The street was crowded. The cars, motorcycles, and rickshaws stopped in the square behind a traffic jam where the road was closed and traffic was diverted to another street. Darya got out of the rickshaw and continued on foot. She took a shortcut through Taraqi Park to reach her office. Taraqi was a big park nearly surrounded by tall pine trees. Willow trees formed walls blocking the wind, and green lawns and the fresh decorative plants and flowers made eye-catching views everywhere inside the park. It was the green zone of the city, always cooled by a soft breeze. All around the park were the best and the most luxurious restaurants. Darya saw an old woman sitting beside a judas tree, crying. The old woman wore a black veil. The wrinkles on her forehead showed that she had suffered much in life. Darya went over to her and sat near, then said, “hi, is everything fine?”
The old woman looked at her and said, “hi daughter, nothing is fine. Whenever I cross this place my heart beats fast. My feet cannot walk and my hands start shaking. This place increases my anxiety and my eyes rain tears involuntarily. My heart fills with sadness. This is the place that I fear the most in my life, the most horrible place in the entire city. If I had the power I would have already vanished it from the map. This is a dark place…”
She looked down and cried again. Darya looked around. She did not understand the reason why the old woman feared the place. It was one of the most beautiful places in the city. And it was full of life. There were fast food shops outside the park. People sold their home-made foods—chickpeas, Bolani, mineral water, juices, and ice-creams. Students used to sit there and study. Women and girls used to walk there in the early mornings and work out. Families used to picnic inside the park under the trees. In general. Herat city has winds for one hundred and twenty days of the year, and the park’s tall pine trees purify the winds and provide fresh air inside and outside the park. It was always cool there during hot summer days.
Darya tried to make the old woman feel comfortable. She gave her a bottle of mineral water, then said, “mother please do not cry. I really don’t know what is wrong with this place. What is hurting you the most? Why are you crying? I would like to know more about it.” The old woman drank some water, sighed painfully, and spoke:
Twenty years ago, my elder daughter studied the English language in a training center, in front of this park. She was a very caring girl who learned the language so she would find a job in the future, to help her family. She was in the 10th grade at school, too. Among all my children I liked her the most. She was so beautiful, so innocent, intelligent and elegant. She did not let me do all the work at home, and even washed all our dresses herself. She used to polish her father’s shoes and put them inside plastic on the cupboard. Whenever I gave her money for transportation she did not spend it, but saved it to contribute at home. When I gave her dry fruits she did not eat them, but kept them inside the cupboard. She gave them to guests when it was needed. Every day from 1:00 PM till 2:00 PM she was in the English language training center, and she came home at 2:30 PM. But one day she did not come back. That day the weather was rainy and it was dark.
I waited until 3:00 PM. She still wasn’t home and I felt a strange apprehension. Then I called her teacher, and her teacher said that she had already gone home. I was so worried. I went to the training center and looked everywhere. I asked anyone I saw about her, and I asked the shop keepers in the area, too, but no one had seen her. While returning home I saw a big iron door painted in a black and gold design.
I do not know how—but my heart said she is in there. I knocked hard on the door, and suddenly it was opened by an old man, with two young men standing behind him. “Why did you knock?” Asked the old man.
I said, “I’m looking for my daughter. Have you seen her? She walks this road every day, going to the training center and coming home,” and I showed him a photo of her.
The color of his face changed, he became worried and he said in a shaking voice, “no I have not seen her. Please do not knock again as this is an NGO, not a residential house.” I looked around the house and I saw a black Toyota car in the yard but soon he closed the door on me.
Still my heart was certain, but I could do nothing more. I called my husband to go check the nearby clinics and hospitals and ask if she was there, but he did not find her. So, we went to the police station and filed a “missing person” case. I was so worried. I prayed to God that we would find her, whether she was alive or even if she was dead, because I did not want to be dishonored among my relatives and our community. After three hours, during the night, we received a call from the central hospital that our daughter was in the emergency room and that she’d had an accident.
My husband and I rushed to the hospital, but they did not let us go inside the room to see our daughter. Some police officers were outside the room. I asked the doctors how my daughter was, but they did not talk to us. Time passed slowly, and at last a doctor came out. After talking to the police officer, he came to us and said, “I am sorry, she is no more.” My heart stopped. I did not believe it. I rushed toward the room and threw open the door. My daughter was laid out on a bed with a white cloth covering her. She didn’t move or speak. There was only silence. I pulled back the white cloth and what I saw made me fall down, unconscious.
I awoke hearing my husband’s cries. The doctor and the police officers were talking to him. I looked at my daughter again. The doctor said that my daughter’s head was hit and her left elbow was broken. A sharp object, such as a knife, had cut her neck, and finally she was shot from behind. The bullet came out from her left eye and destroyed her eye too. The doctor said that she had struggled a lot during the twenty-five minutes of the attack. Her killers could not rape her because she resisted, he explained. She was so strong that finally the murderers killed her and she saved her dignity by accepting this brutal death.
I looked at her head and her hair soaked in blood and picked out a crumb of dry biscuit. It was a kind that was not made here. Foreigners from other countries like these biscuits and bring them here. It was stuck in her hair with her blood. I took it and put it in a napkin in my bag. The police officer told us they had found my daughter’s dead body in the central park exactly in this place where we are sitting now. They found tire marks in the ground near her dead body, and the policeman said they were able to conclude the car was most likely a certain kind of Toyota. Then I remembered that house where I saw those three men and the black Toyota car.
I told the police, “I have seen that car,” and the head officer said he would go to that house with us.
The NGO head-quartered there was responsible for building streets in the city, twenty years back. The black Toyota was parked in front of their iron door. The police opened the car door and I found the same crumbs of biscuit in the back seat. I pointed it out to the police officer, when suddenly a man who was inside came out through the iron door, yelling at the police officer. The two men talked quietly and then the policeman followed the man back inside, locking the door behind them. After two hours he came back out, and he said, “let’s go. They are innocent. They did nothing.”
I shouted, “how are they innocent? Can’t you see all these evidences? The same biscuit? And the Toyota car?”
The policeman said, “many other people also eat that kind of biscuit. Does it mean they’re all criminals? Please let me go, and let us do our investigation about this case.” My husband and I could do nothing. We left the NGO stunned and quiet, but my heart could never accept that the ones who worked in that NGO were innocent. People can lie, but a mother’s heart doesn’t lie, and my heart told me that these were the ones who had brutally killed my daughter.
We were good people. We never hurt anyone, or did bad things to anyone. So why did this happen to us? What did my daughter do to end up like this? During all these years I am in shock. I have anxiety and a strained heart. I even fell into a deep depression. The doctors said that I should not sit at home alone. I should keep myself busy. But, how can I? I can never forget my daughter. I still have her notebooks, her room, her cupboard, her clothes and her perfume in the same building where we live. I still see her, here in this park in this place where you find me
I don’t know how much the police officer received from the man inside the building or who the man inside the building was. I never again saw that iron door opened. I brought our case to the court, but the police officers had vanished, and all the evidence against the NGO had disappeared. Many times, I walked and searched the park and the whole area to find a clue about my daughter’s murderers, but I couldn’t. I have been lost completely in this dark world. Even now, after twenty years, I pray my daughter will get justice and her attackers will suffer for what they did. Whenever I pray I ask God to punish these criminals.
She searched the ground with her crying and tired eyes and continued in a painful voice, “they cut her wings, burnt her life, destroyed her, and vanished her hopes. They brutally killed her, but why? I want to see her criminals, even once in my life, to ask them only one question: WHY? My heart is burning in fire but I can do nothing now.”
On hearing these words Darya could not stop her tears. She could feel the woman’s pain in all her heart. Her heart burned in the same fire. Darya thought, how cruel are the hearts of people who would hurt someone this way. The cruelty they have, that even animals cannot have. She wiped the old women’s tears away, hugged her, then said, “mother! You can be certain that those who killed your daughter will be punished by God, sooner or later. Even if they were saved by some fraud police officers and lawyers in this world, God will not give them mercy—because you curse them. Believe me a mother’s curse will be heard by God. Those cruel slayers won’t have happiness in life. I salute you that even after twenty years still you are missing and crying for your lost daughter. There’s no doubt that only mothers have such big and kind hearts.”
4 June, 2023