We rode our convoy of Humvees out of the airfield and into the town of Bagram. The street as usual was totally chaotic. Cars and motorcycles zipped around each other and around pedestrians and cut across lanes without issuing warnings of any kind. In a country known for strict religious authoritarianism, the people completely disregarded basic traffic laws.
I sat with C, my friend and team SAW gunner, in the back of a Humvee near the end of the column. Bright sunlight shone down, but the air was bitterly cold. You wouldn’t guess it by looking at a snapshot of the people on the street, though. They dressed as they would any other day.
Guys buzzed around on motorcycles wearing nothing but sandals and their khet partug — the Western equivalent of which would be something like sweat pants and a long-sleeved shirt. The Afghani tolerance for cold is remarkable and never ceased to amaze me.
Our convoy got held up in the bustle of the city, and eventually the vehicles rolled to a halt. Being in the back of the column, we didn’t know what was going on. Probably just a traffic jam.
Some children played in front of a house beside the road. They’d dug shallow holes in the dirt and laid sticks over the holes. They’d flick the sticks with other sticks and run around cheering.
I tried to figure out the rules of their game, but couldn’t grasp it. Maybe there was no structure to it. Maybe they were just flicking sticks into the air. I don’t know.
As our vehicles remained halted, the people started gathering along the street to address us. Some of them held out their hands. We tossed a couple bottles of water to the ones who did. Others simply cheered, smiled, and waved.
Others, though, were just yelling. I don’t know what they were saying. I was more concerned with keeping an eye open for weapons than with figuring it out.
The kids playing the stick game joined the crowd on the road side. One of the young boys in the group pushed his way to the fore of the crowd. He marched right up to our vehicle.
He was screaming at us with ancient hatred in his eyes. The rage, the hate, weren’t new to me. What was unsettling was how aged those things looked in this little boy’s eyes. He couldn’t have been more than eight years old, but the fire in his eyes looked like something older than man itself, like the archetype upon which all human rage was constructed back when the gods were first designing humanity.
I don’t know how long we were there. Probably only a few seconds, but it felt like minutes as I watched this boy’s inexhaustible raging and screaming.
Eventually the Humvees picked up again and we continued through town.
C nodded to me. “Did you see that kid? Fuck, man, he’s going to be a terrorist some day.”
“Yea, no doubt,” I said.
We both laughed.
Neither one of us thought it was very funny.