Snowflakes in Kabul

January 2, 2010
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For much of the year Kabul is unbearably hot; even the grains of desert sand take shelter from the burning sun in the shady hair and clothes of passerby. Yet in the deepest months of winter, Mother Nature falls fast and hard upon this region of Afghanistan in torrents of snow. That Christmas Eve was no different; She cared for neither the anniversary of a savior’s birth nor the futile skirmishes of men. Though the sounds of holiday celebration and gunfire mingled audibly in the biting air, nothing could be seen beneath the ever-falling blanket of white. Yet for one lingering moment, the man left his crimson mark upon the colorless fluff, a bloody stain that steadily began to fade, fade into the unfeeling arms of the blizzard until all had washed away in the snow.




He had always liked the snow, it reminded him of days when he used to smile, the days of childhood and family and racing sleds down the old wooded Jackson Hill by Grandpa Cutler’s farm. It was rare that a smile found a way to his face anymore; maybe that was why he didn’t have many friends around the camp. Hell, who was he kidding, he had nobody here; nobody to joke with, nobody to count on, nobody to give a darn whether he lived or died out there in the snowstorms of Kabul. Back at boot camp in the US, they had told him to be an Army of One. Well, he had succeeded cum laude. His back turned to the Christmas tree at the center of the base, he stared out the frosted window into the turbulent weather of his surroundings. He had always liked the snow, every flake seemed so friendly and unique. “Like all the people in the world,” his mother had once told him. Yet people were not like snow. People were not unique, they were all calculable, all deceptively warm, all hollow. Through the reflection in the window, he could see his compatriots dancing and stumbling around like the drunken dolts they were. He wanted out, so when his lieutenant called for a watch outside the base, he volunteered as no one else did.

While he slung his M16 around his back and bolted the base door behind him, “There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays” echoed soothingly from the festivities back inside. With a chuckle, he recalled when his little brother Cyrus got drunk on Christmas wine and sang a rousing rendition of that very song for the whole family before falling asleep in the dog bed. The chuckle soon melted to liquid sadness. There is nothing shameful about a good cry, but leaky eyes do no good in the icy winters of Kabul. Annoyed, he started to remove his headgear to scrape away at the tiny icicles now coating his cheeks. The tears angered him, and he kicked heatedly at the frosty powder beneath his feet. He wasn’t a soldier. Wars held no interest to him, but he hailed from a family ridden with rags; there had been no other option. The unfairness of the situation stung him, stung him worse than the blizzard that hung in the air around this God-forsaken Afghani town; he was alone for Christmas, stranded thousands of miles from home, fighting for a cause for which he did not care. He fumbled for his pack of Marlboros; anything to free his mind from this prison of lugubrious thoughts. The unlit cigarette remained invisible behind his still blurry eyes, but he could suddenly distinguish the soft crunch of footsteps in the snow.

Before he could act, he was lying facedown in the snow bank. Whipping around, the dense, fogged breath of a stranger obscured everything from sight. He threw a punch at this intruder, only to see it dodged. Bloody blows flew back and forth until finally he pinned this strange antagonist down, pulled out his pistol, and stared deep into his adversary. The stranger was an Afghan, with eyes as black and dead as the charcoal that Grandpa Cutler used to warm the hot chocolate that was so necessary after a hard day’s worth of sledding. This Afghani attacker could be no older than 13 or 14, his face was smooth and round, unlike the harsh complexions of most of the men that the Americans were ordered to kill. The lonely soldier stationed outside his base stared into those charcoal eyes and saw his young brother. Sure, the two differed in coloring and their haircuts didn’t quite match up, but the heat that radiated from this young Afghan’s eyes, the way his face screwed up with concentration, the stubborn resilience of his jaw; the similarities were remarkable to a man who longed so strongly for his home. He forgot his place and present danger and lowered his pistol. The Afghani boy saw his chance and seized it by the throat; he drew his knife and plunged it deep into the heaving chest atop him. With a strangled cry, the soldier threw the Afghan from him and pointed the gun at the boy. His eyes stared deep into those spheres of charcoal before they again clouded over from weeping; he could not shoot.

Was it forgiveness? Taking a cue from his savior, born that very night, the soldier absolved this young, frightened Afghan of his violent sin and let any urges for vengeance fade into the flurries. An ominous silence fell upon this outdoor scene, broken only by the steady hum of “Silent Night” now playing on the radio from within the base. The boy scampered away as the man lay there in the slush. All is calm sang the radio. He had always liked the snow, even now that his blood stained the perfect white coating just as the tears continued to stain his visage. Radiant beams from thy holy face. He tried to cry out to his fellow compatriots, but his shout was hardly audible above the music and flashing lights back among his men. His voice gave way to no more than a faint moan. Crawling back towards the door he had bolted shut so long ago, his senses began to fail. Lights swirled above him, beyond his reach. All is bright. He thought he heard the voices of other American soldiers getting nearer with each passing moment, but maybe he was just pretending, maybe he was fated to die there among the snowflakes. The lights faded. A Silent Night at last. Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.

In the deepest months of winter, snow falls hard and fast in Kabul, but on that Christmas Eve it did not fall fast enough to cloak a lone soldier from an enemy nor hard enough to stamp out the inescapable, omnipresent violence of man. Christmas morning will arrive; the ground will once again be uniformly fair. Earth, to be sanctified under the snow; the hostility of the night leaving no trace upon the unfeeling arms of the blanket of white. Inside the base, “White Christmas” began to play on the radio; the soldiers started to join in, with joy in their hearts and pistols on their hips.





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aazheng This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 19, 2010 at 7:58 am
This was a really great story. Very well done.
 
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