sunlight, framed by a sky that wavers between whether it should stay blue or turn gray. Again, the sadness comes at you and this music does not really make things better. When you stop at a traffic light, the driver looks at the address again. He writes it down in a notebook and gives the envelope back to you. He turns left, then right at the following intersection, and once again left, and then another right. You ask the driver how long it will take until you are there. He does not understand. You repeat yourself and point at your wristwatch. He gets it and shows five fingers. Five minutes. You become happy and pleased even though you know that these five minutes will feel like five years. Impatient . . . you shiver.

—I haven’t seen my Didār in ten years. The driver shakes his head.

—And you, how many children do you have?

—Two . . . one daughter and a son.

—God is bountiful . . . has your son done his military service?

—No, he is studying.

—My Didār also used to say that he was studying.


You twist your head in all directions. Houses in beautiful colors and red brick line both sides of the road. What architecture! In which of these houses does Didār live? Why did he not come? You could really have enjoyed this view if it had been Didār instead of this driver. The driver takes out a cigarette and gesticulates at you, “is it OK?”

—Go ahead.

He offers you a cigarette. You accept. He lights it for you. It gives you some pleasure. You take a drag and fill your chest with smoke in order to find some comfort.

You turn onto a street. The driver slows down and ducks his head so that he can see the house numbers on the right-hand side. You have reached the street where Didār’s house is. House number 37. The next is number 35. A bit further down, house number 33. Didār’s house is number eleven so when you have passed by eleven houses more you will have reached Didār’s. How distant and unobtainable it seems. What will you do when he catches sight of you? He will be surprised over how you have managed to find him. He will take you in his arms and kiss you, and he will apologize that he couldn’t make it to the airport. Why didn’t he make it out to the airport? Again, your heart is beating with anxiety. God forbid that an accident . . .? No, what accident? This is Europe. Accidents happen back home. There is an accident every moment. Night and day. You can’t put any trust in things. You can’t be sure if you will still be around or not from one second to the next. But this is Europe. A newborn who comes into this world will be safe until she is a hundred, no dangers will ever threaten her. Neither earthly nor heavenly ills will befall her. But you, whatever you do, you will not feel safe and secure; you have brought the fear with you from back home, old man. You have now reached number 31.

Man is a bird without wings. Where were you the night before last night, where did you arrive last night, and where are you now? You passed many mountains, forests, seas, and deserts. The prophet Khizr used to travel from one corner of the world to another in the blink of an eye. People say that wherever Khizr put his feet down, you would see that in less than a minute . . . you arrive at number 29.

Will your Didār be alone, or . . . if he is alone, will he be ready to have you by his side? What about his wife, will she accept you being there? If she were an Afghan, maybe. Let it be a decent Afghan girl. But if she is a foreigner? You have heard that foreigners are unloving. They are cold and indifferent, just as the climate here. How many days will they put up with you? Not Didār, you are his father no matter what. But his wife will start complaining after a couple of days. Do not let there be problems between Didār and his wife because of you. You came to this place for your own good, why would you want any trouble? Again the anxiety comes after you. You have reached house 27.

Perhaps they agree as husband and wife to take you to an old people’s home. That is how it is done here in Europe. The young ones don’t have patience with the elderly. They send them away. No, you won’t stand such a place. You will return home for sure. It is not like that at home, friends and relatives will be around you there. That loneliness is one thing, but the loneliness in a nursing home is something else. Even a single day there would be unbearable. And here is house number 25.

What will Didār’s house be like—big or small? Will there be room for you? You would like to have your own room where you could be left alone and where you could keep your things. The photos and the other things that . . . but where were these things?

—I didn’t pick up my suitcase, it’s still at the airport. I didn’t know where to pick it up. You will tell this to Didār and he will go and get it from the airport. He knows their language. Unless . . . the worry comes back to you, house 23.

This is Europe, things doesn’t disappear. You will find your suitcase. You have bought presents for everyone. For Didār; you are a man with foresight. You have even bought a gift for the wedding, if that is in store. And if there is a grandchild, boy or a girl doesn’t matter, either would make you happy, you have brought a gift to give them.

—After all these years of blame, it’s impossible to find something worthy. Please, be indulgent with our insufficiency.

—No father, what kind of talk is that, you are the generous one. You pass by house 21.

In your room, you will put up your things, every piece of which carries its own world of memories. The place for the photographs will be in the niche. Also the picture of Mother, with her hands raised in prayer and the light projected onto her chador creating an aura; there is something divine about her.

—Oh God, remove the curtain from all the Muslims of the world.

She always used to pray like this, Mother. Didār had said, “What sins have the rest of the world committed? Pray for those as well.”

For a couple of days she had not said anything but then you had heard her saying, “Set your good nature to work.”

Mother was never detached from her prayers. In the picture of Mother she raises her hands for the whole world and prays—in that moment she is the mother of the whole world. Here is house number 19.

—In what direction is the Qibla? Where is the Qibla in this house?

—The Qibla is all around you Father.

—But in which direction should I pray?

—You can read your prayers in whatever direction you like.

—In which direction do you pray . . .? Don’t say that you have quit praying since you arrived here?

—If I pray Father, then . . .

—Where is your Qibla?

—My Qibla lies in my heart. One day I pray in this direction, another day in that direction. I have found God in all directions.

This is house number 17.

—Are there any Muslim shopkeepers in this town?

—For what?

—For shopping.

—We do our shopping at other places, does it matter?

—Don’t you try to change the subject . . . where do you buy your meat?

—From the butcher.

—You can eat whatever meat you are used to eating, but buy halal butchered meat for me.

—They don’t have any halal butchered pig here.

You pass by house number 15.

Man is bound to death and dying. Even if you were an Alexander and raised a wall around yourself, death would find you in the end. We are prisoners, heaven forbid . . . whether you want it or not and whether you like it or not, one day death will strike this home. Have you given that time a thought? You can’t take the corpse to Kabul, that’s expensive—or isn’t, but why would you make such a big business out of it? Dust is dust, everyone’s mother. One will have to find shelter in her arms again. But I would like to sleep in a place where the grave itself doesn’t throw me out. Is there a burial place for Muslims around here? You reach house number 13.

—Hello, dear Father!

—You don’t have to “hello” and “dear” me.

Didār runs toward you to take your hand and kiss you. His wife (he has a wife?) is standing a bit further back, happy. You don’t hold out your hand, “You made me lose face at the airport in front of all the people.”

—Forgive me Father. It was because of my son (he has a son?) . . . he got sick all of a sudden. They called from school and said that he had been taken to the hospital. We went there. You become worried and ask, “How is he now?”

—By the blessings of your presence he became well. We brought him home with us.

—Where is he? My dear grandchild.

The “My dear grandchild” is uttered in your heart. Didār’s wife says something (So she is a foreigner?). Didār translates, “You can’t imagine Father, ever since he realized that you are coming, he has been asking all the time, ‘So where is he? Why isn’t my grandpa coming?’”

—. . .

You don’t know what to say. How happy you are. But why doesn’t this happiness come to you?

—Finally you came, Father. How was your trip?

This is house number 11.

The driver stops. The house looks like the ones you have passed by and like the other houses in the area. It doesn’t arouse any particular feeling inside you. The driver says something and points at the house. He has probably said that we have arrived and that this is house number 11.

Why is the house like this? Like the other houses. It doesn’t seem to radiate any heat or light. As if Didār isn’t there. The driver unfastens his seat belt and gets out. He walks toward the door. He has the slip of paper in his hand and he compares the name on the paper with the names above the doorbells. Don’t say that we have come to the wrong street . . . the driver rings a doorbell. OK, we had been right. You become impatient. Now Didār will run down the stairs (if there is a second floor?). Is there anyone at home? . . . But why no answer . . . again, the driver holds out his finger to ring the doorbell. Someone answers so he pulls back his finger. He says something. Great, Didār is at home. You unfasten your seat belt. You are ready to get out. You are shivering . . .

Someone opens the door. Your heart stops beating. A woman appears in the doorway. You feel the anxiety coming at you. So Didār isn’t there. The woman's messy blond hair falls over her shoulders. That is your daughter-in-law. She is Danish.

—It doesn’t matter, but where is my Didār?

The driver and the woman say something to each other. The woman looks at you. She says something more. Didār must have gone to the airport since he is not here.

—I wish I had had patience and stayed. How uncomfortable he will be when he realizes that I have come here. My Didār.

Slowly, the driver walks back to you. The woman also comes toward you. She doesn’t seem bad at all. God wishes you well. May they be happy in this transient world. Why should you disagree with two people wanting each other. The world can’t be opposed to such a thing.

You don’t know whether to get out of the car or not. The driver gets in and starts up the car. The woman looks at you sadly. She nods her head as if to say hello. You answer her with a similar gesture. You don’t know if she is your daughter-in-law or not. You drive away. The woman watches you closely with the same sad look. Didār must have moved out, gone to another place. That is why this house seemed so cold and silent. This woman was probably the tenant who had moved in after Didār. One house is enough for the house-owner, but for the homeless one, a hundred houses are not enough. Didār has moved to a new house. “Was it not there?” you ask the driver.


—Has he moved?


—Where . . . do you have his address?

—I will take you there now.

—May God assist you and watch over your son.

—Thank you, old man.

The driver, downhearted and in silence, drives the car. Now, the new streets, the new houses, fill you with loathing. So where is he Didār? Don’t say that we will go to that new address only to find out that he has moved to yet another place, and after that, yet another place, and . . . that we wander about like this . . . and never reach Didār.

You feel dejected. Don’t be sad. You will meet him soon. The driver knows his address. He knew it before he got it from that woman. After you have passed a couple of streets, you arrive in the city center. This is it. The driver stops in front of a large building. It doesn’t look like a dwelling house; it must be an office building. The driver tells you to get out.

The driver also gets out.

—So where is Didār?

The driver walks forward and you follow behind. You enter through a large glass door. With a woman sitting behind a desk, in charge of information, it looks like an office inside. The driver asks her something. You can hear the driver uttering Didār’s name. You are getting curious. The woman types Didār’s name into her computer and gives the driver a note with a number on it. You walk farther into the hallway. Towards Didār. He must be here, behind one of these walls. You are afraid. You think that, heaven forbid, this might be a prison, and that they may have detained Didār. The policeman who walks out from an office and comes up to you, further confirms your doubts. The driver shows the form to the policeman and signs it. The policeman takes the paper with Didār’s number from the driver. The driver grasps your hand firmly and says good-bye. He will leave you alone. He turns around. Where is he going? You had become a little attached to him. He understood me and I understood him.

Passing through a glass door you enter a large hall. Watch your step so you don’t slip on the floor tiles. This looks more like a bathhouse. There is a strong smell in here that irritates your nose and your headache is getting worse. And you feel a sharp pain of hunger in your stomach. They have put up numbered metal drawers along the walls. The policeman reads the numbers. He pulls out one of the drawers and opens it.

Don’t faint now, Father.

—Didār, why did you come here?

I didn’t know why I came to Denmark, Father. What it was with this place that fascinated me. Was it the way f life that drew me here? I don’t know. A vague feeling was telling me, “Get off right here, Didār. You can’t go further than this.” I had already passed through tens of countries and borders, and I was supposed to have crossed tens of others. For me, this was the end of the world. There was only water on the other side, and more water. There was no more lack of water to keep me going. I said, “This is it, Didār. This is the end of the line for you . . . I had come to the train station to make my way home. I was tired after work, but happy, since in only an hour . . . the train crawled forward like a red dragon and a cold wind rose from its mouth. The station was full of people. The dragon snorted and hauled its chest over the ground. I felt a hand against my back and then the sound of a woman screaming was heard, and the screaming of others. It was the train lights, with the bulging eyes of a dragon and . . . then, it was the squealing noise of the train wheels against the rail, how ear-splitting, and then, what a body-rending. It crushed the man, dragged him, carried him, carried him away, beat him on all sides and tore him to pieces. What sparks of fire! And it was, Father, above Kabul . . . and then, it was you, when the police inspected your passport at Kabul airport and it was the sound of the exit stamp hitting the pages.

How I long to go there, Father. If you are not too tired we could return. It was true what you said, “All our memories are there.”

From the short story collection Denmark Now (Winter, 1383/2004-2005).

Read more from the May 2011 issue
Like what you read? Help WWB bring you the best new writing from around the world.