|Photo: Rahraw omarzad, centre for contemporary arts|
The first time I crossed the river it was a clear autumn day – birds singing joyously after the rain, a bracing breeze moving through great golden honeydrops of sun. Despite the crinkle of dry, dead leaves underfoot, there was something new and exciting all around. Maybe over the brow of the next hill? Maybe something intuited long ago?
The second time I crossed the river was later the same day, as the sun was going down. We were all tired, and I couldn’t remember what I had forgotten to remember. Listen to the river sing sweet songs, I thought, and let it be.
I crossed that river for the third time several weeks later, and at first did not recognise it. The weather was foggy now, with northern winds blowing harsh across the swamps. My hair was longer, and I was red in the eye. I was wearing the same boots, and my socks were gone; but my breath was good, and my legs and arms and hands and head were all strong, working separately together. Indeed, we were all working separately together.
I have no idea how many times I crossed the river after that, but every time I did I was running, and every time I was alone. And every time I forgot just how muddy the bottom of the river was. Mud that just went down and down. One time I lost a boot. Another time I lost a lucky barley seed that I had kept in the cuff of my dress for months, and which had always worked.
The last time I crossed the river I was moving very slowly. I had an old woman with me, and a young girl, and I warned them about the muddy river bottom. They said they already knew, and I said of course they did. They were scared of me, and I was scared of them, but I couldn’t quite remember why. On the other side of the river the girl pointed to a small clearing and said to the old woman, This is where you can see the cranes doing their dance, and I said maybe we should wait and see. So we did. The cranes came at dusk, I fell asleep, and the two of them hurried home.
The next morning was sunny for the first time in weeks, and the air was thick with barley spore – hanging like white feathers on the spring breeze, and riding the river current southward.
~ This is part of a regular series of Himal’s commentary on work by artists from Afghanistan. ‘A Small Village’ is by the Kabul-based Ommolbanin Shamsia.