The Snowman

By Mozhgan Mahjoob

Silver icicles hung from the trees and the city was covered with glistening snow. The snow was still falling like white feathers from the cloudy sky. Some small sparrows were searching for seeds and shaking the snow from their wings. The water from the faucet in front of the shops had frozen. Now and again a car drove down the street.

Some shopkeepers were sitting by the window, close to a warm stove, drinking tea with dark chocolate and looking out at the snow. They were admiring and enjoying the snowy day. The blue, purple, green, and pink lights of the shops created a beautiful scene.

A young boy pushing a wheelbarrow and selling chickpeas stopped in a street in Shahr-e Naw in Kabul. He had a big dish of chickpeas, a bottle of white vinegar, dried mint, salt, red chili peppers, and green tomato chutney. He set down the wheelbarrow and tried to warm his red hands with his breath. No one came to buy the chickpeas.

After a while he went to the corner of the street on his left, by the entrance to a large park. The willow trees in the park were all white and the paving stones were covered with snow. There was no one in the park and the children did not come to play or buy the chickpeas. He could feel the cold in his bones but he had to sell his dish of chickpeas. Ever since his parents had died in a blast, he lived with his uncle’s family. He had to wake up early every morning to boil and prepare the peas that he would sell throughout the day. The days were shorter now, and soon it was noon.

He left the park and knocked on a white iron door. An angry young woman opened the door.

“Hurry up! Don’t you see that I am getting cold?” she shouted.

The boy started to push the wheelbarrow inside. The ground was covered with ice and snow and he fell, but quickly got up again. He put the dish of chickpeas in the small dark kitchen, washed his hands and feet, and went into the narrow hall. He could hear the laughter and cries of babies from the room on the left and went inside.

“Hello, Uncle!” the boy said, but he did not get a reply.

A young man with a black beard sitting near a stove threw some small pieces of wood onto the fire. Another young boy was playing with two babies who had a toy horse. There was a big black dish and a teapot boiling on the stove.

“Farhad, how much did you sell today?” asked the man.

With a shaking voice the boy said, “Uncle, there were no customers today and I did not sell any chickpeas.”

The man got up and came over to him. The boy stepped back and suddenly the man slapped Farhad’s face.

“The whole day you had time to sell the chickpeas and now you’re making excuses again?” shouted the man.

The young woman entered the room and said, “Karim, I told you he does not work. He’s lazy. He’ll eat our food but he won’t work. I’m sure he kept the money and doesn’t want to give it to us.”

The man got very upset and started searching through Farhad’s wet coat and clothes, but he did not find any money.

“Let him be outside tonight. That will teach him to work,” said the woman. The man pushed Farhad out of the house.

Farhad begged, “Please, Uncle, don’t do that. Where do you expect me to go?” But his uncle did not care. They threw his wet shoes after him and then closed the door. Farhad walked along the street. The snow had stopped falling by then but the wind was blowing snowflakes everywhere. He did not know where to go, but he walked on to the end of the street with tears in his eyes. He stopped and sat against a wall.

He felt his heart getting cold and his feet becoming frozen. Still he tried to warm his hands and feet, but his shoes were torn and wet. All the shops were now closed and everyone had gone home. The street was cold, dark, snowy, and empty. He felt as though he was besieged by ice. The ice came from the sky and the earth and it was freezing him.

He thought of his mother who had passed away two years ago. He missed the nights his mother would not let him go outside when the weather was cold. He recalled the times she cooked him his favorite, delicious vegetable soup when he had the flu, and the times she played with him in the park during summer. He remembered the snowy winter nights when she told him stories.

He wished he could fall into a deep sleep and wake up in a new world, with his parents, where the cold winter wind would never hurt him again. With his numb hands he tried to wipe away his tears. As he leaned his head against the wall to fall asleep, someone touched his shoulder. He looked up and saw a man with a light in his hand.

“Son, why are you sitting here?” asked the man.

“I have nowhere to go.” Farhad said, his teeth chattering. “Let’s go to my place—it’s really very cold here,” the man said, helping him up.

He could hardly stand on his feet as the man gave him his coat and invited him to take a seat in a white car. Soon the car stopped in front of a fancy house. They entered the first floor which was very warm. Farhad looked at the man’s face: he was wearing glasses and smiling. He invited him to sit in front of the warm stove. A woman appeared and welcomed him. After a while they gave him warm clothes and invited him to have dinner with them. Farhad could not believe it.

The man asked, “Where are your parents? Do you know anyone here?”

Crying, Farhad said, “My parents have passed away. I live with my uncle, but he threw me out of the house because I could not sell the chickpeas.”

“You don’t have to do that, my child,” said the woman.

They fell silent. After a while the man said, “We also had a son your age. He had an incurable illness and we lost him one month ago. Tonight, my car suddenly stopped in the street. I went out to look at the engine but there was nothing wrong with it. I was about to turn the engine on again when I heard my son asking me for help. I searched everywhere but I could not find him. I thought maybe I was hallucinating. I was about to leave. Then I heard his voice again and when I came closer I found you there.”

Rubbing his eyes, the man continued: “I knew then that my son had called me to help you, so we would be delighted if you would be part of our family. Since losing our son we feel so lonely, and his mother Razia cries all the time.”

Tears filled Farhad’s eyes. “I would love to be part of your family,” he said. “You are as kind as angels but what should I do in return?”

The man said, “Do good for others and goodness comes to you. On a cold winter night, be a hope and a light to the ones who need it. We expect nothing else in return—only to help others when you can. Be the one to bring a positive change in someone’s life. Let’s make this world a comfortable and beautiful place for everyone, because the more we help the more we receive in return. I do not want you to work now, because at your age you should focus on your studies. Once you finish your studies you will get the best job offers, you will even own a business.”

That night Farhad was happy and grateful that God had given him such a kind family, a roof over his head, and a warm room. Now he had a goal in life and he decided to fulfill it. His aim was to focus on his studies, to build his future, and to help those who were in need. That winter was one of the coldest in the country’s history. Many people’s fingers and toes got badly frostbitten. Many street children even lost their lives. Yet Farhad had been miraculously saved; otherwise, he would have frozen to death.

Farhad was one of the top students in his class and his favorite major was economics. After graduating from the economics faculty of Kabul with the highest marks he started his own business of importing and selling cars from Dubai and elsewhere. He also had a luxurious restaurant that served various unique dishes in front of the central park where he’d had to sell chickpeas twenty years ago. He always provided extra meals for the children who had to work in the streets.

It was the last day of winter and the sun was melting the icicles hanging from the trees. The shops were open and loudspeakers announced the price of fruits and other items. Some children were cheerfully making a snowman in the park. Farhad was sitting on a bench looking at the smiling face of the snowman when an old disheveled beggar with a torn coat, white hair, and long beard sat next to him.

“What a beautiful snowman. It’s so sad that the sun will melt it soon,” said the man.

Farhad looked at him and recognized him. The man was his uncle. During all these twenty years Farhad did not once go back to his uncle’s house nor did he have any fond memories of him. He had been busy studying and starting his own businesses, but now, for the first time in years, he was face to face with him. His uncle had changed. He had wrinkles on his face and a humped back.

“I wish your heart had melted when you saw your nephew’s suffering and pain,” Farhad replied.

The old man looked closely at him. He shouted excitedly, “Is that you, Farhad? Are you alive?”

“Yes, it’s me,” he replied.

The old man cried.

“Farhad, my son, I looked for you everywhere but could not find you,” said the old man. He continued: “We thought you were dead. I did not think you would leave us that night. I wanted to punish you just for a while. I pushed you out of the house and when I opened the door you were no longer there. I am so sorry—look, I am begging for food now. Everyone at home is hungry. Last night we did not have any food to eat. Please forgive us, my son, and come back.”

Farhad said, “Uncle! That night you threw me out of the house just for some money that I could not give you, and if my father had not saved me I would have become a snowman. But let me tell you something: making a snowman and becoming a snowman are completely different things. You can’t understand unless you’ve spent a winter night in the cold wind and snow. Of course, this winter won’t be the last—there will be other springs and winters, there will be snow and rain, year after year. Again and again. But I’ve learned to always be humane and help others. We need to be kind and make sure that the poor, especially our children, don’t become snowmen in the cold winter. Let’s shine on them like the sun before the blizzard freezes their hearts. This is what I always remember: to have mercy and a kind heart, which you never had.”

Having said this, Farhad gave him some money and walked away. The old man hung down his head and silently cried.

20 February, 2023