Home Is Where The Heart Is

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This piece is a multi-perspective fiction story of three completely different types of people in Afghanistan during a war. I hope you understand and enjoy it. Tip: Think about the story in connection with the title after you've read the story.

Submitted: June 19, 2014

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Submitted: June 19, 2014

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Home Is Where the Heart Is

I’m on my way to the station I cannot stop thinking about the meeting I had with Mr. Cunningham yesterday evening. I sat in his office for hours listening to him talk crap about Mr. Kaban and his fellow Afghan officers and the only thought that ran through my head was ‘Who the hell appointed him the position of an ambassador?’ Like many other Americans, I was under every impression that our goal in this war was peace, and I was flabbergasted by the way Mr. Cunningham cringed at the thought of it; I guess he didn’t get the memo. During the meeting, there were a few absurd comments he made that subconsciously turned my hands into fists but naturally, I remained calm, kept my mouth shut, and nodded my head as he rambled on. I was not about to lose my job due to some hypocritical jerk. Although, the ironic part about the whole scenario is I was only in his office because he has chosen me, out of all the American photographers here, to snap a few shots of him and Mr. Kaban coming to an agreement today at an Afghan police station which helps support my opinion: Mr. Cunningham is anything but sincere.

When I decided on photography as a major in college I imagined myself taking photos of nature scenes or beautiful models for magazines, but no, I ended up here … In a disastrous and painful location, millions of miles from my family. It’s safe to say I’ve had a tough time, I see dead bodies as often as I see living bodies and the sound of a gun firing has become comparable to an overplayed tune on Z100. I never imagined death being second nature to me. But keeping a roof over the heads of my unemployed wife and mentally ill daughter is my first priority, so my career has landed me here in Afghanistan as of four months ago; it seems like four years. As evil as it sounds, I look forward to something extremely unimaginable happening right before my eyes and most importantly before my camera. I’m talking something so extraordinary, my supervisor will have no choice but to hand me a big fat check and a one way ticket back to the states. But that thought stays between me, myself, and I.

. . . . . . . . . .

My nerves are beginning to take over as I’m sitting here waiting for the ambassador to arrive. This day has crept up on me quicker than I imagined; every attempt I make at ignoring my doubtful feelings and predictions turns out to be an utter fail. Too often, especially within the last hour, I am forced to blink myself out of panicky daydreams which typically include the ambassador reaching for my handshake, and me being too caught in the moment to notice him pulling out a shotgun with the other hand. I’m a worried wreck. The only person who is as, if not more uneasy than me is my wife. She has not stopped pleading for me to allow justice to serve itself but this is something that has to be done. Not only am I getting absolutely no support from her, but my friends don’t agree with my decision to go through with this either. Unfortunately, the Americans have caused far too much pain and anguish in our lives for me to expect the same opinion from anyone who resides here. But like I said, it has to be done. I can fake a smile for an hour knowing that we are taking one step closer to peace. That’s what the people want, isn’t it?

Since the war started, I have been forced to helplessly watch friends die agonizing deaths, I have witnessed birds eating at a child’s lifeless body on the side of the street like a piece of litter, and I have seen innocent citizens end up dead just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The most difficult part about living here is trying to shield my wife and children from what goes on in the streets of this small town, mainly because I’m not just some townie that goes with the flow. I’m a cop and I’m involved in every political and criminal act that takes place. So the most important reason I agreed to meet with the ambassador is because I want my family to one day be able to have a normal, violence free life.

. . . . . . . . . . 

Oh, the things I would do to make this walk last forever… Saying goodbye to my mother was anything but easy but saying goodbye to my siblings was impossible. I held back my tears because I didn’t want to scare them and I know they really don’t know exactly what’s going on. My father took a bullet to the face two weeks ago from today while he was at work and as tragic as it seems, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Around here, you are required to focus all of your attention on staying alive, otherwise you die. Needless to say, the last fourteen days have been tough, not only because we miss him but because now that he is gone, our family’s income has since vanished completely. My family became my responsibility the moment my father stopped breathing which meant I was not to rest until I found a stable job with enough income to support my eight sisters and my mother. Before about an hour ago, the whole world was sitting on my shoulders.

I often wonder what the hell my parents were thinking having eight children after myself; the living conditions around here are bad as it is so what made them think raising nine children would be a bright idea? I don’t know if I would consider myself lucky for landing this job; the Taliban officer offered me enough money to feed my whole family for a year so I couldn’t possiblyturn it down. But knowing I will not be around to watch my sisters grow up is irking me. Who will take care of them once it’s my mother’s turn to go? Who is going to teach them how to read, how to write, or how to solve a math problem? Who is going to protect them from the evil in this world? It was supposed to be me.

I know my father is walking next to me right now and I’m certain that he is proud of me for sacrificing this much for the people that we love. He probably also feels like crap for not calling out sick like he had originally planned the day his life was taken. I’m approaching the park which means I’m less than a mile from where I’m headed. Millions of thoughts are racing through my mind and yet all of them lead back to how tight, heavy, and uncomfortable this vest is. I think this journey would be a lot easier if I didn’t have to walk through the park; it is making me remember my childhood, and forcing me to realize that it will all be over within the next few minutes.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

I can’t believe I forgot my watch back at the camp site! I pray I’m not running late because Cunningham will have my neck if I miss this. At least I didn’t forget my camera; I would definitely be handed that one way ticket I was talking about if I did. I scan my eyes across the parking lot searching for a vehicle that Mr. Cunningham might be in and as soon as I spot a man exiting a black jeep wrangler I breathe a sigh of relief. Thank goodness I’m on time. We meet halfway while heading towards the station and finish the walk side by side, exchanging very few words. In the distance I spot an indistinct figure and with each step we take towards the station, the clearer the figure becomes. Perhaps it’s an officer on his way into work; although, he does look a bit young to be a police officer. Five feet from the entrance, Mr. Cunningham takes a large step in front of me and turns his back on the building so that we are face to face, signaling for  me to fix his tie. While doing so, I realize that the figure I had noticed was now only a few yards away from us and he was, in fact, a child.

Why was he here? To my knowledge, the only people attending this meeting are Mr. Cunningham, Mr. Kaban, a few officers on duty, and me. Cunningham is talking to me but all of my attention is on the kid. His legs are so frail, yet his torso is that of a body builder. It has to be at least eighty degrees out here, why is he wearing a sweater? I notice that he is avoiding eye contact; he has to know that my eyes are on him. Fear is written all over his face but I can tell he’s trying to hide it. He’s just standing, lifelessly in front of the doors of the building and his eyes are glued to the ground. Mr. Cunningham starts to turn so we can continue our entrance but I grasp his shoulder with my right hand keeping him still. I take five slow steps backwards, trying to pull Cunningham in my direction but he’s confused, trying to escape the grip I have on his shoulder. I reach for my camera with my left hand because I think I know what’s about to happen.

. . . . . . . . . . .

OK. This is it. I see the large black jeep wrangler sitting in the farthest parking spot and I think it’s the ambassador’s car. And indeed it is. I glare out the window as he and his photographer approach my building and the only thing I can think about is my family and my friends and the citizens who reside in this town, this country. I know I have to do this for them and that’s the only reason that I’m going to act genuine when shaking this man’s hand. Would I even call him a man? A nuisance sounds better to me.

I decide it will be a nice, friendly gesture to greet the men so I grab my gun off of my desk, just in case, slip it in my jacket, and start down the stairs heading for entrance. By the time I get down there, they should be walking inside. I approach the heavy, metal double doors and swing them open, nervously preparing to fake a smile. But the man behind the door isn’t Mr. Cunningham. Mr. Cunningham is much older than sixteen. The boy looks terrified and before I have any time to be confused, he begins yanking on his zipper to undo his wool coat.

. . . . . . . .

It’s been three whole days since I’ve opened my eyes and now that I’m able, I realize where I am and the lethal scene is all coming back to me. I don’t know if I’m more shocked that, according to the nurse who just left the room, I’m the only survivor within a forty-foot radius of the station or that I’m lying in a hospital bed with no familiar surroundings except for my camera, which seems to have suffered a cracked lens. How am I alive? More importantly at this very moment, how is my camera alive? I snatch it off of the cheap, fold-out coffee table, hold the power button down, and pray to God that it turns on. On the other hand I pray it doesn’t, but it does.  

The first image I see is a distorted figure, somewhat still resembling a body but there’s no way I could put a name to the.. face? Is there even a face? My finger is vibrating as I’m hurrying to touch the arrow, I can’t stand to look. And the picture after that, which I’m sure most would describe as a blur, is so very clear to my eyes. Following that frame is exactly what I’m looking for: a picture worth seven million words. The police station is unrecognizable for it is engulfed in flames; hell, the whole scene is unrecognizable. The next image is just another piece to the puzzle, but this one is worth more than seven million words. Accompanying the flames that absorb the sky, there’s also a body, no two bodies, flying no less than eight feet off the ground. I can’t believe these images are on camera. Better yet, I can’t believe these images are on MY camera.

It’s time to put the camera down; I’m finished reliving this for the night. As I stretch my finger across the menu keys for the OFF button, my finger magically slips down to the arrow; immediately I regret my curiosity. My eyes are glued to this snapshot; it’s as clear as the Gulf of Mexico. The young man’s eyes are bonded to his shoes; one hand is near his waistband, gripping the bottom of his now unzipped coat and the other seems to be reaching into the gap the zipper once occupied. Mr. Kaban is adjacent to the heavy grey doors of the station, mirroring the boy’s stance; perhaps he is reaching for his gun. My bottom jaw just packed on about thirteen pounds and before it drops too quickly, my hand catches its fall; I’m in utter disbelief. Three days ago my camera was worth one thousand dollars and today it’s worth millions.

I squeeze my eyes shut and I take a deep, deep breath; my heart is thumping so dramatically, I could not possibly imagine being shocked if it was to hop out of my chest onto the floor. It’s impossible to process all of what I had experienced, and all of what I just forced myself to relive. I open my eyes slowly, simultaneously placing my camera back on the cheap, fold out coffee table. Looking up toward the ceiling, I pray that the victims of this tragedy rest peacefully. The only words left on my mind roll off my tongue in a soft whisper: “I’m going home.”


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