Art: Flickr / Surian Soosay
Art: Flickr / Surian Soosay

A heart of stone

FICTION: The mountains became my patience stone, and I hoped they could hold my secrets and sins.

The mountains have been my protectors and friends over the last seven years, while I've been fighting the enemy. Unlike human beings, they have never betrayed me. The mountains sheltered me when the enemy tried to kill me. They shielded me from bullets. When it was hot, they let me sit in their shade, and when it was cold, I took shelter in their caves. Most importantly, mountains are good listeners. I bear more burdens than anyone can be expected to endure. I take long walks in the mountains, talking to them. Once you become their friend and gain their trust, they will take the enemy's bullets and shells for you. I am sure many before me have confessed their sins and regrets to the mountains. It might have worn them down a little. They listen to the most intimate, heavy stories, keeping them close. Mountains are strong but they are also very sensitive; there is a limit to their patience. When the burden becomes too much, they may open their mouths and pour out the liquid fire of secrets.

Seven years ago, on a Friday afternoon, my village had gathered in the main cemetery, at the foot of the mountains. It was the second year of the American occupation. Gathered were the grey beards, young men and small boys, but no women. I was 25 years old. We were burying Aka Jaan, a tribal leader, who had died the night before. Some men were digging the grave, and the rest of us sat around quietly. The elders leaned on their walking sticks, sighing and looking at each other anxiously. They knew that soon they would follow Aka Jaan. Young boys carried buckets of water for the diggers. The cold black tombstone, loaded onto the donkey cart, shone in the sunlight.

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Himal Southasian
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