Dasht-e Leili

After the doors were shut, the tomblike cargo container had become dark. With our hands and feet bound with the fabric of our own turbans, we had fallen on top of each other and the only thing we could see was the glitter of each others’ eyes. Outside, the sun was shining, which made the air inside the container hot and close.

*

They had given us nothing to eat or drink all day. Before, the soldiers in camouflage uniforms, some of whom were constantly riding around us on motorcycles, used to give us bread and water. The soldiers were either Americans or from different countries. We were in Yerganak; for two days we had experienced the burning sun of Yerganak. After we gave up Kunduz and had surrendered to them, they gathered us there,and sat us down on the hot yellow sand in our bare feet. The first day, they divided us into smaller groups, tied a rope around us, and left us there on the burning sand. The rope around us was so tight that every one of us was pressed against another and none of us could move. Those among us who had a qadifa put them over our heads and we found relief under the shade. The sun was burning; our hot bodies stuck to each other and the heat from our bodies became one and the same. We could only sit still, staring at the others being tied up. After this, a few Kamaz trucks arrived, some of them open and others with cargo compartments, and some of us were taken away. We were getting boiled under the sun and no one could say anything. And even if we could have talked, we would not have understood each other anyhow. All of us, including me, had come from different and faraway places to engage in jihad and to reach paradise. I had seen every one of these black ghouls back in Kunduz, but only from a distance. They were in a separate group and not with us. At night, in the beams from the headlights of some cars circling around us, we shivered with cold but none of us could move. If we made even the slightest movement, a shot was fired and all of us were paralyzed, though the shivering went on.

The second day we were next in line. A container was pulled up toward us. Some soldiers babbling in Suzbek-Uzbek came up to us. They released the rope around us. I said in Persian that I did not belong with the others but they went on in Uzbek and started kicking me, and beating me with rifle butts. The soldiers took off everyone’s qadifas, vests, shoes, and turbans, and left us there with only our shirts and trousers on. After they had removed all of our belongings, these men whose language I could not understand said something. Still I could not make out one word. Then they began to bind our hands and feet with our turbans. Our group was the first to be tied up. They did the same thing with the others, in groups of hundreds or more, they were thrown in containers or loaded on Kamaz trucks, and then taken away. I was the third one whose turban they removed. They tore it in two. With the one part my hands were tied up in front of me, and with the other, they tied my feet, then threw me down on the hot yellow sand. Once again I said that I was not with the others, that I was an Afghan like them. I said it in Persian so that they might understand; they did not. I tried again, this time in Pashto, but they just went on with their Uzbek, as they were tying up the others’ hands and feet. Still in the same position as after I had fallen on the hot yellow sand, I watched as the others were stripped of their turbans one by one, bound hand and foot, and thrown down on the ground next to me. One big dark man began resisting and did not let them tie his hands. I got the impression that he was reciting the Qur’an. The soldiers threw themselves on top of him; kicking and beating him with the butts of their rifles, they fettered his hands behind his back with his own turban, which had fallen from his head. Still, he resisted. When they had tied up his feet, they pushed him down on the ground next to me. His head and face were smeared with blood. He was talking in the same manner as before; perhaps he was reciting the Qur’an after all. Again, the soldiers spoke with each other in that strange Suzbek-Uzbek, tied the hands of the rest behind their backs, and . . . as the red doors of the container were opened, we looked at each other and then fixed our eyes upon the soldiers. They hurled us into the container one by one. After I had been thrown on the container floor, I curled myself up, slithered to the side, and leaned against the metal wall. The wall was hot, but not so much that it burned my back. Everyone was twisting and bending their bound hands and feet, and pushed to make some space for themselves. But there were so many of us that we all lay piled up on top of each other. My stretched-out legs had ended up beneath two bodies and were impossible to move. One of the men on top of me was the one who had been beaten. I tried to pull up my legs. I could not. I shook them a little. The two men were staring at me but did not say a thing. Then they started moving as if they were trying to get up. I managed to get my legs out from beneath their bodies, pulled my knees against my chest, and wrapped my hands around my legs.

*

After the doors had been shut, the tomblike container was filled with darkness, and the only thing we could hear was our own heavy breathing. I placed my bound hands on the turban knot, with which my feet had been fettered, and tried to undo it. For a moment it felt as if it would open and hope sparked inside me. I fixed my eyes on the man who had been knocked about and now had fallen down next to me. I could hear him breathing and felt how his chest, pressing against my legs, was rising and falling. He seemed to be staring at something. When I followed his eyes, my sight fell upon a thin streak of light shining through a crack in the wall, flickering in the stale air of the container. In the darkness, I followed the thin streak of light—from his eyes—and spotted a crack just above my head; not more than an inch, possibly from a bullet. I tried to stretch upward but I could not. My back was pressed against the wall, which was getting warmer and warmer; I was sweating and having trouble breathing. Everyone was silent. The space inside the container was filled with the changing stench of bodies that had not seen even the color of water for many days. The air was getting thicker and I could breathe only with difficulty. After a while, the sounds we were making increased and I could feel the blows of bodies hitting the container’s wall. Everyone tried to strike with any part of the body that could be moved, and gradually the banging sound of fettered hands, tied-up feet and heads hitting the walls, resounded in the container. Everyone was screaming and the sound of heads banging against the container grew stronger. I breathe heavily. I scream. I am banging my head against the wall. Bang . . . bang, everyone is screaming, pounding at the walls with their fists, their feet, and probably also with their heads.

They, inside the container, beneath the sun. We, outside, in the wall’s narrow shadow. We watched the container, listening to the thumping from inside, possibly from their heads banging the walls. When we seized Mazar everyone had fled. In the city, nobody was to be seen. No one came out from their homes, as they had done in the other cities we had seized. The heat was merciless. It was early summer and I experienced the heat here in Mazar much worse than on the plains of Helmand and Nimruz. Those people we had found out on the streets, or had dragged out from their homes, we threw in the container. They were yelling that they were being boiled and that the door should be opened. We had placed ourselves in the shadow from the wall and our bodies were dripping with sweat. Everyone we had stumbled upon had been thrown into the container. The burning sun of Mazar stood right above us and the shadow falling from the wall was growing shorter, and every gust of wind that met our dripping bodies felt like a blessing. We were still sitting there, listening to the noise they were making. My friends did not know Persian that well so they just sat there staring at the container chatting with each other. Everyone was occupied with his own doings. The man next to me had opened his beloved Qur’an to read from. Occasionally he took his eyes from the book, and while his fingers were stroking and scratching his long beard, he stared at the container for some time, before he returned to his reading. I was the only one who understood what they said. “We are choking. Oh, you nonbelievers, open the doors. We are being boiled, we are being grilled.” That man next to me who was reading from the Qur’an raised his head. Scratching his beard in the same manner as before he said, “They are still alive.” Once again, he sank into the pages of his dear Qur’an. And the others were still screaming.

*

We are screaming. We have not been boiled yet. We are screaming, begging them to open the doors. Everyone is loud, but I do not understand what they are saying, only God knows in what kind of language they speak, I do not know. I think some of them are reciting the Qur’an, I do not know. Everyone is knocking loudly in the container. Perhaps, it is their heads pounding against the walls of the container that brings about this banging sound. As my breathing deteriorates, I pound my head into the wall and a banging sound fills my head. I can taste blood. It is my own blood. At that point I stop banging my head against the wall; I taste the warm and salty blood and swallow it. I lick my lips and swallow the blood that streams down from my head. As my throat becomes moist, I feel that I can scream even more. I scream and I scream and I scream and I scream . . . and then, I calm down and listen to the voices gradually die out. I let my eyes wander around in the darkness. Someone is still reciting the Qur’an. This is something I can understand but I cannot remember from which Sura he reads. The man who had fallen over my legs is quiet. I can see him staring in the darkness. His eyes seem to be fixed on something. I remember the thin stream of light and the crack in the wall. I follow his eyes and my sight falls upon the thin stream of light that flickers in the container’s stale air. At the sight of the light a longing stirs in my heart. I look up and forget the hot walls of the container that are burning my back. I forget how thirsty I am, how many hours I have been imprisoned inside this container, and how difficult it is for me to breathe. It feels almost as if I could pull myself up to that crack and inhale the air from the outside. Though, if I did move and stand up, I would not be able to sit down again. It would be enough if I could move even a little, but I have still not found a position from which I could get up. So many hours since they threw us in the container . . . how long has it been? I do not know really, I do not remember. It is still morning. Or can it be afternoon, now that the air is so hot. I can still hear the sound of the three-wheeled motorcycles, those who used to go around and guard us, always carrying two soldiers in camouflage uniforms. Other than those Uzbek-babbling soldiers to whom we had surrendered, no soldiers seem to come. I shake my bound hands that hug my fettered legs pulled up against my chest. All the feeling in my fingers is now gone. I touch the turban knot with which my feet have been tied up, but I have trouble moving my numbed fingers. I twitch my fingers so that the blood will begin to flow again. Once more, I look up toward the crack above me, which the man next to me is still probably gazing at. Now I can also hear the sound of his deep breathing. I want to stand up. I pull myself upward; perhaps I can reach the crack with my mouth and make my breathing easier. Maybe the air outside . . . I cannot, I remain in the same position, inhaling the stale and stinking air only with difficulty. It is impossible to breathe deeply; the odor from our sweating bodies has become rank and suffocating. Everyone breathes loudly and the sound of their breathing disperses through the container’s oxygen-deficient space. Everyone’s hands are tied up, all of our feet fettered. No one can move even the slightest distance. There is no spirit left in any of us to summon the strength it takes to move oneself. If only my hands had been free. When I touch the knot with my fingers, it feels as if I can undo it. I am working the knot little by little. Those bastards, they have used a blind knot! The knot around my feet is also tight and I cannot feel a thing in them. The soles of my feet are stuck to the container floor and are burning from the heat. I cannot lean against the wall any longer. I want to detach my back from it but I cannot, there is no room to move. I am thirsty, the sweat is pouring down from my head and face, and my breath is burning. I can feel someone licking my arm where my sleeve is torn; he is licking. When I turn toward him, I see that it is the man next to me that is licking the sweat on my arm; the salty sweat of my body, a body that has not seen even the color of water for many days. It feels as if this is making me thirstier. The man next to me stops licking my arm and looks at me. I see the sparkle in his eyes and then I feel his tongue passing over my arm as it collects my sweat. I twist my tongue around in my mouth and the thirst seems more intense now as I feel that my dry tongue is stuck. When I turn my eyes away from him I see the dancing light in the dark space of the container. Again, I begin to work the knot around my feet. The knot is getting looser and I can move my feet; the knot slackens even more. Then it opens. I quickly undo it and unwind the turban around my feet. I can even stand up now. I slide the unwound turban under my buttocks and can feel its softness. Then I turn around and put my knees on the turban; I stand up and put my mouth against the crack in the container wall. I open my mouth and press my lips around the opening; my lips are burning, burned by the heat of the container wall. I pull back, but my breathing is still heavy so I put my lips back around the crack and let them burn. I take the warm air from the outside into my lungs and my inside is cooled down a little. The container starts to move and the heavy swaying throws my head back. When I try to press my lips around the opening again, the container keels once more and my face is slammed into the container’s metal wall. My nose and teeth take the hit and it feels as if something has broken. I swallow the blood in my mouth and pass my tongue over my teeth, and spit out the broken pieces. Once again I gulp the warm and salty blood. My throat feels refreshed.

I look around, in the darkness of the close air, everyone is panting; as if they all are licking the sweat off each other’s bodies. I feel someone drag his body over my legs; with my legs pressed against the container floor, I feel an acute pain in my knees. I turn my head to look. It is him, that enormous man who apparently has tipped sideways and fallen on my legs. I ask him to get off me. In the darkness of his face I can see his eyes glittering. He does not move. In spite of my pleas to get off me, he only keeps staring at me. He says something I can’t understand; he is not speaking Pashto. God knows where this man comes from. I feel that the blood has stopped flowing through my legs and sit on the chest of the man who cannot get off my legs can feel his fleshy ribs and wet clothes under my buttocks. He moves a little, to the degree that it is possible, and I remain seated on his sturdy chest. The pressure from his weight has made my knees and thighs press against the container wall and I can sense the heat ascending from my sweat-dripping pants. I turn my face and look behind me. The spot from where the man whose chest I am sitting on had fallen a few moments ago has been taken by another man, and he cannot move back. All of us are moving back and forth as the container sways, and the fleshy chest of the man under my buttocks is wobbling. Everyone is moaning and I can hear their loud breathing. I open my scorched lips and draw the fetid air into my lungs, but I still have difficulty breathing. I stand up on my knees and press my chest and thighs against the hot container wall; the heat in my clothes sizzles as it vaporizes, and I feel the hot fumes rising. I have lost all feeling in my legs under the man whose chest I am sitting on. He does not move. I try to shake my numbed legs but I cannot. In every swaying motion of the container, his body presses my legs and I feel like screaming. I raise my bound hands and hit him. He twists his head a little and starts to scream but I do not understand what he says. My hands begin to hurt so I stop. Gasping for air, I bring my mouth closer to the crack and try to close my lips around the opening. The man, whose chest I am sitting on and whose face most likely is covered with blood as a result of my punches, manages to move himself a little; my nose, mouth, and teeth hit the container wall once again and a sudden pain rushes through my whole body. I pant for breath, swallow the blood in my mouth, and put my scorched lips around the crack. As I inhale the air from the outside, my lungs are filled with dust, and I begin to cough. The blood in my legs must be clotted by now, since I cannot feel a thing in them. My hair and beard are soaking with sweat that flows down over the rest of my body. Once more I feel the tongue of him whose hands are tied behind his back, against my sweat-dripping pants. I take another breath from the crack but dust and sand rasp my throat, so I lift my burned lips from the crack and begin to cough—and cough. I feel the grains of sand in my mouth. That is OK since it does not really matter, I will swallow it anyhow. It burns and lacerates my lungs.

*

It is quite nice now that autumn has arrived; it was summer in Mazar and even though we used to sit in the shade, we were heat stricken. They were not beating at the container any longer. We had thrown them into the container hours ago, and now they were silent. I had walked up to the container and touched it, and my fingertips had been burnt I looked at the others who had sat down in the shadow of the wall and were fanning themselves with the loose end of their turbans. The man who had been reading the Qur’an was still scratching his beard and reading from his Qur’an. At one time he had raised his head and asked if they were still alive.

*

We are still alive. It is the autumn that has kept us alive. I have trouble breathing. The moaning voices are gradually decreasing. I sit down on the chest of the man who had fallen over my legs; under my buttocks I can feel that his chest has stopped moving. Perhaps he cannot breathe any longer. I lay my hands on the shoulders of the man next to me, he who earlier was licking my sweat, and collect all my strength and try to get up. His body gives way and together we fall down. I take hold of the arms of the man who previously had been licking my sweat and now is breathing heavily, and drag myself forward; perhaps I can get my legs out from beneath the dead body on whose chest I have been sitting. I cannot do it, I cannot breathe. Since he stopped breathing, it feels as if he has become heavier. My thighs and knees are stuck against the container wall and are impossible to move. Breathing is not getting any easier. With a lot of effort I manage to stand up, put my scorched lips around the crack, and take in the warm and dusty air from the outside into my lungs and begin to cough—and cough. I listen to the sound of my coughing, twirling through the air inside the container. As the coughing ends I put my lips around the opening again. I must survive. I cannot suffocate like the others. I need to stay alive. I must live. There is no air left inside the container, I must breathe from that crack, but my lips, my lips are parched. Oh my God, what can I do? My lips are being grilled. My mouth is dry. If only it had a drop of saliva, if only my mouth was filled with blood again, if only . . . hands and chest are pressing against the hot container wall, and I feel the heat of sweat as my clothes touch the hot container wall, rising and touching my sweat-dripping face. The sweat is pouring down from my head and face, enters my eyes and burns. My God! I need to scream, I must pound at the hot wall. I must beg those Suzbek-Uzbek-speaking soldiers to open the doors. Everyone has suffocated and soon I, too, will be gone. My God, I have lost my voice. Is there not anyone there who can tell them to open the door? I pound at the metal wall with my bound hands and bump my head against the wall. Perhaps they can hear me. It is as if my head was made of stone; as I pound it against the wall a banging sound resonates.

*

I could hear how they pounded their fists and feet, and possibly also their heads, against the container wall. I was seated in the narrow shade of the wall. We had taken our places in that shadow and were listening, under the burning sun of Mazar, to them hitting the metal walls with their fists, feet, and perhaps also with their heads. Bang bang bang . . . I stood in the shadow of the wall, sweating, and whenever a gentle breeze touched my body, I shivered and enjoyed it. I felt pretty good.

*

I can feel that the wall has cooled down and through the crack cooler air finds its way down into my lungs. After some time, the stinking air in the container becomes cooler and I do not sweat any longer. I can feel the dried sweat and the coarseness in my clothes against my skin. Longing stirs in my heart and the coolness of the air infuses new life into me. It feels as if I will survive. The container is moving more smoothly now and my legs, still wedged under the dead man’s body, are not troubled by the gentle and monotonous swaying of the container. My body has cooled down and the thirst is not that intense anymore. I lick my scorched lips and feel the roughness of the dried blood around my mouth. The light entering the container from the crack in the wall does not shine any longer. I put my mouth against the opening and feel my burned lips being met by the cool air that blows in through the crack; cravingly I suck in the air into my lungs. Time after time, I inhale the fresh air into my lungs and a sensation of survival stirs up inside me. Perhaps everyone but me is dead. Not a sound can be heard from them, and from the outside, I can only hear the sound of wheels running over asphalt at high speed. I open my mouth and ask if someone is still alive or not. I hear a shrill voice struggling up from my throat but it quickly dissolves into the putrid and suffocating space inside the container. A couple of times I ask, “Is anybody alive? Are you still alive? Is anybody alive here? Anybody . . .” From one of the corners inside the container I hear a weak voice fighting its way out of somebody’s dried-up throat. The voice is completely incomprehensible, as if it emanated from the bottom of a deep well, and it does not make any sense at all. Perhaps he talks in another language. The voice is more like a moaning. Then, the container fills with silence once again. I press my head against the cold container wall and the coldness of the metal enters my skin. Every now and then a light shines into the container through the opening, but only to disappear just as fast. Gradually I feel I am getting colder. The fetid smell inside the container has lessened. My clothes, which are glued to my body, send cold rushing through me. I have become very tired and want to sleep. That is good; if I fall asleep I will forget everything. No, no, I cannot fall asleep. I cannot sleep. If I fall asleep I will suffocate too. I must press my lips around that crack as often as I can and force down the outside air into my lungs. I must survive. I must live. I must live. I must live. Must . . . must . . . must . . . must. I have trouble breathing, must put my lips around the crack and breathe. With every breath I take, dust and sand follow. I can feel the grains of sand under my tongue. The cold has embraced my very existence. How fast they cooled down, the container walls . . . the cold quickly disperses throughout my body. I feel drowsy. No, I can’t sleep. If I fall asleep the cold will kill me for sure . . . during the day we had all been suffering from the heat. The others had been boiled by the heat and had suffocated from lack of air. But I, I will die from cold. The coldness will kill me. That crack which up to now has kept me alive will kill me. When my face is met by the outside air I can sense its coldness against my skin. It feels as if I am in Dasht-e Leili. Dasht-e Leili, Dasht-e Leili . . . We had gotten out of Shibirghan and taken off toward the plains. We did not know where to go or where we were going to. A few days after we had taken Shibirghan, the fighting began. Shots were being fired at us from all around. None of us was familiar with the city and we did not know where to run. Mounted on a Datsun, we drove around aimlessly until we managed to find a way out. On that truck we fled out into the plains. At a high speed, the Datsun carried us away— without us knowing where we were going to. It had become night and we were still going. Then we found ourselves out on a plain. The night of the desert plain was getting cooler but none of us had a qadifa to cover himself with. When the fighting broke out and we were being shot at from all directions, we took flight, we had thrown ourselves up on the Datsun in confusion and fled just like that. In the desert night we shivered and huddled up against each other on the Datsun’s rear bed. The driver drove at the same speed as when he had managed to get us out of the city and drove on into the heart of the desert. The headlights on the Datsun were switched off so we could not see a thing. Then, the car went silent and stopped moving. As the driver got out of the Datsun and went to fetch the diesel can, we understood that we had run out of fuel. The driver picked up the diesel can and then threw it angrily on the ground—the empty can emitted a hollow sound before it settled down on the ground. We were forced to spend the night in the Datsun. But with fear and cold none of us could get any sleep. Our eyes wandered about in every direction. Then we took turns keeping watch and resting. Early in the morning, as soon as it dawned, we looked around us; we noticed the wheel tracks from our Datsun that had run all over the dry and arid desert plain and had cut one another at places. We had been going round in circles. It was getting warmer and we were still wavering in which direction we should go. “This is Dasht-e Leili . . . Dasht-e Leili . . .” one of us said. He told us that he had heard stories about this place, that many men had lost their way in this desert and had not been able to find their way out. The driver, the commander, and a couple of others, who had been sitting inside the Datsun, climbed down and walked away. We jumped down from the rear bed of the Datsun and followed them. Crossing the wheel tracks from our Datsun that ran in every direction and cut one another, we moved ahead under the burning sun. We took our rifles off our backs and wandered about in confusion, but we could not find a road. In the sun we were suffering from heatstroke. We got rid of our rifles and threw our cartridge belts away; the only thing we had to carry was ourselves. I am not sure when it was, or for how many hours we had wandered about, bewildered and dazed, in the Dasht-e Leili, when I looked behind me; out of the ten or twelve of us that had started out, only I had survived, and two others, who were approaching slowly from behind and were falling to the ground every other step they took. Further back, a third one had fallen down on the dry yellow sand. Right in front of me, not far away, I could see the road. I dragged myself in that direction and stood up at the roadside. The sun, still burning from above, had made me dizzy. Then I had fallen down on the hot yellow soil of Dasht-e Leili. When I regained consciousness, I could feel a gentle swaying and some light vibrations, and as I opened my eyes I found myself inside a Kamaz truck. Some people were staring at me. “He has regained consciousness, he is awake . . .” I could hear one of them say. Everyone fixed their eyes on me and I asked them for some water. They were Persian-speakers and that is a language I understand well. But these I could not understand. They were neither speaking Persian, nor Pashto. And the language of those soldiers that were speaking Suzbek-Uzbek, to which we had surrendered, I could not understand either. And they do not understand me. No matter how much I insist that I do not belong with these people and that I am an Afghan, they do not understand me.

Now, again, I see the thin streak of light that shines into the container, flickering around in the stale air. The air becomes heated at such a pace; first the container wall, against which I have pressed my lips, and then the air, reeking with the body fluids of the dead. Now, as I shape my scorched lips around the crack to inhale the air into my lungs, my lips are burned again; the heavy swaying of the container hurts my teeth, and in the same manner as yesterday, hot dust, sand and particles, follow with the air into my lungs and I begin to cough. A cough so strong I can almost taste both liver and heart, and were it not for my empty stomach, I would have thrown up for sure. My God, I too am perishing. My clothes and body will surely get soaked with sweat again and I will have difficulty breathing. No, there cannot be any fluid left inside me that may transpire to render the air inside the container more evil-smelling than this; the pungent smell of sweat from the dead, the stench of vomit, perhaps also the odor of someone’s feces, has filled the air inside the container. If only the man next to me had been alive to lick my sweat, then I should have known that at least one was still alive. I am still alive . . . If only he whose language I could not understand had been alive, he who had fallen over my legs, he whose chest I had felt ascending and descending as he breathed heavily. Perhaps I can set myself free, but I still cannot feel a thing in my legs; it is as if two joints of rancid meat had been wedged under the body of a corpse. And now my own death is imminent. I can still feel the movements of the container. I have fallen over this dead man and I cannot move an inch. There is no air left inside the container for me to breathe, and inside me there is no spirit left to summon the strength it takes to stand up, to get my scorched lips around the opening and suck the outside air into my lungs; the hot and sand-filled air. I only lie there, with my back against the dead bodies, and with my knees pressing against the container wall, no, the container wall pressing against my knees . . . the moment of death cannot be far away now. I feel that someone is rocking me gently. The thin stream of light that shines in through the crack, alternately flickers before my eyes and dissolves; I see it, and then I do not see it. After this, there is no one left to rock me. At a distance, I can hear voices, but I do not know if these are really voices or . . . I am probably wrong. Light does not have a voice. But it has. All of a sudden the light becomes more intense. The light is strengthened and fills my eyes. It strikes my eyes and then I feel how I am being dragged behind someone along the ground. A few of them are dragging me. Once again I hear the voices that appear to be getting nearer and nearer. The voices babble in that Suzbek-Uzbek and carry me away from the container. Something is causing a twinge of pain in my legs; the legs in which I earlier did not have any feeling, the legs that had been wedged like two joints of meat under the body of that man who had been beaten. But now I could feel a twinge of pain in both my legs. A weak sound comes out from my mouth. A voice, more resembling a moan which rises from the bottom of a deep well. It is only with difficulty I can discern my own voice emanating from the depths of a well. My face is turned toward the ground. The soil enters my eyes. I am placed in the hot sand, this I can understand by the burning against the skin. I feel the hot winds against my body, and the sweat that earlier poured down over my face, has dried up. My dry scaly hair blocks my sight; still I can discern something blurred appearing and disappearing before my eyes. Then I see some feet around me. The feet speak Uzbek. The feet raise me up. They lift me under my arms and drag me away behind them. I open and shut my eyes alternately, and everything around appears in an obscured blur. Again, I see the feet that are dragging me away. The soil and the hot yellow sand fill my eyes. They burn and are blinded by the desert, and it feels as if I still am in the Dasht-e Leili. Someone drags me, heat-stricken, along the hot soil and sand. I am thrown into a pit and notice a softness under my body. I imagine myself still inside the container, seated upon him; the man with those fleshy ribs, he who had fallen down over my legs. My eyes are no longer filled with dust and my cheek rests against someone’s shackled hands. Then I hear the sound of an approaching car, do not ask me of which type,. Again I can feel the weight of a body over my legs. I open my mouth to inhale the sandy air, but instead, my mouth is filled with soil, and when I open my eyes they cannot close again, and soil and soil and . . . soil . . . soil . . . soil . . . soil . . . soil . . .

Tehran—Sawr, 1382 (April-May, 2003)

Translation of “Dasht-e Leili,” from the collection Anjir-ha-ye Sorkh-e Mazar (The Red Figs of Mazar, 1383/2004–5). Copyright Mohammad Hussain Mohammadi. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2011 by Anders Widmark. All rights reserved.