Dawn was beginning to break across the distant Khada Hills. It created a pinkish glow encircling the valley in an ethereal aura. Amer, squinting, raised his eyes to take in the scene. Several other workers gathered preparing for harvest.
Hussein squatted in the dirt, sharpening his blades with a long, flat stone. Testing the blade with his calloused thumb he jerked back as the blade found some blood. “Akh.”
Several men laughed. Amer turned to join the others, and showing his ignorance, asked when harvest would begin.
“Ah, Amer, I forgot this is your first harvest.” Hussein’s dark brown face was furrowed just as the fields that stretched out before them. Deep set green eyes glowed with mirth.
Amer smiled and shrugged.
One of the other men joined in, saying, “When the petal falls, we cut.”
Amer looked back at the field and watched as several children entered the garden-like landscape and began to play. Colorful pink and white blossoms undulated with the lilting sound of their voices. What irony to see children play in such a place. Sweet innocence amongst such evil.
“It won’t be long now, Amer. Probably a couple of days.”
His thoughts turned to how he, now a U.S. citizen, had found his way back to his homeland of Afghanistan after thirty years. His life here the last six months had been a deception, part of an elaborate plan to roust the Taliban from the southern provinces. Along with several other specially trained military operatives, he had spent months preparing. He perfected his Pashto--the language of his youth. He immersed himself in the customs of the region, particularly Pakistan, since his cover story accounted for his travel from Quetta, across the Toba Kakar Range and into the border town of Spin Buldak.
It was in Spin Buldak that Amer hooked up with this particular group of migrant workers who traveled throughout Kandahar each year working the harvest. He marveled at their work ethic in providing for their families, despite his own ethical dilemma with this business. Workers usually made $10 (US) per day, a fortune compared to normal Afghan standards.
Three days later, the harvest began in earnest. The valley was now nearly devoid of color except for large green bulbs precariously perched upon slender woody stems. Sprinklings of once vibrant petals littered the rows.
The work was easy—a simple process of scraping the sticky white resin from the bulbs into glass jars. When the resin dried it turned brown and stained his hands, his clothes, forever reminding him of his small part in this multi-billion dollar industry. Amer quickly found he could fill a jar in thirty minutes. Hussein sang old folk music that pricked memories of his forgotten childhood.
A week later the harvest was complete and the workers were anxious for payment. As they lined up to receive their wages, two jeeps tore down the dirt path, straight for them. Amer’s heart raced as he realized it was Taliban fighters.
Ddaz ddaz ddez ddez, ddaz. Bullets from machine guns mounted to the back of each vehicle hemmed them in on either side. One man incurred a bullet to his leg and crumpled to the ground shrieking. Scare tactics. It worked.
Amer moved forward. It was time—the opportunity for which he had been trained. Raising a silent prayer and a verbal petition, “Ay, dost. Dost. Dost. Friend friend,” he placed his hands atop his head in surrender.
Black turbaned fighters rushed him, throwing him to the ground, along with several other workers. “Join the Taliban or die” was their cry.
Amer’s left eye was swollen shut. His jaw broken and his breathing ragged from what felt like several broken ribs. During the last beating, his right knee had crashed to the concrete floor and now cried out for medical attention that would never come. All he could do now was hope that the homing device implanted in his left thigh had activated before the Taliban had ripped it from his flesh.
The blackness of his cell delivered relief for it masked his injuries and acted as a salve over his weary eyes. Moving his right hand to his chest, he felt for the hidden New Testament that normally lay next to his chest. Then he remembered--it had been taken.
Gunshots. Shouting. Creaking of armored cars crashed through his haze.
“Praise be to my Lord Jesus Christ!”
“Shut up infidel.”
A soft whisper cut the darkness. “Amen. It is over.”
Author’s Note: Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium. Production is centered predominantly in the southern provinces and the three billion dollar industry continues to fuel the militant Taliban fighters in their cause.
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