As the days wear into August, Paula and Bob settle into their new surroundings. When Ingersoll shows up unannounced at their home one evening, Paula is suspicious. Bob arrives from work, acts surprised to see Ingersoll, who presents the two with several bottles of liquor and an invitation to an embassy party that evening. Bob says he has classes to prepare but volunteers Paula to go. When she refuses, Bob becomes incensed and storms out of the house followed by an embarrassed Ingersoll.
When Paula’s newfound embassy friend, Naim, arrives for dinner, he finds her on edge. She finally confesses the fight she had with Bob over the embassy party. Naim expresses surprise. There couldn't be an embassy party or he would have heard about it. Worse, he tells her that Bob is in danger. It's unsafe for a farangi to be out on the streets of Kabul after dark. He fears that the mullahs, the holy men, might mistake him for an American who has been seen around town with a Muslim woman—a married woman. The Taliban penalty for adultery: stoning to death!
Bob stumbles home late that night, drunk, surly, and evasive. The next morning, he apologizes. At the clinic that day, Paula confronts an outbreak of measles for which the clinic is ill prepared. After working around-the-clock under quarantine for five days, she returns home late one night to find her husband in bed with a hookah-smoking “fat greasy whore.”
Exploding in fury, she kicks the woman, blurry-eyed and oblivious, out the door, then turns on Bob, himself having difficulty talking, focusing, standing. Finally, his eyes rolling back into his head, he calls her name and crashes to the floor.
While in the hospital, Bob pledges his love for Paula and swears he will shake the booze and dope that plague him. When Paula shares her concerns about Bob with her supervisor, Dinara, the woman invites Paula to take the next day off and accompany her to visit her uncle, the great Shah Khan of Pul-i-Khumri. During their meeting, Paula is surprised when Dinara asks her uncle if he can help with Bob’s “illness.” At first hesitant, the Shah is moved by Paula’s sudden tears and promises that the poppy fields around Kabul will wither and die, and Bob will soon get well.
With Bob recovering at home, Paula stops by the market for the evening meal and is shocked to meet a tall, dark Afghan who speaks perfect English. Refusing his request to allow him to carry her packages home, she hurries away as he vows they will meet again. That night, Paula hears a sound from the next room. When Bob goes to check, she hears screams and rushes out after him to find a towering Afghan clutching a dagger in one hand and a club in the other. He stands over Bob in a pool of blood and spits, “Farangi traitors must die!” then disappears into the night.
Several days later, as Bob recovers from the attack, Paula runs into Shadar, her Afghan mystery man. He persuades her to join him for lunch, where she finds an intriguing, fascinating, refined and well-educated gentleman. She is shocked to learn that he knows about the attack on Bob. Afterwards, Shadar gives her his address and tells her to call on him if she needs anything while in Kabul. He departs abruptly when Naim comes in. When the young Afghan asks Paula who her friend is, she explains that she’d met him a few days earlier at the market. Naim looks puzzled. He tells her that he had mistaken Shadar for a freedom fighter who comes down from the mountains to Kabul to buy supplies. “A freedom fighter?” Paula asks. Yes, Naim replies. “A Pushtun rebel.”
With Christmas approaching, Bob quits the Corps and takes a new job with a large German company as a translator. When he and Paula attend the company party at a private club in Kabul, they are soon overwhelmed by the drugs and alcohol, the lechery unfolding everywhere. Soon Bob disappears and Paula finds herself lost in a sea of strange faces. Struggling past groping hands and laughter, she escapes the room only to find another swollen with thick cirrus clouds of opium. There she finds Bob, atop a woman, with several others cheering them on. She flees the club, races back home only to the money that Dinara had loaned her missing.
Furious, tears flowing wildly, she writes Bob a note and makes her way, cold, trembling, the snows washing down from the towering Hindu Kush, to the door of Shadar.
The next day, the swarthy Afghan drives her up into the mountains, where they see a group of local hunters stalking the wild Karakul. After watching the hunters struggle with their antiquated equipment, Shadar removes a seven-millimeter mag from the back of the Jeep and promptly downs one of the wily beasts from a thousand yards. He hands the rifle to the stunned Pushtun elder, who promptly shoots a second sheep, turns to Shadar, and smiles. When he tries to return the gun, Shadar waves him off. “Where you call home,” he tells the man, “you cannot have too many guns.” Back in the warmth of the Jeep, Paula snuggles against him all the way back into Kabul ... and long into the night.
The next morning, Shadar tells Paula they must go on a business trip to Dailut-Ya. Afterwards, he promises they will sail to Islamabad, then to Bombay, and, from there, fly to New York. He sends $10 million afghanis by messenger to repay Dinara and has new luggage delivered to their home. He tells Paula to be ready to leave by evening.
In Dailut-Ya, Paula meets some of Shadar’s friends and, after spending the day with the village women, asks where Shadar is. The leader of the women replies warily, “With the others, on the plains.” Paula wonders why Shadar had to come to the very center of the Pushtuns’ fight for freedom. “Because,” she says, “it is his home.”
The next morning, Shadar tells Paula that they will leave for Islamabad that night, but instead Sharmani comes by to tell Paula that Kabul has fallen to the invading Soviets. She has no word about Shadar. After Sharmani leaves, three burly soldiers push their way in and threaten Paula with arrest unless she leaves the village immediately. Moments later, Muhammad, one of Sharmani’s sons, peeks in. He hands her a note. Scribbled hastily on the back of an envelope--a message in Shadar’s hand: "P - Extreme danger. Get this message to the American consul in Kabul. Do not open it. Do not let it out of your possession. I will meet you tomorrow at slip number 3 at Chakai, 11:00 p.m. If I am detained, you are to board the Khani-G. Captain Ilhami will transport you to Bombay, where I will join you as quickly as possible. – S"
Unable to resist, she opens the envelope and finds the words “J-G. Action 2. Urgent. PUN.”
Paula accompanies Muhammad to the tiny hamlet of Kordeez, where she is to meet a contact to take her to Chakai, from where she will telephone the message to the American Embassy in Kabul, then board the Khani-G with Shadar. But when her ride finally arrives, she is horrified to find that the driver is the same Pushtun rebel who had attacked and nearly killed Bob! He tells her that Shadar has sent him to take her to Chakai. Leary, she finally climbs aboard the cycle. When they arrive at the German embassy in Chakai, they are shown to a telephone, and as Paula calls the ambassador, the Pushtun fingers his pistol nervously. The two emerge back into the night, when Paula notices two Pakistanis standing outside a storefront. She climbs onto the cycle behind the Pushtun, and as he goads the motor to life, she screams suddenly, “Look out!” The two men on the street run toward them. She pulls out the pistol Sharmani had taught her to use and slips the safety off, aiming it quickly at one of the Pakistanis. Kerack! Kerack! Kerack! it screams, and the man in the lead stumbles and falls, a large automatic pistol tumbling from his hand. They speed off, the sound of gunfire echoing off the buildings behind them. At the pier, the Pushtun tells her to wait there for Shadar and disappears into the night.
But as 11 o’clock comes and goes with no sign of Shadar, the captain tells her they must leave without him. Where will she go? How will she survive? She has only the clothes on her back and a sinking feeling in her chest. Suddenly the captain turns. A Pakistani border patrol boat is closing in on them, its light growing larger by the second. Paula will have to go overboard, into the icy abyss, and tread water until the patrol mounts the Khani-G, searches her, and leaves. It is that ... or a Pakistani prison for them both. As Paula watches her life disappear before her, she struggles for the strength to leap. Suddenly she hears a voice from the approaching boat. “Ahoy!” The captain looks down into her eyes and says, “Now, now, you must jump now,” and as she kicks her heels back against the bulwark, she begins the plunge, downward, seemingly forever, and then she feels a sudden yank at her arm, pain shooting down her side, into her back, to her very toes as she dangles just inches above the angrily lapping sea. She looks up at Captain Ilhami, who has a tight grip on her hand and is slowly pulling her up. There, shivering, is Shadar. She rushes to him, sobbing at nearly having lost her love forever.
Still clinging to one another, the lovers lean back against the bulwark and slowly slide down to the deck. Grabbing him by his hair, she pulls his face to hers, his cheek to hers, and holds him there as he pulls the tarp up around them.
“Oh, Shadar,” she says finally. “I didn’t want to tell you, but I was so afraid.”
He wipes her eyes with his gloved hand and turns her chin up. “There’s nothing wrong with being afraid,” he says. “But it is over, now. You do not have to be afraid anymore.”
“But ... but how will we ever get out of the country? We have no money, we have no passports. Everything we owned I had to leave behind.”
“We have more than you think, my little myna” he says softly as the Khani-G corrects her course and veers south toward the Indus Sea and Islamabad. “We have each other.”
NOTE: All material is copyright protected. No portion of this material may be copied or reproduced, either electronically, mechanically, or by any other means, for resale or distribution without the written consent of the author. All copy has been dated and registered with the American Society of Authors and Writers. Copyright 2009 by The Swetky Agency
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