I am not Hafiz’s Wife

 
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Atefa Qorbani

Art by Latifa Zafar Attaii



The following story is the seventh in a series of seven stories by Afghan women writers from the GOAT Pol (the Geopolitical Open Atlas of the Polity of Literature).

 

Waves of heat drop from the sky and lay heavy on our backs. The heat made malignant droplets of perspiration on our foreheads, around the neck, armpits, and on the lower vertebrae. Isn’t it enough? The wheat stalks have changed the shapes of our hands; and slivers from the stumps poke through the seams of our slippers to pierce the skin of our feet where it isn’t yet stiff and numb. Not a dwelling house can be found, only one tree, so that we sit in its shadow for a few minutes while the eye works. It is the land, relatively green land, the land that is freshly harvested and filled with stalks, and the empty land that houses the mice, the marmot, the hedgehog, and sometimes lizards. Narrow roads on both sides of the Anjier river form a shortcut that connects the Natara Gowkosh to Naw Abad. The path I walk with my sisters, Aziza and Fatima, and a herd of sheep is full of men wearing kandahari hats and speaking in a language that I barely understand. Before the sun rose, we had walked the dusty alleys of Naw Abad, and now dusk has found a corner of the sky. We’ve collected the stalks and the sheep have grazed and we are home. We move the sheep near to their watering place and throw the stuffed gunnysacks into the domed-roof room, which is our firewood room and is not unlike our own rooms, tiredness walking in us. My little sister, Aziza, throws herself into the house as soon as we finish work; but I stand in the middle of the yard thinking about my school and who will answer all the hard questions of the math professor these days when I cannot, and suddenly my father’s sour forehead jumps in front of my eyes, warning me that this time he will not break my bones with willow branches but also empty his gun bullets into my head. I shudder with fear and try to forget the school when my mother screams, Hafiz’s wife! don’t you see it’s dark? go cook your dish. Fatima comes near, puts her hand on my shoulder kindly, to say, I understand you, don’t worry. I pull my steps across the dusty ground and I mumble, “My name is Amina.” Although I grew used to that other name, the one my mother called me, the one the kids in the alley also knew and mocked me with, there is no more of the embarrassment of those early days. The only thing that eats my heart like a vulture is that I don’t remember the last time or the last person who called me by my name. I look for it but I cannot find it. I put the fingertips of my right hand into the webs between the fingers of my left hand and press hard. The braids of my existence hurt, but the pain that keeps rising from my head is not a physical pain. One of my foster mothers told me the history of this name that everyone uses to annoy me. She said that my mother, after seven daughters, was pregnant for the eighth time, hoping for a king son; she did not know what fate had prepared for her. Her stomach was like a barrel full of water and couldn’t shake from the heaviness of its load. After months her son was born, but with an uninvited guest: I was skin and bones; I forced my eyes open and closed; I slept motionless for days; my mother’s milk did not suffice even for my twin brother. She gave me none. I would go hungry and cry with a voice weaker than the sound of a kitten. Fatima would hug me and go door to door looking for lactating women, which is how she found Aunty Forozan, the foster mother who tells this story. Aunty Forozan said that my twin brother died despite intensive care, and many times they thought I was dead too, and Mullah Hafiz had read the Yassin above my head. Mullah Hafiz, who had made sure of my survival after several times coming and reading the Yassin above my head, offered my father a sheep in exchange for me. My father agreed. He said that if I survived I would be for Hafiz, and from that day my name became “Hafiz’s wife.” I sit in the kitchen and stare at the fire I’ve built under the cauldron. I take another stalk and put it quickly into the flames so that my fingers do not burn. I churn the fire with an iron bar. Flames grow from the edges of the cauldron, taller. I stare at the flames.

In the flames I see Hafiz, who gave a sheep to my father and will take me. I see myself saying, I am Amina, I am not Hafiz’s wife, and inside the flames burn; the flames burn louder; they burn up to the ceiling.

 
 

Spring / Summer 2024



Atefa Qorbani

I am not telling only my own story, I am telling the stories of all the lugubrious Afghan women.



Latifa Zafar Attaii

Born in 1994 in Ghazni, Afghanistan, Latifa Zafar Attaii’s journey took her from Quetta, Pakistan, where she lived as a refugee, to pursuing fine arts at Kabul University. She was awarded the UMISAA scholarship and continued her artistic endeavors at Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, graduating from the School of Visual Arts and Design in 2017. Latifa has showcased her work in numerous global exhibitions, from China and Switzerland to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, India, and Pakistan. She was the second-prize winner for the Allegro Art Prize 2021. She currently resides and works in Tehran.



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