Sughra was so excited about her proposed shopping expedition that she was waiting at the foot of the hill, dancing from foot to foot in her impatience. Gul Agha’s youngest brother, Najibullah, was hovering, his usual cheeky grin replaced by a look of anxiety. When told to get into the car his face split into a huge grin of delight.
I said we’d leave soon but first I had to say hello to her mother and let her know we had Najibullah with us. Sughra’s face fell. ‘She’ll make you drink tea,’ she muttered. I promised I’d refuse.
The house was small, with just two rooms, both of which could fit easily into our living room at the clinic. The door opened directly into the first room – a kitchen and store. The second room provided the living and sleeping accommodation for the family of seven. A threadbare piece of what, once, had been a colourful gilim covered only part of the earth floor, while a small bundle of bedding in a corner constituted the entire furnishing of the room. On the one small, recessed shelf were stored a few medicines (no home was without a plastic bag of pills, syrups and tonics), embroidery materials and a small bundle of clothing.
Of his seven children, Baqul had only one son and he, like Annis one of his sisters, had Hurler Syndrome, a genetic disorder, once more commonly known as gargoylism. Neither child could talk or walk. Khudadad was a sociable child and would shake hands and smile when spoken to. There had been rejoicing at his birth, the longed for son. Even when it became obvious that he too suffered from the strange thickening of the tongue, the over large head, he was fussed over and petted and loved in a way his sister hadn’t been. Despite disappointing visits to every doctor and clinic for miles around, Baqul still hoped his son might be cured and could not accept that he would never be better. The entire family would have run naked through the streets to find a way to make their precious son normal.
As soon as I paid my respects, refusing tea three times, I jumped in the jeep and we headed for the bazaar. I drove, Sughra perched excitedly on the passenger seat waving to everyone we passed, while Jon and Najib sat in the back. We were soon giggling at the expressions of amazed disbelief on the faces of everyone we passed on the way.
It was lunchtime when we reached Sangi Masha bazaar at lunchtime so Jon suggested kebabs at Sufi’s to fortify us for the serious business of shopping. The two children were soon tucking into soup, kebabs, rice and korma, concentrating on their food, without speaking a word, until they sat back with satisfied sighs.
Although Sughra had never been shopping in her life she took to it like a duck to water, examining each of the bolts of cloth carefully, dismissing them, with a toss of her head, as being inferior to her needs. At the third shop Jon and Najib left us, bored with such feminine pursuits as looking for dress fabrics, and wandered off to do their own shopping.
Sughra and I visited each and every cloth shop until even I was becoming quite desperate. Finally, back in the first shop, she found what she was looking for – a bolt of purple velvet. She lovingly fingered the soft material, nodding with satisfaction, ‘This one.’ With a sigh of relief I asked the shopkeeper to cut the required length. While he was doing so, Sughra looked at me beseechingly, ‘Amina doesn’t have any nice clothes. Could I have an extra piece for her?’ She added earnestly, ‘She won’t need much, she is very small.’ I suggested we should buy some for her older sister too. Sughra’s eyes grew round, ‘But she is very fat!’ she exclaimed.
Hugging her parcel, we wandered along the street. Sughra turned her attention to what other shops had to offer and soon we had a ball for her brother Khudadad, some luxury sweets and fancy hair grips. She was grinning all over her face by the time we met up with the others. Najib, totally disinterested in Sughra’s purchases, was overjoyed by the discovery of the bakery with its tempting choice of cakes and biscuits.
Jon had bought a patou, a large woollen shawl worn by men. Sughra, usually very shy with him, went into peals of laughter, eventually gasping between her giggles, ‘In barai zen ast! – It is for a woman! Pas bidi! – Give it back!’ We trouped back to the shop where Sughra soundly harangued the shopkeeper for selling Jon a woman’s chaddar before selecting something she considered more suitable.
As we were returning to the jeep, Jon was hailed by a huge, black bearded, turbaned, giant of a man, who threw his arms around him in a rib-cracking hug. Sayed was a truck driver and when Jon explained that I needed transport north, he agreed to take me along. Only, he was leaving in two days’ time!
Back in Sangsuragh, Sughra and Najibullah vied with each other to tell of all they had seen and done. Everyone seemed delighted that they had so enjoyed themselves.
Somehow, everyone seemed to have already heard I was leaving for the north and almost the entire village turned out to say goodbye when, with promises that would I see them all after my travels, we drove away.