Ajmal Yourish is a new writer from Redlands, CA. He is also an Afghan-American, and he just got back from Kabul.
Saraj knew him a lot better than I did. He was new to our police district, and he had told several other officers that he was unhappy here. He was being punished. For what, he didn’t say. Just that he was being punished, by someone apparently very good at punishment. In fact, it seemed to us that he had, in his own way, perfected the mysterious art of declaring something—anything affecting—and then providing no possible follow-up or elaboration. Clearly a sign of some kind of disturbance. Perhaps it was a brand of narcissism, or fatalism—which is a toxic sentiment for a police officer to be afflicted by in Kabul. At least that’s how I took it when Saraj told me about his confession of unhappiness. “Tell him to take his ass back to the 6th if he’s not happy,” was my reaction. “Those guys please the Americans in all kinds of ways. You bet he was happy there.”
Now we’re at the 3rd District bazaar and we don’t know what to get for his family. His pictures are all over the streets. It’s been like this for a week. By now, probably the whole country knows his story. He saw the bomber walking like a half-paralyzed drunk toward the police station barracks and a couple of officers standing at the gate. He jumped out of the truck and ran to the bomber. For a couple of seconds he was only talking to the man, who himself was bobbing in short circles and listening more than speaking. They began to scuffle and he grabbed the bomber by the waist and tackled him down, and then the bomb exploded—more like a puff of smoke bursting in the air, nothing fantastic, just a loud puff and a thud and there lay two bodies all by themselves. A much undignified attempt, if I should compare it to everything else I’ve seen. Almost like a puppet show. We cleaned up everything by the evening. The worst of the damage was a couple of shattered glass windows at the women’s NGO across the street from the police station. But then the story of his great heroics came out and now he is a national sensation and we’re out here trying to find something decent to take to his family. He grabbed onto the suicide bomber so that the explosion would cause minimal damage. What a guy.
In his picture on the posters and billboards around town, he’s not even looking at the camera. He seems to be looking off to his right, like he’s afraid to find the center of the lens or something. His hair sits on his head in thick wet clumps of hat-smushed black, his face puffed and sweat-glazed. Like he has worms in his stomach. They could’ve at least gone to his family for a decent picture of the man! He looks tired and bewildered and unhappy, just like we had all seen him and known him. What do you get for the family of a man with a face like that? Nothing lavish, Saraj and I had both agreed. It would be off-putting for strangers to do so. Just enough to show simple honest gratitude for a fellow officer. We heard they’re taking good care of his family now. They’re sending his two boys to Turkey to get their education. They’re giving his widow a brand new house in Taimani. So it was no use obliging ourselves to any great extent. We walked some more, from store to store looking for something. We went to the bakers, the silver dealers, and even a cloth merchant friend of Saraj’s. His face was everywhere around us. Finally we gave up and settled on a crate of Khandahari pomegranates and then drove to his home.