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  • Curt Rude

Friday Read "Never a Child" Story of war from a childs eyes

“Allāhu Akbar, Allāhu Akbar!” Abdul said in greeting.

“All your fooling around on this voyage, and now it is time to be a good Muslim?”

Abdul smiled and elbowed his companion lightly. “Oh come now. I know the good words. I must be humble and always in his service. It is my duty to follow the words in the sacred book. Honor holds me in its grip. I am one of his chosen people. It is right to praise God. If I follow the words, he shall reward me. How is that my friend?”

“You make fun. Remember my words now. Inner thoughts are the most important, but actions must be taken when called for. It is what the knowledgeable have said. Love in your thoughts, action from your body. Always serve his people and be ready to strike a blow for him, the most powerful. That is what we must do. We are not here to act foolish.”

Abdul elbowed him again, “Let us get a move on. I am empty.” He patted his stomach.

Abdul trotted up to the group in front of them. His friend lagged behind the sailors who were pushing and shoving and talking gibberish. Sometimes he thought his fellow sailors only lived for laughing. Such talk, and all of the time. It pricked at him. It had gotten worse once they were docked and released from their duties. The only good he got from them was a nickname, Thinker. Now all he had to do was ride a train before catching a bus. He looked forward to getting back to Afghanistan.

When all you saw was water, day after day, time slowed down. As they neared the end of their voyage, an unsaid, but shared, understanding resulted in duties being completed ahead of schedule. No one wanted to be held prisoner to tasks on the ship when land was in the offing.

Karachi usually had water in its pipes and plenty of electricity. The shops, food stands and loud voices demanded attention. Aga concluded it was matters such as these that drove his fellow sailors to act so donkey stupid. He hoped his favorite vendor was still around so he could make a quick purchase and head to the train station. Green chia and strong tobacco laced with hashish was in his future. The vendor was good to him, and sold hash that was just the right potency. He licked his bottom lip with a dry tongue in anticipation. Hashish always smoothed the bumps out of the rough bus ride ahead of him.

The group went quiet as they stepped from the gangway onto the dock which led to shore. A mess of rags around a figure that was more bones than flesh sat in their path. The figure was slumped on the dock, near the steps leading to land, covered in gull shit. A palm slid up toward the sailors with unfolding fingers. If old, it was hungry; if young, it was craving heroin. The sailors silently eyed dry land and stepped around the man. Several cleared their throats, but none acknowledged the silent, needy mess of rags.

Aga, feeling benevolent, immediately saw this as his jihad. His religious duty to provide for the poor. His call to action. The all-knowing Prophet said one must provide zakat to the less fortunate. He immediately dropped money onto the withered palm, though the act did not seem to register immediately with the mess of rags. After a moment, the hand balled into a fist and retreated back into the rags.

A breeze blew off the water and Aga realized he had forgotten his coat. He wasn’t sure if it was haste or his preoccupied thoughts that resulted in his coat being left in his berth. The others continued toward the end of the dock. Aga heard their fading laughter as it was overcome by the demanding screams of the ever present gulls. He spun in the direction of the ship and back up the gangway. A coat was a must on the unheated bus. Deserts became very cold once the sun ducked behind the mountains.

“Ah, there you are. I have something for you. You are a good one. The Captain says so himself.” The Chief Officer lowered his voice as if such words should remain a secret. “Very hard worker is what he says to me about you. The Captain is most pleased. He was touched by your actions, friend. You provided when the others refused to even see a man in need.”

The man, his clothes filthy, pointed toward a door.

Aga ventured many guesses as to how long the man had avoided water to acquire his particular odor.

None of it mattered.

He was to follow the Chief Officer into a windowless office.

“Your pay and orders, Aga. You will sail soon on a long voyage that pays plenty. Get rest. It is a long trip, but you have been selected because you are good, I tell you. Did I not say the Captain says so himself? What do you think of that? He has seen you. Always busy, I say.” The words slowly escaped the toothless crevice.

“The Captain has taken notice of me?” The sailors eyes widened and he inhaled as if smoking his first cigarette of the day.

“Yes, but of course he did. What do you think? I talk nonsense like a woman?” Spittle blew from the Chief Officer onto Aga. The man’s brown fingers resembled a camel spider as they skittered over the paperwork. The Chief Officer gulped air as if the paper chase was a herculean effort. After some searching, he snatched up an envelope and thrust it toward Aga. “Your orders. Now be gone. I have much to do before prayers are called.”

“Yes. Yes. I know, kind sir, your time is valuable. I am pleased the Captain has noticed me. It is an important thing.” Aga spun and headed for the door. “Allah provides for our Captain in times of the worst storms. It is why we fear nothing when out to sea. I wish to thank you for the kind words the Captain shared with you.” Aga stepped onto the deck and smiled.

The envelope teased his fingertips. He shot a glance back toward the ship, and decided to wait before tearing into it. He didn’t see what good it would do to appear eager. He knew it was a good thing to be calm in matters involving the Captain.

He absentmindedly shooed gulls from the deck as he headed for the gangway. He had a train ride, and a long bus ride, before he could settle into the room he rented in Kabul. The broken down man had vanished from his soiled spot. It had felt good to hear kind words. He knew his Muma would smile. He would provide for her. She had told him many times how she had scratched a hole out of hard soil and squatted over it to push him into the world. It was a matter of pride for her to know she had done it without assistance. Not only that, but he remembered her telling him the guns were loud so she had to be quiet. She told him that her sister had tried finding her, to be of assistance, but a bullet struck her. She had produced two sons, proving she was a worthy Muslim woman. When she saw her dead sister, she had told him it mattered little. She had produced a son after all. She reminded many that she had produced no girls. Islam was strong in her heart she claimed.

Now he would tell his Muma what the Captain had said. His sightless brother had made everything possible and for that he was grateful.

He purchased kabsa and sat on twisted metal bench over piles of crumbled brick. Numerous explosions made such items available. He pushed the chunks of goat to the roof of his mouth. He did not chew, hoping the pleasure of filling an empty stomach would linger on for a few more minutes. The stringy meat always signaled the end of ship living for him. The sauce on his fingers was delightful after so many days on the ship, and he gave thanks to the owner of the stand. It was a place where he ate often. If one went to an untrusted stand, the stomach could make travel impossible. The sailors warned each other about stands that made it possible to shit through a screen without touching it. His stomach felt fine. His companions had gotten a head start, and he quickly ate the last of his goat and trotted in the direction of the station.

Walking around Karachi alone was never a good thing. He could not see them down the street. Once on the train, he would be safe. The bus ride would be another matter. He slipped the envelope into a pouch in his shalwar. He hoped he had left enough money in his pockets to satisfy the local soldiers or thieves. If they conducted a more thorough search, and discovered his prize, it would be much worse than losing money. He did not think on it any further because it did no good.

It was not long before he spotted the green train bearing down on the station platform. Its light was visible long before the screeching wheels ground the train to a shuttering halt. Crowds pushed into and around each other. Some wanted off after a long trip, while others from the platform attempted to force their way to coveted seats within.

Aga scanned the crowd, and failed to spot his companions. He would have to travel, at least this part of the journey, alone. What does it matter to me? I am tired and can sleep easier without all the laughing and girl talk. Besides, girl talk is haraam, and need not be discussed all of the time. The train sped north out of Karachi and away from its tall buildings and lights. Miles of white dust billowed up and trailed the train as it sped toward Afghanistan. His thoughts soon became as vacant as the monotonous scene outside the window. The usual sounds of a crowded train were heard, but he acknowledged none of them. If he heard the screaming baby, he did not let on. It was only after the train started slowing that he pulled his head from the corner he had propped it into. They had arrived at the border, and the next leg of his journey.

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