For nearly two weeks after they settled in Nangarhar, Bilal’s father, Jamshed, would try to find work. But each day, he would return with nothing except new debt.
One day, Jamshed broke down.
“All these debts — they need repaying. And when I see you worried like that, I don’t like it,” Mr. Shah recalled Jamshed telling him. “Father, will you give me permission?”
Like that, Jamshed joined the army and was sent to the restive south. A war that takes about 50 lives from all sides every day requires new blood.
For Bilal, the new life wasn’t easy. His grandmother died of diabetes there. He didn’t have many friends to play with. His three sisters are young, one of them, Lalmina, disabled by what the family says could be polio.
“I was scared here. My friends were not here, they were left there,” Bilal said. “I got sick; my eyes hurt and I had fever. The doctor gave me pills.”
But Bilal had Toti. All day, the bird would be on his shoulder as they both would climb the mountain behind their new home, and remain there for hours.
“Toti, Toti,” Bilal would call to the bird.
“Toti!” the bird would respond.
One night about two months ago, Bilal put Toti in the cage and, like every other night, slid it under the bed. When he woke up in the morning, Toti was on the cage floor, unmoving.
“I sent the picture to my father on the net. I said, ‘Toti is dead,’” Bilal said. “He said, ‘When I come home, I will buy you another one.’ ”