Sefid Koh Range, Pakistan-Afghanistan Border
The road ended within three kilometers. A gray beard with an AK-47 stood guard over a motley collection of a half dozen vehicles in a space made by a ravine filled in with rock barely wide enough to accommodate them. Talha pulled the Corolla up behind a carved brass-decorated jeep and came to a stop. He waved at the old man and greeted him with "Shalom.” The old man waved back, responded, and smiled.
"This is the end of our easy ride. We have a six-kilometer walk to the camp. It will take us until noon because the terrain is very rough. Do you have your good boots on, Ali?” Talha smiled. Ali smiled back but didn't say anything. He knew Talha was kidding. He was wearing simple, unmarked all terrain shoes. He learned, long before training, that these simple shoes would carry him through and not attract attention like Nikes or Adidas would.
His cousins knew what they were doing. They opened the boot and took out aluminum pack frames. Piling the frames with bedrolls and other supplies, they tied them on each other and staggered off down the trail. Talha and Ali were left with much smaller, lighter packs to carry. Ali was embarrassed that he wasn't carrying his fair share. "Why are they carrying so much?" He asked Talha.
"It's an old family tradition and competition. Most young men here want to show how much they're worth by carrying as much as they can. Here, you take pictures.” Talha handed Ali a state-of-the-art megapixel Canon digital camera. He busied himself locking the guns in the boot, signaling the guard as he did. They would be there when they returned.
Ali hefted the featherweight camera in one hand, examined its easy to operate buttons and opened the view finder for a look. He was amazed at the power of its zoom and the scope of its panoramic shots. He wondered how Talha had acquired it--but then what Talha had said before came back to him--"You can get anything you want here.”
Talha had already started down the trail. Ali followed, taking pictures at every opportunity. The camera had enough memory so he didn't have to worry about how many he took. On every side, the scenes were spectacular. To the west, about five kilometers off, sprawled the refugee-choked city of Landi Kotal. Beyond that, another thirty kilometers, lay Kabul, the once beautiful capital of Afghanistan. To the north, not far off rose the wall of the Hindu Kush, perpetually topped with snow because of their great height. To the right, the sun drenched white of these mountains cast sharp shadows as huge angler broken pieces reflected the sun's light. In some of those shadows, there were caves. With his powerful camera, he zoomed in on them. They had been inhabited for thousands of years. Smoke rose from some, indicating they were inhabited now.
Ali had to hurry to catch up with the others. The trail was narrow and sometimes littered with rocks that fell from above. Still, humans and animals had worn it smooth from thousands of years of use. In places the trail had been literally carved out of the mountain. In others, chasms had been filled in with rock and timbers to provide bridges for the trail to continue. About a kilometer from the car, the trail was suddenly filled with donkeys piled high with goods. Two men guided them, one in front, and one in the back. Ali counted seven donkeys--perhaps carrying 300 pounds each. Not bad for rugged mountain transport. Everyone found a spot to get out of the way so that the caravan could pass. The lead man smiled and waved in his two front teeth missing way. In a few moments the trail was quiet again as the trailing man waved and followed the last donkey around the bend. By then, he had several good pictures.
Ali was hot and tired when they rounded the side of the mountain about noon, passing in the shadow of an armed man standing guard over the trail. Smoke was in the air, and he could hear the sound of laughter and smell goat cooking. Far below, a green valley appeared, about a kilometer wide, and three kilometers long. A stream ran through it, and he could see two crops planted on one end. Goats grazed on the other. There was a commotion ahead, so he hurried after Talha to see what it was.
Suddenly, shots rang out, as about a dozen men were jumping up and down, yelling and laughing and shooting their guns off. There was a large cave on the trail that the men had apparently come out of. His cousins had already reached the spot, and Talha was running up the trail to greet a tall, gray bearded man with his arms stretched out. Running himself, Ali caught up just in time to photograph the two men embracing--Talha shouting, “Praise be to Allah, praise to Allah, … Allah be praised!"
In a dialect that was difficult for Ali to understand, he thought he heard the tall man say, "How many years has it been, my friend, ten? You've grown gray! Who are these young men with you?"
"Two are my sons. You remember little Akbar and Mustaf from my last trip. They enjoyed their time here so much they begged me to come back many times.” Calling him over and patting Akbar on the back, Talha presented him to the man. "This is Akbar, he has become a fine young man who will someday take over our business.” He then summoned Mustaf over. “Mustaf here, is very smart. Next year he'll be off to University.”
His cousins had dropped their packs and were shaking hands with the other men. Ali approached and shouldered the camera by its strap. Talha continued. "This is my nephew, Oman, Mujundher's boy. Mujundher would have come, but I had to leave him behind to mind the business. They will steal you blind if someone isn’t watching.” Everyone laughed.
"And this, Ahmad Khan, is my nephew, Ali, from America. You remember my brother Rashid? He came once when we were children. Rashid is in America--computer science--I think. Ali has come to stay. I thought no better way to introduce him to our way of life than to bring him here.” Talha was now patting Ali on the shoulder and pulling him forward. Ali clasped both the tall man's hands, and they bowed toward one another, in the greeting his father had taught him. Ahmad Khan's eyes stared into his, as if to discern why he had come all this way from America to stay. And then a smile appeared in the corners of his eyes as he warmly greeted the last of Talha’s group.
Ahmad then introduced all the male members of his clan. There were seven. The names were a blur to Ali. Ali was just taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the place. Women and children held back in the shadows of the cave, smiling shyly and giggling at the sight of strangers from the city.
The men led them down the mountain to a campsite at the head of the valley where they set up their sleeping gear and camping equipment. By the looks of the Coleman stove and lantern and a large frontier tent, Talha was really able to get "anything I want" in the marketplace. After a lunch from the ample picnic basket the women had prepared, Talha took them to explore the valley. By the time they finish their exploring, shadows had completely covered the valley, and they all climbed back up to the large cave for the evening.
The large, outdoor table was set for a feast. Talha, his sons and nephews, joined the dozen or so members of the Ahmad Khan tribe for the celebration of their arrival. Like before, liquor flowed like water and a hashish pipe was passed around. Ali declined the pipe, but selected Bombay Gin and tonic as his poison. Ahmad Khan explained. "When the British came here, they brought this gin with them. They mixed it with tonic made from quinine because they said it helped them with their malaria. We don't have any mosquitoes here, so I don't see how it helped them with their malaria. I think it was just a habit they developed, like drinking tea. I prefer goat's milk myself.”
Talha asked, "My friend, how is hunting? I remember it being very good the last time we were here.”
"Talha, my friend, hunting is not what it used to be. Every Afghani refugee with a rifle is trying to shoot game for food. While I sympathize with them, it is by tradition that I share my food and water. We have had to guard our hunting territory or there would be no game left. I can take you, two days walk from here, where hunting is still good. We do not allow anyone to fish in our stream. As result, we're able to grow fish for the table. When I am hungry for a fresh fish dinner, I allow someone to catch some fish for our meal—like tomorrow.” Everyone smiled and raised their glasses to match his. "But tonight we will dine on the finest young goat and fresh fruit and vegetables from the wealth of our garden! Praise be to Allah!" everyone joined in with the word of praise to a bountiful God.
"I had only planned to stay a long weekend. But, you have persuaded me to stay longer. At least long enough so that we can go on that hunting trip you are proposing. I will call my wife tomorrow and tell her of my change of plans." Once again everyone raised their glasses. Cheeks were rosy, voices were loud, and smiles were broad. Everyone was having a great time.
Ahmad Khan was glad that his guests were enjoying his hospitality. Spying Ali sitting across the table in a pensive look on his face, he decided to see what was on the young man’s mind. "Well young American, what you think of Ahmad Khan's home? Surely you must have some questions for me?"
Startled from his thoughts by Ahmad's directness. Ali was a bit slow to respond. However, when he did, he got directly to the point. "Ahmad Khan, you live a life here unheard of in United States. I envy you and your freedom. There is one question that has been bothering me. They say that when Osama bin Laden was fleeing from the Americans in the early part of the war, that he found harbor in these mountains. Is that true?
A hush fell over the merriment. Ahmad Khan, wise man that he was, chose not to answer directly. Instead, he posed a riddle for the young upstart across the table. "How many ways are there to spell Mohammed?"
"I don't know. I have not studied under those who could tell me. I'm not as good a Moslem as I could and should be.”
"Very good answer, my young friend. They say as many as the stars in heaven. We Pashtun are like that. We were here when these mountains were young. We have seen the coming and going of the Arayans, the Persian, Darias, the Greek, Alexander, the Moghul, Babur, the Hindus, the Tartars, the Mongol, Genghis Khan, the Persian, Nadir Shah, the Buddhists, the Russians, and the Christian British. While we welcomed them and all that they brought us, we never allowed them to conquer us. Only the Prophet touched our souls enough to let him in. Some men use Allah to serve their purpose. We despise this. We hate the Taliban. We hate al Qaeda for what it's done to America. We admire it for what it can do. Nothing can stop the power of Allah once he is set in motion. They say Osama bin Laden is alive and well in these mountains. I don't know. Some of them want to keep Jihad alive. That's why the spirit of bin Laden, though he may be long dead, lives on.”
"It is a noble cause, this Jihad?" Ali was testing his new friend.
"For some it is. There are those, the Palestinians for example, who have been reduced to desperation by their Israeli tormentors, who wish a war against all who are not Islam. What purpose is this? We Pashtun have seen religions come and go. We will fight for our right to live free on this land. But we will not fight for Islam to conquer the world. As traders, I see great value in the goods produced in America. Computers--for example. Without America, I wouldn't have my cell phone or my Internet connection. I see no purpose in turning the world back to the way it once was when Allah walked this way.”
They drank and talked like this by torchlight until it was very late. Talha rose and bid Ahmad Khan good night--asking Ali and the others to follow him. As dark as it was, even with a partial moon, and as drunk as they were, it was difficult for them to follow the trail down to the camp. Fortunately, they all made it, stumbling sometimes, but without injury.
Ali slipped out of his clothes and crawled into his sleeping bag. He was soon fast asleep. Sometime later, he woke with a tremendous urge to pee. Slipping out of the bag, he started for the stream barefoot in only his jockey shorts, but suddenly felt it would be wrong and headed back up the slope by a large rock to relieve himself. Before he started back down to his sleeping bag, he thought he heard giggling. He dismissed it, thinking it must be his hangover talking. Everyone was asleep. In a minute he was back in his bag and falling asleep again.
He woke suddenly to the pressure of a small hand pressing firmly on his left shoulder and lifting his bag open to get in. Cool air rushed in and brought with it a cool, slim, soft and smooth body. He knew it was a woman--a childlike woman--but he didn't know why. She wrapped herself around him and nestled her face into his neck. He couldn’t see her face, but she felt wonderful and naked against him. Her left hand slid deftly down his chest and stomach and under the waistband of his jockeys. He stirred against her touch. Her fingers did a magical dance on his scrotum and began massaging his penis in a way that he'd never felt before. He thought he was going to come in her hand when she stopped.
Ali was suddenly hot. Her flesh was burning against his. He struggled to get the zipper down on his side so that the fresh cool air could come in. She grabbed his right hand and brought it to her breast. It was wonderful. He had never felt a breast like that one. Firm and soft at the same time. He soon had both of her breasts in his hands. The soft hair on her vulva was rubbing its wetness against his hip. She moved to the left slowly and slipped him inside her. Moving her hips slowly at first, she placed her hands on his shoulders and began an up and down motion against his penis while he kept rubbing her breasts. She was moaning softly as he came inside her. She collapsed onto his chest, and kissed his neck. "I am Sheena," she murmured in his ear.
Upon saying that, Sheena said no more, but slipped out of him and slowly out of the sleeping bag, into her clothes, and away. Ali drifted off into a deep sleep. It was nearly dawn before he had to pee again.
Everyone rose at dawn. They packed their bags for the trip into hunting country. Talha didn't seem to mind that he wasn't going to make it back to work on Monday. Ali's cousins seemed particularly happy, giggling among themselves as they packed. He surmised that young ladies too, had visited them in the night. He didn't say anything, just smiled to himself.
They climbed once more to the tables by the cave and ate breakfast. Ali had not tasted hot fresh goats' milk before. He found it a bit too rich and creamy and wished he had some of that coffee of Shaheen to wake him up. They descended to the stream again, filled several goatskins with water that they tied to a donkey and started off following Ahmad Khan up the mountain path. By noon, they had crossed two small ranges of very rocky terrain. It wasn't as rugged as the Sierras, but the lack of vegetation and the narrow trail made it a difficult trek. At times the trail disappeared and they had to use rope bridges to cross. Some of the bridges were so weathered they had to splice in new rope.
At noon, they ate lunch in a high, narrow valley with no water. Every mountain ridge now looked the same. Ali could see that it would be easy to get lost in these mountains. He made mental notes of landmarks and direction, just in case. There was little vegetation for animals to eat. Occasionally a ground squirrel or mouse would scamper into a hole along the trail, or they would see an eagle soaring overhead. Otherwise, there was little sign of life. Ali imagined that in winter things would be even more barren.
Ahmad brought out the guns that they would use for the hunt: A musket, Ahmad’s grandfather’s gun, an ancient Browning rifle, and an AK-47. Everyone had a hand in the target practice that followed. Ali especially liked the musket. Ahmad showed him how to measure powder, pack it with wads of cotton by a ramrod, follow the powder with a brass ball, and set the percussion cap.
Firing the heavy musket took patience. Too unsteady to aim while standing, he balanced it on a rock, aimed high on a can some thirty meters distant, and squeezed the trigger. He then watched the hammer slam into the cap, felt a delayed, smoky explosion erupt from the barrel and watched ball and wad arch toward the can at different trajectories. The wad fell a few meters off. The ball bounced on the ground in front of the can, and then ripped a large hole in it. Ali made a mental note to aim higher next time. “Good shot!” Ahmad shouted. They were using modern gunpowder and nitro percussion caps. Ali tried to imagine what using black powder, lead balls, and a flintlock would be like.
By nightfall that day, they had passed two small tribes of Pashtun in successive small valleys with water. Ahmad Khan and Talha greeted them with much emotion. In both cases men from these tribes joined their small hunting party in search of big game. They camped in another small valley with no water, but with a few dry bushes that Ali and the cousins gathered for a bonfire before they went to bed. Ahmad, Talha, and the other older men told hunting stories until the fire burned out. Ali told a couple of stories about the Sierras. The men appeared to be keenly interested in what he had to say. He didn't think they fully understood.
Ali was grateful for his warm sleeping bag because, at the altitude they were now at, the night was quite cold. No woman crawled into his bag that night. He was tired from all the walking, so he slept well.
When they crested the next range the following morning. A broad valley with a small lake lay before them. There didn't appear to be any habitation around the lake, probably because it was so remote. Ali could see ducks swimming in the lake and a dozen or so white animals climbing the ridge on the other side. It wasn't what he expected. It looked like a hunter's paradise.
Ahmad Khan was ecstatic. "Ah, just as I expected! The refugees have not found it! I was so worried that they would. They would have to pass through our camp to go this way and the two tribes we passed yesterday would also not be friendly toward their coming here. Any other route is six or seven days. Feast your eyes, my friends. You'll not see this again in our lifetime. For now we will take great care with it.“
It was noon by the time they reached the lake. They set up camp and a picnic lunch while they took in the majestic beauty of the place. About twenty ducks had taken residence for the summer. Blackbirds fought for territory in the nearby reeds. Eagles soared overhead. From time to time, ibex could be seen grazing on the upper slopes to the east.
"The water is cold here. There is a type of fish, very tasty, I have not seen elsewhere. This afternoon we will catch these fish. They are very hungry and easy to catch. We will take many home with us. In the evening, we will climb that range over there, and get above those ibex. In the morning we will shoot two. We will pick old males with big horns. Their meat is not very tasty, but their horns will fetch a fine price in the market. When we leave, we will take too young ibex for food. I will not tell anyone where I got the ibex horn. And I will not sell them both at the same time. Ibex have become very rare. We must preserve this small herd for as long as we can. When I was a child, ibex were everywhere. Now, only I, among tribal leaders, know where to find them. It is sad, so sad. I pray to Allah that he will deliver us and bring back the plentiful game we once hunted. For now, enjoy it while you're here, and never, ever by the grace of Allah, tell anyone where this place is.”
When they had finished their lunch, they began fishing. Strangely, the only fishing gear they had was an old fly rod that Ahmad Khan had in his pack. He had a box with a large assortment of flies just like an English gentleman. He was very adept at reeling out line. Once he reached the deep water just off the reeds, a fish would strike. The rod was old, but still very limber. Ali marveled at how well the old man played the fish. They were silver and full of fight. They reminded Ali of Arctic Grayling. Ranging from 3 to 5 lbs, they quickly filled a bamboo cage placed at the water's edge to keep them alive. Everyone got an opportunity to use the fly rod. They were all amazed at Ali's skill. Ali was amazed with the five-pounder he was bringing in, careful not to break the leader or the rod from its thrashing. "I learned in Boy Scouts, in the Sierras, when I was a boy. We caught rainbow trout. They were much smaller than these fish.”
"0h yes, the Boy Scouts. America must be a wonderful place. I still don't know why you want to come here when you can do all those things in America?" Talha was still concerned about why Ali had come. He expressed it openly in front of the others.
The boys were getting a grip on the fish Ali was pulling in. One held the tail while the other worked the hook out. It was fat and about 20 inches long. "You have no idea. Everything in America must follow the rules. And there are so many rules. It's hard to get through school. It is hard to find a job. It's hard to buy a home. The American dream is to have everything. But many people never get it. The way you live here, in large families or tribes, is much more preferable. We all can't be John Wayne!” Ali couldn't believe he said that. Everyone laughed. Still, he sensed they seemed to understand what he was trying to say.
The tribesmen pulled two fish that were about to die from the bamboo cage, cleaned them, and broiled them over an open fire. They then built the fire that they would use to smoke the other fish. By the time that fire was building coals, they covered it with reeds to create smoke, and then laid the fish on the reeds and covered them so that they would be cooked and smoked at the same time.
Packing their bedrolls and hunting gear, the hunting party set off to climb the slope where the ibex were in the evening. It was dark and cold when they reached a rocky shelf just over the summit. In spite of his sleeping bag, Ali was cold all night. Once again, no woman came to warm him. He was shaken gently awake by the firm hand of the Ahmad Khan.
It was still very dark, but the red glow of dawn could be seen behind a range to the east. Everyone gathered their gear and the hunting rifles. The ancient musket and the British hunting rifle. When Ali had asked about the guns, Ahmad replied, "We could have brought the AK-47, but that would not be sport. These guns served my grandfather well, and they will do well for us too.”
It was getting light enough for them to see on their side of the mountain. Following Khan, they climbed silently to the summit and peeked over. It was too dark to see anything, but they could hear the ibex herd moving about on the rocks just below. Back down out of view and hearing. Ahmad gave his instructions. "Talha, you take the Browning and position yourself to my right. Ali, you take the musket and positioning yourself to my left. After the first shot, the ibex will be confused. If you need to fire a second shot, you must do it quickly, before they run off.”
"Why me?" Ali whispered.
"Because you are my honored guest. Now follow me carefully and don't make a sound. They will become more wary as it gets lighter.”
They climbed back up to the vantage point again and both Ali and Talha positioned themselves to fire. They still could not see the animals clearly. After a few minutes, it gradually got lighter, and the herd could be seen grazing a short distance away. Ahmad Khan kept his hands on both of their shoulders to restrain them. Finally, it was light enough. Ahmad squeezed Ali’s shoulder and pointed to a large billy about 30 meters off to lower left. He then turned to Talha, and pointed out one about 50 meters to the right. Ali raised his musket and aimed about two feet above his target's shoulder. He squeezed the trigger. Fire and smoke flared up in front of his face, there was a small explosion, and he could see the ball flying toward the billy. It struck him right on the shoulder where he had expected, and the billy went down. To his right he heard two shots in close succession, and saw the other billy go down. He was busy trying to reload the musket when he heard another shot. Talha had made sure that his billy wasn't going to get up and run again.
The herd had scattered and was nowhere in sight. They climbed quickly down the steep slope to where the two billys lay dead. Each had magnificent two meter long curved horns reminiscent of the famous ancient scimitar. They were segmented, black and shiny like polished ebony. Ahmad wasted no time. He cut the first ibex’s throat with a sharp knife and drained the hot, steamy blood into a goatskin. When it was full he passed it around to everyone to take a drink. Ali had never tasted blood except his own before, but when it was his turn, he didn't flinch. It was warm and salty--too rich for his taste--but he drank long, making sure the others saw him doing it.
Ahmad then moved to the other ram, the one that Ali shot. He quickly drained the blood from it into another goatskin and then began cutting the ibex's head off. Another tribesman was already cutting the head off the one that Talha had shot. With deft slices along the ram's belly, Ahmad pulled the skin back and opened its gut. Placing a large goatskin bag alongside the steamy innards, he carefully cut the kidneys, liver, intestines, and other delicacies apart and placed them in the bag. Before long he was skinning the goat and the other tribesman was adding more items to the delicacy bag.
Ali started helping, pulling on the skin so that Ahmad could peel back the fatty tissue holding it on. The ibex fur was dense an almost white. Ali was sure they would have a good use for it. For now, they wrapped goat's meat in the skin. Soon, Ahmad was cutting the ram up into manageable pieces. Everyone was tying meat together to carry on their backs. Within two hours, with the sun fully up, both billys had been butchered and were being carried down the mountain to the camp by the lake. The fish had been smoking nicely, attended by one of the tribesmen. A new fire was built and fresh goat was cooked, accompanied by alcohol, goat's blood, and delicacies Ali had never dared to taste before.
Ahmad Khan was apologetic. "These old guys are tough and not very tasty. Tonight we will climb the mountain again, and tomorrow morning we will shoot two young ones to provide us was some good meat to eat. We may end up feeding some of this to the hogs!" In spite of his admonishment. The hungry men managed to take a sizable bite out of the ibex meat they had. By evening, still nursing full stomachs, they made their way back up the mountain again for another cold night on the summit.
Once again in the morning, the ibex were back grazing in the same spot. Two of the cousins got an opportunity this time to bring down a young billy and an ewe. They were much easier to skin. Saving the eyes, brains, and tongue, the rest of the heads were left for the eagles. Once again, by noon, they were back at the lake camp. This time they cooked fresh fish and two ducks that one of the tribesmen had shot. They spent the rest of the day packing all the meat, fish and ducks in reeds to be carried out. It was a formidable load. Ali estimated that each man would be carrying 35 lbs. more than he carried in. The donkey carried the two massively horned heads.
They feasted once again and drank the rest of the alcohol that evening. Everyone was so tired they went to bed early. Ali dreamed that a girl crawled into his sleeping bag. It woke him up, but he did not feel anyone, the just a much warmer place to sleep than he had the two nights before.
In the morning, each man heavily loaded, worked their way out of the valley and over the first range on their long trek home. Early the next morning, they came upon the first of the two tribes they had passed on the way in. What they gave these people for the passage lightened their loads considerably. Here, they left most of the old ibex meat. They were required to celebrate with these fellow tribesmen, so much trading ensued, and, once again, they feasted. The tribesmen prepared some rare delicacies that they described as eagles eggs, lynx, and cobra. The Himalayan lynx was rare in these mountains, but Ali knew snake when he ate it. The others were surprised that an American could eat their food.
Lightly loaded, they left the second tribe behind in the morning and reached Ahmad Khan's valley near nightfall. All the women, children, and men who didn't go along greeted them with gunfire, clapping and chants. Once again there was feasting and liquor flowed freely. Ali crawled off to his sleeping bag with another overly full stomach and the fuzzy feeling of having had, once again, too much to drink.
Deep in the night, he again felt a small hand on his shoulder and someone crawling into his bag. To his surprise this one was much heavier and smelled of curry. Still, the feel of her bulbous breasts and the deep folds of her secret place were a turn on. A few quick strokes by those strong legs with him deep inside her found him ejaculating until she collapsed with her full weight on his chest. They were both sweaty against a cold night air. "My name is Qatar. Choose me. I love you.” She whispered in his ear as she slipped out of the bag and into the night.
The next morning as they ate breakfast by the cave, the cousins were smiling and smirking. Finally, Ali came right out and asked them. "OK guys, what's with the girls at night? Two visited me. Did any visit you?"
Acting as if with some great accomplishment, Akbar responded. "Ahmad thought we needed company (he giggled). Those were prostitutes from the Afghan refugee camp. We're not allowed to have sex before we marry. However, the tribesmen have always used prostitutes to favor young men before they marry. That is why I came on this trip (he giggled again). I want to know what a woman is like. You guys in America have girls all the time.” His face turned to a kind of look Ali did not like. A pout that came from hatred of the immoral pleasures that all Americans seemed to indulge.
Ali did not answer directly. Instead, he smiled knowingly, and said, "I'll have that thank Uncle Ahmad for doing that for us. I know I had a good time, how about you guys?" The cousins laughed nervously.
As they prepared to leave, everyone crowded around again with hugs and handshakes. Ali felt that he was leaving old friends, not just someone of two weeks acquaintance.
When they reached the car, the battery was dead. By jumping from the Jeep, they got started. The road was still treacherous, but going back was easier than when they came. Ali didn’t know it, but he would travel this road many times in the months to come. The drive back through the Pass was uneventful and anticlimactic. It was all familiar now. The American roadblock was nowhere to be seen. It was like coming home when they reach the villa. Ali looked for Shaheen in the crowd of happy faces. She was not there. She had gone back to university in Islamabad.