The Frontier Constabulary officer's wife

The separation from her beloved was finally going to end. She wore her silk dress and put on bangles as she waited.

Sameera Rashid November 08, 2012
When Sharbat Gul’s husband left for paramilitary training to Shabqadar, her wedding henna had not paled yet. She was a dreamy-eyed 15-year-old with sharp green eyes that were of darker hue at the outer rims and of lighter shade in the centre.

Sharbat fell in love with Sher Khan when she had set her eyes on him on their wedding day. Amidst the sounds of laughter, beating of drums, and clapping of hands, Sharbat glanced coyly at him, and her heart was ensnared by the golden hues of his brown eyes, glinting in the sun.

Tall and broad-shouldered, Sher Khan was a handsome young man, and she loved him best when he laughed, with his eyes crinkling at the corners. They were too young to understand the meaning of love, but the few days that Sharbat had spent with him were blissful.

Cold gusts of wind lashing outside the house kept the newly married couple huddled around the metal brazier, blazing with red coals. Sher Khan narrated stories about his gun training, wall climbing and horse riding, but he told her nothing about the dangers of his job as a future Frontier Constabulary officer.

He left after four days. On the day of his departure, Sharbat Gul cried like a child but he did not stop by her side; she could not see the wet corners of his eyes. As days dragged on, she remembered only his crinkly eyes and his tales of adventure narrated besides blazing coals in the brazier.

Sharbat, who had not tasted the bittersweet fruit of love before marriage, was torn away by its power in separation. She could not tell her family how she felt. The girls in her village never talked about love; it was shameless for a girl to say that she loved and missed her husband,

Sharbat’s mother died when she was three and her father remarried after a year. Her stepmother was a good woman. She never harassed her or treated her cruelly, but she never loved her the way she loved her own children ─ singing lullabies to them, caressing them, wiping away their tears and feeding them. Her father slogged away at fields throughout the day, and in the evening spent time in the village hujra, smoking and drinking tea. He had little time for her; in fact, he barely noticed her in the earthen courtyard bounded by thick mud walls.

Luckily, Sharbat had learned to find companionship in animals, realising long ago that animals understood what went inside human hearts, and that they could also comprehend human language. As a young girl, she began taking goats for grazing to the hills along with her dog, and if any goat wandered away from her sight, she called it by name and that goat always responded to her calls.

One day, her stepmother had scolded her for not piling up firewood; she brought her goats into the forest and had started crying bitterly under a pine tree. Jali, a baby goat, came and nestled her head in her lap. It bleated and she wiped her tears with its square ears. The bleating of the goat and its soft caresses had calmed her heart. Away from the cacophony of shrilly, cantankerous human voices, the rustling of wind in the tall pines, the pecking of woody woodpecker and the fall of cones on the debris of leaves soothed Sharbat.

After the departure of her husband, she talked unabashedly to her three goats, Toor, Speen and Jali, and her dog, Ballu, about Sher Khan. Her love for him and the pangs of separation gnawed at her heart:
“Ballu, he had fed me halwa with his own hands.”

“Speen, he had plucked jasmine flowers from the shrub in the courtyard and had put them in my hair,” Sharbat would tell the animals.

When a truck on a distant road blared a popular Pashto song, it brought a smile to her face, reminding her of Pa Meena crooned in her ears by Sher; it was the sweetest voice that she heard after the lullaby of her mother.

That day Sharbat Gul  felt light and pranced in the courtyard like Jali. She kept looking distantly at the horizon. The pale moon played peekaboo from behind clouds in a sun-lit grey sky.

Sher Khan was coming back to the village after completing his training. To celebrate his homecoming, his mother had cooked meat and rice and his favourite sweet dish of vermicelli, roasted in desi ghee, almonds and nuts.

She wore coloured bangles and an embroidered pink silk kameez with a loose shalwar in the evening. Gazing intently at the half-bolted courtyard door, she entered timorously in her semi-dark room. The open window of the room brought in the smell of night jasmine from the courtyard. The silver moon was shining brilliantly on a dark blue sky. Occasionally, passing dark clouds hid its resplendent fullness.

When a cat upturned a metallic container in the courtyard, her heart beat furiously against the ribs, crushing them, punching them hard, and making her breathless.

Like crashing sound of broken glass, loud lamentations arose outside the mud walls of the compound.

Someone was talking of scattered dead bodies, of torn limbs, of pools of blood, of charred cars and of blasted bombs. Her eyes widened with fear, like those of a doe chased by bloodhounds in the depths of forest. She stood frozen on the cold earthen floor as if transfixed by haunted stare of snake-haired Medusa.

Suddenly, the metal frame of the brown courtyard door opened with a frenzied madness. Her father entered the blanched courtyard. Hurtling like a blindfolded man in a dark room, he found her crouched in a corner. With a silent movement of his bony arm, he broke her coloured bangles. Red, green, white glass fell on the floor with muted noise. Small pieces pierced her arms and red droplets dotted her green veins as colourless tears welled in her eyes.

Outside the high walls of the compound, dark clouds had exploded into thunder and lightning, drowning heart-wrenching wails of a widow in their blighted showers.

Read more by Sameera here.
Sameera Rashid A research analyst, blogger and a graduate of King's College, London, in public policy.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.