By now I had spent nearly two months in Jaghoray and it was almost the end of August. It was almost time to move on, if I was to reach the other clinics before winter. Jon, the project co-ordinator returned to Qolijou and I went to discuss travel plans. The idea was for me to spend some time in each, helping with any admin tasks, stock taking and generally being there to sort any other problems. Jon would return to Pakistan to collect the money and essential supplies the clinics needed before winter closed the road. We would meet at the clinic in Lal-sar-Jangal and return to Pakistan together.
At the hospital, one of the translators greeted me, adding, ‘Have you come to visit your landlord’s mother?’ I was mystified until I found Rosanna setting up the x ray equipment for Gul Agha’s mother who was lying, grey faced, clutching at her stomach.
‘Chi shud? – What happened?’ I asked, appalled at her appearance. Her only answer was to groan and grab my hand. The translator explained, ‘Hisb-i-Islami attacked Gul Agha’s house in Sangsuragh. His mother was standing behind the gate when a rocket went through it. She is really lucky to be alive but we think pieces of metal have lodged in her stomach.’
‘What about the rest of the family, Latifa, Gul Agha ….?’
‘Latifa was slightly injured in her leg, nothing serious. Gul Agha is all right but they captured his brother Hazrat.’
Gul Agha appeared then – a miniature Rambo, weighed down by his bandoliers, Kalashnikov in hand – but when he spoke to his mother, his expression softened until he looked like any other young boy, stricken with fear for his mum. I expressed my sympathy and concern and asked if I could visit Latifa at home. ‘Yes, of course, she will be happy to see you. I have to go now.’ The smile slipped and he looked grim again. ‘I have to do something to get Hazrat back.’
The x ray showed the fragments of metal had missed the major intestines and, although she would be in hospital for some time and suffer a great deal of pain, Fatima would make a full recovery.
Jon and I left immediately for the village. In neighbouring village of Kat-i-Sang people tried to dissuade us from continuing, insisting that it was too dangerous. We carried on, wondering if we were being naive in our assumption that reports of any incident were always lavishly embellished. Gul Agha had said it was all right to visit, we reassured ourselves.
Sughra spotted our approach, running to meet us so, before going to visit Latifa, we first had call at Baqul’s house. We answered queries about Fatima’s condition. I also explained I would soon be leaving, although I would be back before winter. I asked her mum for permission to take Sughra to the bazaar for a shopping expedition with me and Jon the next day. We took our leave and headed towards Gul Agha’s house.
About twenty yards from our destination we were taken completely by surprise as a dozen armed mujahideen leapt from the trees and surrounded us, Kalashnikovs pointing menacingly at us. Obediently, we froze.
Another would-be Tarzan jumped from the branches, rushed towards us, and suddenly threw his arms around Jon in a huge bear hug. They indulged in a bit of back slapping and hugging and went through the necessary enquiries about each other’s health then the muj indicated with a grin, that we could proceed. ‘Who was that?’ I asked.
Jon shrugged. ‘No idea, don’t remember ever meeting him before. Seems he knows me, though.’
Latifa was delighted to have visitors and, once assured that her mother was all right, embarked with relish on the story of the attack. She didn’t seem particularly concerned about the fate of her little brother, positive that Gul Agha would soon secure his release. Her own injury, which was nothing more than a slight scratch on her leg, was proudly displayed.
I asked about the people hiding in the trees. ‘Oh,’ Latifa replied, ‘they are guarding the house in case they try to attack us again. They are from Hisb-i-Islami.’
I was confused. ‘I thought it was Hisb-i-Islami who attacked you? Gul Agha is with Nasre.’
Latifa nodded. ‘Yes, it was people from Hisb-i-Islami who fired on the house but they are strangers. These guards are Hisbi, but they are from our village. They don’t want any more fighting.’
I was surprised, and heartened, to hear that village loyalties took priority over those of the Party. Much later, on my return to Jaghoray I was astonished to learn that Latifa was engaged to be married to a man from Hisb-i-Islami – the same man who had taken her brother prisoner. Gul Agha (who had succeeded in getting Hazrat freed – I think without blood being shed) was hoping to put an end to Hisbi by joining the two political parties in marriage. Latifa, who had always made clear her views against marriage, was not in favour of her brother’s political manoeuvring and had objected strenuously, but unsuccessfully. Shakespeare, I thought, could have done something with this storyline.
Back at Hussain’s clinic everyone was excitedly embroidering their version of events in Sangsuragh. These now included details of the enemy storming the house and being mowed down mercilessly by Gul Agha, from his stand at the top of the stairs. When Hussain heard of our plan to take Sughra to the bazaar the next day, he immediately informed me that it was impossible, that it was too dangerous for me to go to Sangsuragh to collect Sughra.
I did rather enjoy watching his expression when I told him I had not only already been there already today, I had visited Gul Agha’s house too.