K. M. and his friend had just been to a wedding in Sangin, in Afghanistan’s…
“The movie you see here is almost always the same.
Same plot, same setting, often the same ending. And, above all, the same characters.
The procession of people coming into the emergency room to then be distributed amongst the wards looks like a crazy, fast-paced, frantic production line that you’re struggling to keep up with – like Chaplin in Modern Times.
Then it suddenly slows down, as if the conveyor belt had run out of pieces, only to start again, stronger than ever, loaded with even more.
And it might seem brutal to say this, but the pieces are also always the same: bullet, shell, mine, shell, bullet …
Stuck inside people.
Yet this time I was struck by someone in particular. Nothing different at first, not even one of the worst ones, like when you watch an old movie and there’s a scene – not the best and not the most important of scenes, so even if you’ve seen it one hundred times, it leaves no trace in your memory.
There is a man standing in front of the emergency room desk, talking to the nurse.
He’s tall, big. He wears Afghan clothes, a long, powder blue jacket that covers his knees and a pair of trousers made of the same fabric, large, as it’s the fashion here, that finish on a pair of feet tucked inside rubber sandals.
He has a hollow face, a pitch black long beard down to his chest, icy eyes, he looks like something out of an ancient history book. A biblical face surmounted by a large turban, a shiny white that contrasts with the colour of his brown skin.
He’s talking to the nurse in a foreign, hard language.
I watch him for a while.
What was the monster that has been described to you over the last few years like?
How did you imagine he might look, as he was described to you by people on TV, at the pub, on the weekly pages?
This is how it looks. There he is, a monster. A few inches from me.
Only now, the monster weeps, tears stream down his face and get lost in his beard.
He’s talking to the nurse, swallowing, sobbing, and he wipes his eyes on his turban.
He wipes his eyes to see his 8-year-old son who is lying right next to me on a stretcher, his face burned, his arm hanging out of bed and suddenly ending before his wrist.
The boy doesn’t cry, no tears come out of his eyes because his eyes aren’t working, not yet. But with his mouth he tells us that the thing was shiny.
It was on the ground, shining, and he took it. Simple, no?
I mean, if you’re eight years old, living in Helmand, you’re there walking around the streets, coated by the desert sand, your games are home-made, like the ones that maybe our grandparents told us about, a patched-up football or a few pieces of carved wood that your mind can turn into a gun, a lion, or a car. If you are there on the street and you see a shiny thing on the ground, you might not know what it is but you take it.
And since you don’t know what it is you bring it close to your eyes, to see better, to understand if it might be interesting.
The nurse is done talking, the monster prints his thumb in the ink pad, then crushes it on a page of the clinical record written in Pashto. It says he agrees with the amputation of his son’s left hand and to the surgery to try to save his sight. Then he comes out of the emergency room, the rules are the same for everyone, relatives must wait outside.
The nurse pulls the brake on the stretcher, pushes it through the door to the wards.
Another piece reaches the others.”
– Roberto, EMERGENCY nurse in Afghanistan