In Ottawa, I tried to scale down the number of news articles that I read about Afghanistan, then limited myself to reading only the headlines. Soon the dead and the maimed in Afghanistan became mere figures and numbers. But that self-deception did not last long. Every time there was a bombing or an airstrike, I was overwhelmed by regret and guilt for not being there to help. Last December, after a Taliban suicide bomber killed six people near the Presidential Palace, I had a panic attack when I couldn’t get in touch with anyone at home. When I angrily protested to my father that I had almost had a heart attack, he coldly told me that I was worrying too much and that life was not as bad as the media were portraying it. Then he casually said, “Sometimes it is easier to live inside the monster than outside of it.” Perhaps my father was right and things were not as bad as I thought. I limited my reaction after each bombing in Kabul to sending a text, “Everything O.K., inshallah?” and waiting for someone in my family to reply, “Yes, everyone is fine, alhamdulillah.”
That changed with Marai’s death. His face seemed to be swimming before my eyes, his disarming smile, the gap between his front teeth that we sometimes made fun of, the memory of him running toward me at news conferences and insisting I tell him a joke and his texts from Afghanistan in 2016, asking me to record a joke and send it to him via WhatsApp so that he could play it for his friends at a party. My vision became blurry, and then tears started racing down my cheeks.
War is a beast whose lust for human flesh is insatiable. Those who killed Marai did not achieve anything but feeding the beast and prolonging its life. By killing Marai, they did not only kill one man; they also destroyed the lives of all those who were dependent on him. He was the breadwinner of the family. Marai had married twice and fathered six children. The youngest, a girl, was only 2 weeks old. He also supported some relatives, including three blind brothers and two blind children.