They told us that we were in jihad; that the government of the kafir had sworn on the Holy Book that our ancestors’ lands would be returned to us, but that they were now going back on their promise. And we believed them. Our Caliph had torn his shirt in anger as he was telling us of the betrayal, and we felt in our hearts the same kind of anger. What animals were these, we thought, who would take the Holy Book in vain?
In the dark of night, we left our homes and made our way to the Caliph’s camp. There are many trails through the bush, marked by the most ordinary things so that the kafir could see them and not know what they were. An overturned bottle, a discarded pack of cigarettes, a broken branch. We followed these signs through the night until we arrived at the camp. And there, we were greeted as heroes – before we had even picked up a weapon.
When the sun came up, we were in ranks, our faces covered with our long guns by our sides. Someone said a news crew was coming and that we should stand straight and proud. We were mujaheedin, they said, brothers of those who fought in far away places like Afghanistan. I didn’t even know what they fought about in Afghanistan, but just knowing that others had taken this path before me made me feel proud.
As the news camera filmed, I gripped my rifle firmly and I glared at the reporter. I wanted her to feel my anger and my pride.The woman – with her hair wantonly falling over her eyes, and her face shamelessly exposed – had peered deep into my face. I sensed that she wanted to ask me a question but one of Caliph’s lieutenants gently shoved her away. “No talking to the soldiers,” he said. “Just video.”
Later that day, the announcement came. Tomorrow at sunset, the Caliph had ordered, we would raid an armory of the kafir. We would take their guns and their bullets and their boots. I felt like shouting with joy. Finally, we would be able to strike. It could not have come at a better time. Tomorrow, the day before the start of Ramadan, I will also mark my birthday – hopefully I will also get boots that fit right.
The night could not pass quickly enough for me. I lay awake, listening to the sound of coconuts falling to the ground, praying to Allah to favor me during the raid. Eventually I fell asleep, but my sleep was filled with dreams of gunfire and victory. And then, in the mists of my dream, I heard the sound of an angel laughing. I took it as a good omen – a sign from Allah that we would prevail.
But then the laughter slowly became louder – never louder than a whisper, but loud enough to rouse me from my sleep. I could hear shuffling outside my tent, and the hasty mumbled words of a woman I had mistaken for an angel. “Here? Here?”
And then I heard Iqbal answer. “No no. Not him. He doesn’t even shave yet.” The angel laughed – a soft giggling that landed on my chest like some great weight I couldn’t understand.The laughter died away after awhile, to be replaced by moans I could not mistake for anything else. I turned over on my side and tried to get back to sleep.
Before sunrise, before even the call to salat, I was already on my knees reciting the fajr. I only hoped Iqbal would not forget to pray.
The raid went bad. They were waiting for us! When we first broke cover, we were cut down by machine gun fire. The sound of the bullets thudding into the ground, and into the trees, and into Iqbal as he stood beside me made me wet my pants. The first chance I got, i ran into a mudhole so that my brothers would not see the dark stain and laugh at me and call me a coward. I tried to fire but my hands were shaking so bad for awhile, I could not even find the trigger.
After hours of fighting, we were told retreat. We tried to melt away into the jungle, but the soldiers came after us with their dogs. What shame! We were running from both infidels and unclean beasts! This was not the way of the mujaheedin, my mind screamed. When I could take it no longer, I stopped running and swung my gun around, the barrel blazing.
The first bullet hit me on the shoulder like a punch. A dull ache, followed by a sharp pain as the hot slug burrowed its way deep into the muscle. I didn’t even feel the others after that. It was like I had lost control of my body. The first hit spun me to the right, then I was spun to the left, and my right knee buckled so that I fell on it, my leg twisted behind my back.
I hit the ground with a softness I could not understand, as though I were falling only very slowly and gently. In the distance, i heard the call to the Fajr. For a second, I could not believe that an entire night had passed. Then the sound of soldiers approaching wrenched my mind back to where I lay waiting for the angels to come, just like the imam said they would. Instead I saw only the muddied boots that I thought would be mine by the end of this day. And instead of the tinkling giggling of angels, I only heard the barking of the dogs and the coarse voices of the soldiers.
“Tangina, ilang taon na’to? La pa atang bulbol to e.”