It was the first Friday of Ramazan, and a much needed weekend for me. Sleep had eluded me for the last three weeks and I had already decided to sleep in this weekend. Nothing was going to disturb my sweet slumber this morning. How wrong I was.
At the break of dawn, I was woken by the buzzing of the phone next to my bed, and I was determined to ignore it. Except, the sound of the device vibrating did not stop and seemed to be prompted from different applications on my phone, not just a call. I, much reluctantly, dragged myself out of bed and picked up my phone. Somewhere at the back of subconscious mind, I already knew, even before I saw the display on my phone, that something terrible had happened.
Such is life in Kabul. It’s a wonderful city; full of life; full of resilience, no questions there. But every once in a while, the lingering instability within the city comes too close. Much too close. A distant boom, or gunshots, and the phones come out in an instant. People log on to Twitter and search for the hashtag #KabulBlast. Chatters on another group on Facebook helps you triangulate where the tragedy may have struck this time. People often complain of all the noise on these unregulated and crowdsourced social media platforms providing unverified information; but secretly all of us take the time to read through every tirade posted on there in the hopes of finding information that could help tell a story of the city’s collective struggles.
And then the phone calls begin. You try to reach out to every person you know, friends and family, who could have been close to the tragedy. You wait with bated breath for the phone to ring, for them to answer. You send out text messages, one that you have sent countless times before, one that is perhaps saved in the drafts of your inbox, to let other’s know that you are okay; that you weren’t hit by this destructive and unreasonable emotion that erupted from someone’s misguided hatred towards our beautiful differences.
“I’m ok. Are you okay? Stay safe.”
And indeed, this morning was one of those days. An Indian woman working in Kabul had been kidnapped the night before, taken forcefully, by gunmen who would perhaps later trade her for large sums of money. The vague and incomplete news gave rise to concerns over the identity of the woman in question. Everyone who knew me, even briefly, worried if whether I was the unfortunate victim of the growing crimes syndicates in Kabul. Those who are close to me made frantic calls; other’s left the mandatory, albeit polite, messages checking on my wellbeing. I dutifully replied to each one. Had it indeed been me instead of that woman, I really don’t know how this information (or the lack of) could have been useful. I posted on all social media accounts assuring everyone I knew that I was okay.
After a while, the messages become routine, but they never feel right. Because even when you’re okay, someone out there is not. Every time, I send one out, there is someone waiting to hear the same words from their loved one who won’t be responding tonight.
For those trying to reach out to their dear ones, every moment of nonresponse equals an eternity of pain and anguish. Your mind trying to reason with your heart. You try to come up with logical justification of what they are taking so long to answer your phone or respond to your text.
Human mind is a weird thing. It often operates in extremes, oscillating between contrasting emotions. And even as hard as you might try not to, it will still take you to the worst imaginable conclusions. It forces you to imagine a life without your loved one. You try to think of the last thing you said to them. Sometimes, you curse yourself for not having said something more meaningful and profound. You promise the universe that if given another chance you will tell them something worthwhile. You will treat them better. You resort to anger sometimes, over why they had to make you feel this way. A simple message could relive you of your dread. Just two words — I’m OK.
That ocean of relief, like someone unclenched their grip from around your heart. Those silent prayers of gratitude. That smile you can’t rub off your face. All delivered with two words — I’m OK.
It is no surprise that some of us would want to leave. Some of us do leave, but some others have no option but stay, and go through this thunderstorm of emotions all over again.
Today, I’m okay. Until next time.