Prologue: Afghanistan

Paper is falling out of the sky. I am in the garden; it’s a sunny day. It comes back to me in slow motion. I’m four years old.

The helicopters are noisy, high up in the sky. I stand looking up, my arms wide open. I want to catch all the pieces of falling paper.

Paper, paper, everywhere.

My mother is at the school across the street. She is a teacher there. You can see the school when you go outside the huge walls of my grandparent’s property. The walls are made of hay and mud, packed tightly together. I remember the walls. The height of them makes me feel protected; I imagine these walls to be strong enough to stop the rockets.

I go inside the house to play behind the big black couch in the main guest room. This is where we hide when the sirens sound in the middle of the night. One night I hear my father pray for us to die together if we are hit. He holds my mother and I close to him. I can feel him shivering, as I secretly agree with him. I’ve never seen my father frightened before.

I am playing with my big red doll when it happens. I hear a loud noise; I know it is a bomb. I run out into the garden. Somehow, I find my hand in my aunt’s hand; I am being pulled behind her.

Small feet trying to catch up.

Everyone gathers outside, smoke rises from the direction of the school; I see it come over the wall. The noise numbs my ears, there is screaming and shouting on the other side — where my mother is.

We run out of the gates and into the street, I am hesitant, as I don’t want to see her pieces lying before me.

She would have been coming home for lunch now.

All I see is smoke. My heart beats loud in my ears, my knees shake, I know she’s gone. Everyone is crying. My grandmother holds me, my head at her chest. I watch the smoke. I don’t say a word. I want her to walk out of the smoke. That is all I want. I break free of my grandmother; I stand alone, but I do not cry.

My mother is running out of the smoke. She runs towards me. I’m in her arms. I can smell her, she smells of my mother. She holds me tight. She cries, as she whispers,

“We have to get away from here.”

My mouth is dry.

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