My Blue Shroud

By Zohal Hasin

One Tuesday afternoon, towards the end of 2022, my mother, my older brother and I had to go from Herat to Kabul, and the only way was a nineteen-hour bus ride. The heat was so intense it felt as though it could scorch my hair. The heart of the sun must be ablaze, I thought, burning like my heart is burning from my dark fate as a girl.

A man and a woman were sitting in front of us. Husband and wife, I thought. The woman wore a Burqa (a garment that envelops the entire body, from the crown of the head to the tips of the toes, only some small holes are left open for the eyes to see). Although I couldn’t see her face, I could tell from her soft and gentle voice, full of kindness, that she was the most beautiful lady I’d ever seen. Her husband wore dirty, disheveled clothes, his hair was long and thick and unwashed and his face was as crumpled as an old newspaper.

The lady kept silent for the first few hours of the trip. She simply observed the dry, dusty deserts passing by outside the window, but after nine hours, she asked her husband, “Can I raise my tent to drink some water?”

“No,” answered the man briskly. “You’re not allowed to raise your tent at all.”

The woman asked him again, “Please, let me breathe.”

“I said no, you stupid woman,” the man was shouting now. “Do you enjoy attracting the gazes of other men? Do you enjoy sitting beside them? What a shameless woman you are. Be ashamed! Just shut up!”

“Okay,” she said, and kept silent for hours, as if silence was the only weapon to protect herself.

‘Isn’t this woman a human too? Doesn’t she have worth?’ I thought to myself as I listened to their interaction. How can a human being not have the right to breathe? What about water? Everyone has the right to drink water. People say, ‘It is as easy as drinking water,’ but for that lady, even drinking water was the most difficult task.

When we reached Kabul nineteen hours later, the man called his wife. “Wake up and pack yourself, we have arrived.” But she did not move. “Woman, don’t you hear me? Are you deaf? I told you to wake up, damn it, we have to go. Do you want to stay with the driver?” But she still did not move. Then he punched her arm, saying, “Wake up, you’ve exhausted my patience.”

And suddenly, she fell on the floor of the bus.

Do you know what happened? The lady died.

“How could she have died so easily?” cried someone from the other side, as if what the lady had gone through had been easy.

I was terrified. A voice inside me said, ‘A woman who is a mother, a sister, a wife, a daughter, a woman who is a symbol of endurance, courage and patience, why should she bear all this?’

Perhaps all she needed was a breath of oxygen to survive.

Or maybe a blue drop would have saved her from dying?

But that man, who spent nine months in the womb of a woman, two years drinking her milk, took this right from her.

I don’t write fiction, I write life.

I write fate, I write destiny.

I write her hopes and dreams, her wishes. Not in the way he wanted: in the way they wanted.

I write to let you know who are the heroes. The hero is my mother. The heroes are all the women who die silently, full of love, kindness and tenderness.

I write to say that in this cruel world, our homes are the same blue colored houses called Burqa. It may seem unreal to you, but I live in the depths of this unreality.

25 September, 2023