Flying by airplane was a bitter memory. Whenever the airplane took off it took me to where it all started: the same flight, the same sky, the same air, the same clouds at the highest place where I could see the atmosphere with its white and blue panorama from a clear angle, where I could see the mountains and the deserts covered with the white cloth of snow and the smalls birds that were flying in to the luminous horizons. Again, the clouds moved by, and again the rain drops on the airplane window reminded me of him and how he came into my life. It always hurt me so much that I did not like to go on any flight because it all started on a flight.
Seven years ago I had an early morning flight from Kabul to Herat. At the Kabul airport I saw a young man who was staring at me among the passengers at the terminal. He was tall and slim with brown eyes and bronze skin tone. After I got my boarding pass, he was there behind me. I went upstairs and sat in the waiting hall with other passengers, as there were no empty chairs on the ground floor. It was a big hall with several long rows of blue chairs for the passengers and a big flat-screen in front of us on the wall. There was a song from India on the TV (“Aisa jaado dala re…“) Some passengers watched the TV but others were busy with their smartphones. This same man came and sat near me. He kept looking at me and it made me upset.
I thought something might be wrong with my dress, so I looked at myself but nothing was wrong. I hadn’t slept the whole night before, too worried that I would miss my flight. I was really tired.
“Where are you going dear?” I turned my head and saw an old woman. Her white skin was wrinkled and she had hazel eyes. Under a gray scarf her white hair was gathered
“Going to Herat. How about you?” I asked.
“Me too. I came to Kabul for treatment. Are you traveling alone?” she asked.
“Oh, sorry to hear that. I hope you get well soon. Yes, I came here for a workshop five days ago and I’m going back today.”
“I am also traveling alone,” she said. “Let’s sit next to each other during the flight.” Her seat was 9C.
I agreed. “If it’s possible I’ll do that.” I said.
After two hours in the terminal we went to the airplane and already two passengers were sitting in row number nine. Sadly I told the old woman that I would have to sit in my assigned seat, 7A. I had settled in and fastened my seat belt when a boy came and sat next to me before another man intervened. It was the young man from the terminal, the one who’d been watching me.
“Excuse me sir!” he announced, “that is my seat.” I was upset and uncomfortable as he sat down next to me, and I thought maybe he was stalking me. I wanted to change my seat but none were empty. The flight was short, one hour and ten minutes, so I did not bother.
The man began talking to me, and I thought that he was not a bad guy. He seemed wise and educated. His name was Sameer, and he said he voluntarily worked on a project to open an education center for girls and women in my province. He asked me if I was interested in social work, and I said yes. In that hour or so Sameer told me some jokes that were truly funny and the time rushed past, so that suddenly we were at our destination. When the plane reached Herat airport he asked for my number, “to discuss about the education center.” I gave him the number without hesitation. Then he asked, ”under which name should I save it?”
“Shabnam,” I replied.
After getting the luggage, Sameer stood around waiting and I asked him what he was waiting for? He picked up his hat from among the luggage and said, “Just my hat and perfume, since I do not travel without them.” Seeing that his hat was a distinctive kind that indicated he was an engineer, I asked him, “Are you?” and pointed at his hat, and he replied, “Yes, I’m a civil engineer.” Coming out of the airport I hailed a taxi and he went to a hired car that someone had sent to pick him up.
I received his first text message and call when I arrived home. Sameer said, “I had a seat in business class but to talk to you and to get your number I changed my seat to economy.” He added, “there is no actual project for the time being, but maybe it will be in future, and I hope you don’t get me wrong. I had to lie to you to get your number because if I directly asked for your number you would not have given it to me. I just want to tell you that I loved you ever since I saw you at the terminal and I really found you different, beautiful and attractive.”
He’d lied to me about the education center for girls. Any woman would have been upset, even angry, offended. I could see that. But I didn’t mind. I thought, wow he really loves me and all is fair in love and war. He was the first man I had ever talked to directly, except for my family members and colleagues. Soon I fell in love with him. It was that simple, as though I had found my Prince Charming, my knight in shining armor. I had entered a fairy tale with Sameer. Soon enough I was addicted to “chat” and talking to him over the phone, although I would never see him again.
Sameer was always busy with his work, day and night. I was always waiting for his call or his text message. Sometimes the phone fell from my face when I was asleep and he didn’t text me. Sometimes his phone was off for weeks, even for months. He wasn’t available, but I checked for changes in his profile photo constantly, so that if he came online I could wait impatiently for his response. He worked on some projects in different regions, his calls always coming from new places. After two years, during another phone conversation, Sameer asked me to marry him. I could not believe it! But he said he was serious, that he would never find a better, more ideal life-partner than me, and I felt as if I was the happiest woman in the world.
Sameer introduced me to his mother and his family members. He asked me to talk to his mother, and she told me that they would come to our house to talk to my family about our marriage. Even his sister talked to me and told me that Sameer really loved me a lot. I was so excited because I was really into him. I waited and waited and prayed that it would happen soon, until one day I saw his brother’s new status on a social media platform: Sameer was engaged—and not to me. I couldn’t believe it. I felt dizzy. I fell down on the ground.
The room and its walls, the sky and the earth, the clouds, and the world, were all moving, everything turning around my head. Many times, I thought it was only a bad dream, but when I read the peoples’ comments on Facebook, I knew that it was real. I was really shocked. I called Sameer but he didn’t pick up the phone. I called him from a different number several times. When he answered, “Yes?” The music in the background was so loud that I could hardly hear him. I cried and asked him, “Why?” He said, “Because my family decided for me. I am engaged with a rich girl who is our relative too. Your status is different than mine, and I can’t accept that my future wife would work outside of the house to support her family.” I hung up the phone and cried that night until the next morning and until noon but it did not help me.
That night not only my heart burned. I felt a fire in all of my veins. I had everything, yet I was not rich like him, and the fact that Sameer had left me to choose someone else because of money hurt me the most. I loved Sameer for himself, not for money. I could neither forget nor forgive him, so Sameer was always in my mind. I refused other proposals of marriage, and I could not imagine my life without him. How had this happened? One flight, text messages and calls, and nothing more. With what was I in love? Whenever I had to take a plane from one place to another I cried the whole way since it reminded me him. It reminded me of the conversation when he swore that, except for me, he would never get married to any other girl. I loved him, and at the same time I began to hate him.
The future I had imagined with him had vanished. Knights were loyal and real gentlemen who always stood by their words and promises, and Sameer could not be one of them. My fairy tale did not end happily. Forever after it hurt me so much that even after all these years, any reminder of how it started and ended was an unforgettable disaster, and I never believed in love again. If ever someone proposed to me or talked to me about love, I fought with them because I thought that real love does not exist in this world. It is only in stories.
Seven years after that, again I took a plane from Kabul to Herat, and I was sitting in seat 7A. This time a woman sat next to me, leaving the third seat empty. I dreaded the flight, thinking about the past and why it was always repeating with me. It seemed like the incident was only yesterday. I couldn’t hear this woman or the children’s cries of excitement or any of the passengers’ noise as the plane took off. I was drowning in my own memories, thinking about the past and why did it happen to me? Why did my prayers not work when I met him? Why should I fall in love with Sameer when he was not in my destiny? Again, the tears poured down my cheeks, and then I heard someone. “Why are you crying, daughter?” I looked and saw the old woman sitting beside me. “Are you okay? Several times I’ve asked you, but you did not respond.” I looked at her. She was familiar to me. I said, “I think I have seen you somewhere.” With bony and shaking hands She wore her glasses and said, “Yes, I think so…” and then I reminded her.
She was the one who had been at Kabul airport seven years earlier, but now she looked much older than before. I cleaned my tears and said that if I could have sat with you during the flight seven years ago, I would not have to cry today. “But what is hurting you dear?” she asked.
“It is my broken heart that hurts me, because of a disloyal person who left me. Now everytime that I sit on the plane a dark cloud covers my heart and its rain falls down from my eyes.” I said. “In the battle of my heart with my mind, my eyes have suffered the most. I got stuck in the past so that whatever I do, I can not come out of it.”
The old woman sighed in pain and said, “I understand dear. Someone has broken your heart. I can feel your pain because I too have a broken heart. The same as you, I was young and beautiful when I met Mahmood.” She went on, “Mahmood was meant for me and whenever I went on a trip he was there sitting next to me. His manly shoulder was the place where I could fall asleep during the long trips. But one day Mahmood went on a business trip to another country, and he never came back.
“I waited for him for so many years and searched for him, but he was nowhere. I searched for him among the crowd whenever a plane arrived, but I could not find him. One day, I knew that Mahmood had settled down with a foreign woman in another country. Now I hear nothing from him except in my old memories that never leave me alone. In the heart of the sky I still see his face. Whenever I look at the clouds they remind me of his smile and his eyes. But do you really know what hurts the most? Waiting for someone who is not supposed to come back, knowing the fact that he will never be yours; he will be someone else ‘s forever. Broken promises and an innocent heart, being loyal when the man is not—if tears could add up I would have made a river from my tears. I would water all the dry places, the plains and the deserts with my tears, but why would if my tears cannot bring him back?
“I know more than anyone that I have hurt myself. My hair became white when I was young, and my face got wrinkled. Now my eyes don’t see properly and my hands are shaking. It is a lie to say that lovers’ hearts are connected. My sighs and pain could’ve melted the mountains into rivers, but they had no effect on his heart. Obviously, he was not a true lover. Not only glass breaks; hearts break into pieces in loss, and once it happens they will never be fixed. This is my advice for you: do not hurt yourself any more. Let go of the past and remove those memories from your heart and your mind. If someone was yours they would break down the mountains, they would have crossed the rivers, even from another continent, they would come back to you and not break your heart. Those who break your heart for any reasons, do not deserve your precious tears. Live your life and enjoy each moment because once it is gone it won’t be back again. When someone does not understand your value and can’t be faithful with you they do not deserve a place in your memories. This road that you are going down now? I have reached its end, and believe me, I found nothing except loneliness, disappointment, sorrows, and pain. Fight for the one who stands beside you and cry for the one who makes you smile. If that man has left you be thankful, because God has a better option for you somewhere.
“To some destinations we can go with any others as on a big airplane; but in your life journey you need someone who truly loves you, adores you, can be faithful to you, and neither leaves you nor breaks your heart. So, live happily and for the sake of those who truly love you, and be sure that there is someone in this world who will give you all the happiness that you deserve in life. Be sure that under the sky beneath the moon there is always someone there for you; and that will be your perfect partner who comes to you at the right time.”
She grew silent as we reached our destination. At the terminal, she did not wait for luggage, carrying only her hand bag. She offered to wait while I got my luggage, but the weather was cold, so I thanked her and told her that she should not wait for me. Then she smiled and said goodbye. I came out of the airport and looked up. It was a cloudy winter afternoon and the rain drops washed my face, blending with my tears so that they looked like rain and it appeared that I was no longer crying. Again I was reminded of what the old woman told me: “Under the sky beneath the moon there is always someone for everyone.”
9 January, 2023