Rebel's Room
Copyright © by Hideo Asano

We all sat on the carpeted floor as a single light bulb shone brightly upon all our faces. The room was filled with many men and young boys. They were in their traditional clothes. The men wore brown apple pie hats. The young boys had shaved heads. Most of them were staying in this second-floor room of a concrete apartment in a dusty ancient town of Pakistan. They were resting from their long and ferocious fighting in Afghanistan and some were receiving medical treatment for their wounds. In the hallway, outside the open door, several young girls, wearing colorful peasant clothing smiled broadly, as they looked into the room. They didn't dare come in.
     The room had no furniture. The only display, or decoration, was a large board of a wall-mounted collection of ammunition samples: bullets, bombs, steel fragments of shell casing, peculiar assortments of jagged metal and a piece of very thick glass from the window of a soviet jet bomber. They were proudly displayed like the trophies of a great sportsman.
     A large old-fashioned fan circulated slowly on the ceiling, fighting a losing battle against the heavy heat. Outside, it was almost dark. Through the window, you could hear the sounds of the horses' hooves pulling the carriages at trot.
     "My brother's son's leg cut by German doctor here in Peshawar. In this city there are two or three legs cutting everyday. Even more arms cutting up. I also lost many relatives and friends," Jawad spoke. He was the leader of a small band of mujahideen. He had been fighting the Soviets for more than six years, since the day the Soviet Union invaded his country. Both he and his two brothers were proud to be rebels fighting against the Russians; they were also inordinately proud to be the grandsons of a man who spent his entire life fighting the English, who likewise had grand designs of conquest on Afghanistan in another era.
     "Is there any way to keep Russian prisoners alive instead of executing them?" I asked through my interpreter.
     "We have no choice," said Jawad. "One day we shot down helicopter gunship. Pilot escaped with his parachute. We gave him to Pakistani government. But two weeks later, they gave him back to Soviet Union."
     "Pakistani government scared to make Russian government angry. So they return him," added Raz, showing his badly stained teeth as he spoke.
     "We are busy all the time and no way to watch prisoners. So only way is to kill them," said Jawad.
     "We don't like kill people, but Russians kill us," explained Raz.
     "When we catch enemy, I order my men tie their arms and legs to pole. My men then kill prisoner how they want. I love it and don't stop it." Jawad's lips curled slightly into his cheeks, in what seemed like the beginning of a smile. "Last summer we shot down one more helicopter gunship and two Russians pilots survived with their parachutes. One woman and one man. When they come down slowly into village we wait with knife, sword, sickle and stone. My men finished them like goats."
     "Russians are scared. They cry and scream because they don't believe in Allah. If you don't believe in Allah dying is horrible," Raz showed his bad teeth.
     "And you," I asked, "are not afraid to die?"
     "No, I am not scare to die. It is respect to die for cause. We enter heaven when we die. So just before I attack Russians, I call, 'Allah, I'm coming to you.'"
     "Do you think you're going to win this war?"
     "Oh, yes," replied Jawad. "We fight until we win or killed to go to heaven. You can win if you have heart. No matter how strong your enemy is. If you are scared, you will not win. No matter how good your training is."
     "That sounds very fundamentalist...and dreamers," I remarked.
     "We are dreamers. We cannot be slaves."
     "No," said I. "I understand that."
     Jawd put his fist down so as to emphasize his feelings more energetically. "It is better to be lion for one day than chicken for thousand years."
     "We love freedom," said Raz, showing his teeth.
     "And Allah," added Jawad. Raz nodded. "I don't know politics. I'm only fighting to kill our enemies." He smiled.
     Just then the light bulb spluttered and went dead. The room was thrown into darkness.
     Jawad broke off and said something to someone in a strange-sounding language and that person then left the room, presumably to fix the lighting.
     He continued in the darkness, "If you are not Afghan, it is very difficult to fight in our mountains. Sometimes the snow up to our necks in winter. That's why Russians sure lose."
     "You sound sure of what you say," I responded.
     "Even though Russian prisoner told me Russian soldiers are very happy with snow because they think their homeland." A young boy came in holding a brightly shining kerosene lamp. His face appeared in the light. "Even hard for us."
     The boy seated himself beside me. The lamp heated me.
     "Do you still remember your country?" I asked the boy, who was listening attentively.
     "Ooh, ooh, ooh," the boy replied. He smiled, looking right at me.
     "He want to fight," said the leader.
     "How old is he?" I asked.
     "You would let him fight at his age?"
     "Next year." Then Jawad said something to another boy.
     The boy quickly went out of the room. He returned holding a small box and handed it to Jawad who opened it near the bright lantern. He showed me many black and white and faded color photos that were taken inside Afghanistan.
     "This is thirteen." He pointed to a boy who was holding a Kalashnikov standing among the rebels in a photo. "He is sixty-five years old." He pointed to one in the same photo.
     The room suddenly brightened as the power returned.