Bahadur Shah came to the door, took his rubber slippers off and stood in wait for Rahim.
“Rahim,” the silhouetted short and stout middle-aged man called out. His thick beard held staunch against the morning wind while a woolen pakul rested on his head.
Bahadur, growing impatient, entered the room. Rahim trotted in, a minute later drying his hand on his shirt’s back and sat on the soft tushak next to Bahadur. By then Ahmad had already spread a long cloth along the tushak, and was serving the tea with the rusk that Rahim brought with him the previous night.
The men were talking about the usual border security and the outgoing Afghan government–American’s puppets they called them. Ahmad was deaf to such talk, instead, his mind wandered cross-border into Pakistan.
His daydreaming, unlike him, was free to roam into Pakistan and drive the off-roader he saw there on his last visit to the Afghan-Pakistan border. He pictured himself behind the wheel zipping past everyone on the road and sending plumes of dust in the air behind him.
A heavy tap to his forehead snapped him back into reality.
“What father,” Ahmad asked befuddled.
“Rahim was kind enough to get you..,” Bahadur looked to his left and motioned towards Rahim.
Rahim handed the kid the envelope and asked him to open it. Ahmad emptied the content on his lap.
Bahadur shrieked, “Alaka careful, you might catapult them into the tea. You don’t know the trouble Rahim went through for this.”
Harbored in the creases of his kameez were two cards! The first one was an Identity card that made his 2 years older and the stretched picture seconded it. The next card he picked up was the Border Permit with his name written in bold.
A wide-eyed Ahmad now held the cards in his hands and looked back and forth towards his father and Kala Kala Saday who seemed to say ” At last! It dawned upon him at last! “
“Alaka, you can cross over to Chaman on your own now,” Rahim told him.
A smile beamed across Ahmad’s unkempt face and his father chuckled, ” I am just glad I will never get to hear you complain about being stuck here.”
“Get up and thank him you rascal,” Bahadur said with another smack on Ahmad’s head.
Ahmed stood up and went over to Rahim and kissed his hand, who seem humbled by the gesture and patted his head in reply.
Bahardur Shah came to Kandahar city four years ago in search for employment and had planned to return to his family in Nili after saving enough to open his own shop. The region had different plans for him: it sucked him further towards the border, into the border town of ‘Spin Buldak’ where he has been working as a driver.
Ahmad, his only child, joined him half a year ago; he was happy and mired with guilt at the same time upon the reunion.
Around ten in the morning, Ahmad left the shabby room he called his home, flung his bag across his shoulder and started off from the town towards the Afghan-Pakistan border.
On this special day Kala Kala Saday was present and to Ahmed’s surprise saw him off. On his routine walk to the border, the monotony of both concrete and mud buildings, with their high border walls, failed to dampen his spirits; joyous, he had decided to walk the dusty pathways kicking cans and plastic bottles rather than walk the monotony of A75-Highway that connected the border to Kandahar City.
He had been across the border only a couple of times and that too accompanied by his father, but today he was on his own. A man already!
He approached the border in prance, such that the onlookers could not help but smile. Lost in his own world his laughing large eyes outshone the silly grin spread across his face. The flow of people was more towards the Pakistani border-post than the Afghan one. Those that passed him and walked alongside him were clad in Shalwar Kameez too, and some had a chadar(shawl) flung over their right shoulder. Women were few, all clad in a veil from head to toe; their window to the world was a small mesh in front of their eyes. Ahmed called them shuttlecocks.
The Afghan check post was more of a formality, for people passed through without any checks. It opened to a Wire Mesh corridor where Ahmed joined the others on a long walk towards the Pakistani check post.
As he walked, he let his fingers run along the mesh listening to its hoarse sound. Past it, he noticed the unusually long line of trucks and oil tankers, whilst the drivers sat perched on the roofs in wait for the passage to the other side. This excited him for he would lighten his load and hopefully hand enough Rupees to his father to see him happy!
He glanced at the various boards, which to him were meaningless, set up against the rugged and hazy Khojak Hills in the background.
From the wire-mesh corridor, he entered into a narrow perpendicular iron railing. The Chaman border gate towered above him with an emblem of a handshake on the sides and the picture of an old man, with a triangular hat atop his head, in the middle.
Three men and a woman guard were present at the check-post. One of the males stood in the corner, clad in his khaki camouflage while the AK-47 dangled from his shoulder. The rest was clad in a black grained shalwar-kameez, with the woman additionally clad in a dupatta.
Upon his turn, he slung his bag down and placed it beside him.
‘What’s in the bag? Charas?‘ one of the guards joked about the contents in his bag.
‘It is Naswaar(tobacco snuff), nothing else, Sir,’ he replied.
It never mattered as Charas-the local processed weed was as common as cigarettes on both sides of the border.
They took a peek into his bag and patted him down, but to his disappointment, did not ask him for his identifications. He voluntarily showed them his new border-pass so to force a ceremony upon his crossing. With a booming pride, he walked into Chaman, Pakistan. A man already!
To his right was the parking lot where laden pickups trucks and lorries remained in wait to be allowed passage. The buildings in the vicinity were storerooms or small rooms with attached washrooms. It was as if he had never left Spin Buldakh. Only the numerous Pakistani flags around the area, on mounds and on single-story buildings reminded him of his crossing.
Not far away from the check post he lifted his bag again and joined the stagnant figures among the cross-border travelers—the truck drivers in wait. He moved towards a group of men perched on the truck guard of first of many oil tankers when one of the men called him: “Alaka!, hand me some Naswar.”
“Salam Ustaad,” Ahmad greeted. He placed the bag down and asked: “How many you need?”
“However much this gets me,” the driver replied handing Ahmed 100 Rupees. Ahmad stretched the bill in his hand and looked hard at his first earned Rupees. With a new found fervor, he pocketed the money and opened the bag.
“BEEP,” came a muffled sound from under hundreds of packets of Naswar. Confused, he cleared the packets to see what’s underneath.
“BEEP,” it sounded louder and now the drivers perched on the truck heard it too.
The third came as Ahmed stood up, he held an old Nokia mobile phone in his hand.
“My father’s phone!” He let out gleefully.
He looked up and saw pale faces stuck at his mobile.
“He thought he had lost it?” he began questioning his jubilation.
Their faces relaxed and all at once, they began cursing him. Some in jest, some in seriousness. Confused as he was, another beep caught his attention. Only his attention. It too was coming from his bag!