Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Oops (01/14/10)
TITLE: Before You Bow to the East
By Chely Roach
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By the time that you read this, my son, you will be on the other side of the ocean. Chances are you have figured out that you have not travelled to America for your grandmother’s funeral, whose home you will lay out your prayer carpet tonight and bow to the east. When you do, say a prayer for your Baba.
I plead with Allah to give me the words to tell you what you need to hear…
Yesterday, you were on the verge of becoming a man. Aamir jan, as these words fall off the page and into your mind, you have achieved manhood. I am going to tell you things I would only tell another man. I am going to ask a favor of you, one that only a man could fulfill. Understand?
I regret that I have missed so much of your life. I believed that I was doing what I had to so that our family could survive. When the Soviets scampered away, we had so much hope; hope that was crushed by the Taliban. As an American educated scientist, the Taliban clutched me to their wicked bosom. Kabul, the city of my childhood, became our prison. I wish you could see her from my eyes, unscarred from these years of war. She was once beautiful. I regret that war is all you’ve ever known.
I praise Allah that you are now far from this place.
The work I have been doing—what has kept me away from you and your mother so often—was not voluntary. Because bombs and guns have a finite killing potential, the Taliban made us run endless experiments to find even more lethal ways to kill the “infidels”. For years I have faked my way through—never quite achieving the weapon that the Talib officers dug their heels into our necks to find. Do you remember how I told you that the discovery of penicillin was born from a small mistake, and in that moment, the world changed? Well, that also happened to me, not long after the Americans arrived, but my accidental discovery could take more lives than penicillin has ever saved. Do you understand such an infinite number, my son? Such a small little blunder—an unintentional combination in a centrifuge—and within moments, I created another Manhattan project. With the strict documentation we were forced to maintain, my feeble attempts to hide the formula failed. Recently, the Taliban began to manufacture unfathomable amounts of the agent in my lab. It is first intended for the American soldiers, but there will be just as many Afghans that will perish. Probably more. They will also sell it Hezbollah to attack Israel.
Aamir jan, we’re Pashtuns, we live by the Pashtunwali—the honor code. We are not terrorists, and never let anyone tell you that we are. Those who do not believe as we do are not our enemies. I spent eight years in America where Allah blessed me with an education that my father and his father’s could have never dreamed of. I met and married your mother there. You were born there. That place so foreign to you with the strange tongue is now your home.
But, my son, it grieves me to tell you that I will not be joining you.
I have unfinished business. I cannot live with myself knowing what I have unleashed. By the time your mother gives you this letter, I will have already acted out what has taken months to plan. It has required many long nights to deactivate the Taliban’s stash of the weaponized agent, and many more developing the formula to do so. The formula that impotents the weapon is in your mother’s hands. Help her be brave enough to deliver it to its addressee. However, the lab and all the documents must still be destroyed. For the sake of our relatives still in Afghanistan, it will appear as another small little blunder: an overworked scientist that unintentionally combined the wrong chemical with an unstable element. If I am not buried under rubble at this moment, then I have surely found a similar fate by a Talib soldier.
Be strong, Aamir jan. It is an honorable death to fight evil, to protect one’s country, to glorify Allah.
My favor of you? Look after your mother, my widowed bride. And tonight—before you bow to the east—say the Janaza prayer for me.
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