The Garden

 
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Mozhgan Mahjoob

Art by Mohsin Taasha

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

 

Kabir Khan had the most beautiful garden in the world. The garden was vast—wide and long in the shape of a leaf. It was clean with green fields, thick forests, luscious fruit trees, jewel-toned flowers, and streams of cold rushing water. The garden always had delectable soft weather with spectacular places and attractions.

The garden was surrounded by the mountains, and the streams fell into the garden from the heart of the tall mountains, and fountains watered all the fields and forests.

Beautiful fishes of every color and size lived in the streams. The banks of the streams were covered with precious stones: rubies, azure, sapphires, tourmaline, topaz, emerald, and other expensive gems that didn’t exist anywhere else around the world. The lustrous gems shone under the silvery moon at night and sparkled in the sun during the day. There was a vineyard in the garden that had every kind of green or red, tart or sweet, grape. There were flowers—eglantine, jasmine, hyacinth, purple flowers, roses, tulips, orchids, lilies, and daffodils—everywhere.

The garden was full of fruit. Cherries hung from the cherry trees, yellow apricots, juicy peaches, ripe red apples, plump oranges, sour and sweet pomegranates, plums, and figs turned the garden into one of the best and the most desirable places to gather fruit. The fragrance of the flowers and the blossoms of the trees filled the air, sweetening every breath inhaled for scores of kilometers around it.

The garden of Kabir Khan was protected by an army of security guards, both day and night.

Soon, others around the world heard about Kabir Khan’s garden—its beauty and its precious stones. They asked if he would share it, but Kabir rejected them. They offered to buy it from him, but he wasn’t ready to give his garden to anyone at any price. Many times, people tried to deceive him and steal his garden’s precious gems, but they couldn’t fool his guards. Robbers tried, but they were caught too, and were thrown over the walls, dead or injured. Armies tried to take it by force, attacking his garden walls. They were defeated every time. Kabir’s guards were ready to die to defend the garden and protect the treasures that were gathered there. So for many years there was fighting in the garden.

 
 

At the New Year people went sightseeing. Helen asked her friends Darya and Asma to climb a particular mountain with her, as she had a surprise for them at the top. Normally they were not allowed to walk there, but they all agreed that at New Year it would be okay, and because Helen insisted a lot, they went on their adventure. Asma was scared of the height, but Darya and Helen helped her along. They walked on steep rock for more than two hours to reach the top of one of the tallest mountains. Many times, they came close to falling. Although it was cold and cloudy, they were soon drenched in sweat, thirsty and breathless, but they did not give up until they had reached the top. Joyous and relieved, they all sat down and sucked in great drafts of the cold, fresh air. An icy wind blew and the fields below the mountain looked tiny—the streets like pencil lines, the foamy waterfalls a blur on the flanks of the mountains, the people down the mountain and the sheep eating the grass as small as bugs, the green fields scattered with small red anemones like carpets. Every detail was extraordinary and graceful.

Asma said, “I feel so dizzy looking down. Tell us, Helen, what was the surprise here? Why did you bring us here?”

Helen said, “Look over there,” and she pointed toward some long, tall walls made of stone. Behind the walls, green trees reached to the sky and the walls circled around to enclose a dense green forest and many colorful fields. Atop the walls, hundreds of armed men paced and watched, protecting it.

“That’s Kabir Khan’s garden,” Helen explained. “It reaches farther away than we can see,” she added. “I want, just once, to go down there and see what is inside it. Maybe there’s another world, totally different from ours?”

Darya looked long at it and said, “Girls, I also heard about Kabir’s garden, but do you know that it isn’t what it looks like? It’s a prison or some kind of fortress. Even birds cannot fly over his garden. There is always a threat, the fear of death if you walk near it. It might be beautiful to look at, but inside every part is stained with the blood of those who were killed because Kabir did not let others walk inside the garden. It’s dangerous! No one should dare to go inside it as long as Kabir is there.”

“But how can that be?” Asma asked, upset now. “It’s so beautiful from here.”

Darya explained, “Except for his family and some relatives and friends, no one but Kabir is allowed to even approach the garden. Kabir is one of the world’s richest men, but look outside of his garden and you see that people and kids are starving, dying from hunger, while he spends his money protecting what he already owns. If he could spend even half of it on those poor people, none of them would suffer or die from hunger. But Kabir doesn’t care about anyone else. He is a very proud person with a cruel heart.”

“You’re right Darya,” Helen added. “Many people are killed because of his arrogance and his pride. The wars he fought for the garden lasted so many years. Many people tried to snatch the precious stones of his garden. While Kabir did not let it happen, he also had no mercy, not even for the birds and animals or the poor peoples’ hunger.”

Darya remembered something her teacher had told her, “Those people who try to steal the stones from his garden are also greedy. They should become the gardeners of their own gardens, if they want to have riches. They should put all the effort they put into attacking Kabir’s garden and use it to grow their own. They can grow the seeds in their farms, in any of the fields where the breeze blows the seeds will pollinate. As long as there are clouds in the sky there’ll be rain on the fields and the seeds will grow into plants. They don’t have to steal from him. A garden’s beauty is in its green fields, pretty flowers, and fruit trees, rather than the precious stones. As long as one has the strength they should let nature give them the gifts it gives and grow their own gardens. Their hard work will earn them their own precious gems. To gain wealth, don’t attack the man who has it. Set your goals, work hard, and grow your own garden.”

Asma nodded in agreement. But she was still worried. “Guys, I heard that anyone who even sits on the mountain close to the garden will be suspect and the guards will shoot at them. I think we should leave now.”

Helen and Darya agreed. “You’re right Asma. It’s risky to even sit here and look at his garden. We should move back down.” Darya and her friends walked down the mountain and back to their regular lives.

 

Years passed. Kabir was so obsessed with his garden that he built a very beautiful house for himself inside it. He had his own kingdom that was isolated from the rest of the world. He spent all his time inside the garden with its comfortable facilities. He forgot that outside his garden was hunger, shouting, grief, pain, and the wounds of people who searched for comfort in a world of poverty and want. These people struggled for their wishes and hopes and sometimes they buried their hopes inside their hearts by ending their lives because death seemed an easier option for them than living and suffering while Kabir never helped them. The animals and birds outside of Kabir’s garden wall migrated to faraway places, for there was nothing to eat near to the garden.

It was five years since Darya and her friends climbed the mountain. Kabir invited some of his close friends to join him for lunch in his garden. They sat on white chairs around a circular, blue table and praised Kabir for its beauty. The splashing of water along the narrow streams beneath the trees and the breeze that blew and shook the trees expressed the euphonious song of nature. The odor of the beautiful flowers and the green grass sweetened the air. Everyone was happy and relaxed, enjoying the beautiful views inside the garden. The servants brought them orange and pomegranate juices with fresh fruits laid out on lapis lazuli dishes. Kabir’s friends drank and sang their praises while Kabir smiled. Then he saw three sparrows settling in the vineyard to eat some grapes, a mother and her two babies. The mother sparrow brought the babies to train them to find food, such as the sweet grapes they could eat so that the seeds would go with them as they flew away and more grapes would grow anywhere the sparrows could fly to. Kabir watched the sparrows taking his grapes and he became very angry. He asked one of his servants to bring his hunting gun.

Kabir’s friends begged him to let the birds eat the grapes but Kabir didn’t listen. He was deaf with rage. An expert in shooting, he fired at the mother sparrow, who fell as her two babies screeched in fear and flew away to hide in the trees. Kabir’s friends looked at each other but said nothing while Kabir said grimly, “Without my permission no bird will fly in my garden’s sky nor sit in my vineyards. I hate these birds.”

The two small sparrows looked at their mother on the ground. They chirped and called her but she didn’t move. They cried and called many times but she did not hear them. Kabir told one of the servants, “Take those sparrows to the kitchen and ask the cook to fry them up and bring it back to me!” The servant did as he was asked, and later he brought back the plucked and fried sparrows, served with lemon juice and vegetables over rice. In front of the wandering eyes of his friends Kabir ate the birds greedily and said, “If any other bird sits in the vineyard I will kill and cook them all.”

That night Kabir fell ill. The doctors could not figure out exactly what he was sick with. All his tests were normal, but he could not eat or drink. Kabir said it felt like something had sealed his throat. Although he had all the money and power in the world, Kabir was starving for a piece of bread or a glass of water His family took him to one of the best doctors in a nearby city, but he couldn’t find a treatment. Then they made plans to take him to doctors in another country, but with nothing to eat or drink in many days, Kabir succumbed to thirst and died. His eyes closed forever.

 
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News of Kabir’s death spread fast. The night she heard it, Darya had a dream, and when she woke she called Helen to tell her. “Helen! It was the most remarkable dream. Finally we could conquer the Hindukush mountains. I was like a bird who flew above the peaks. I could fly down from there, watching the delightful, golden rays of sun gild the edges of the evening clouds. I saw the sunrise at dawn, the shadow less light of midday, and the red, heartwarming twilight. In the green valley of Panjshir, I saw the purity and freshness of the newly blooming flowers, the verdure of spring, the pleasure of the rainy meadow and green fields carpeted with the red, silky anemone flowers all the way up its mountain flanks. In the rushing stream I heard the melodious, drizzling sound of roaring waterfalls. I saw happiness in the sweet smiles of children playing inside and outside of Kabir’s garden! Helen—there were no more walls anymore! The garden was . . . everywhere, and everywhere in the garden people and animals and birds lived together peacefully.”

Helen shook her head sadly and said, “Oh Darya I wish your dream would come true, now that Kabir is not alive anymore. It’s true that the walls are gone and the garden is open for everyone, all the people, and the animals and birds. But I’m afraid it just means that any army can attack now, to take the garden and build their own walls. Again there will be fighting.”

But Darya’s dream had told her otherwise. She smiled to herself with great satisfaction and said, “No, Helen. That won’t happen. If the animals and birds are united, together with the water, the plants and trees they can stop the army’s walls from growing. The birds can fly above and past it, as I did in my dream, carrying seeds, while the snakes and animals burrow beneath it and make it weak, making room for the water to rush through and wash the walls away. The ants can eat whatever the armies try to build, and the bees buzz past carrying the pollen of every beautiful flower to grow inside and outside—to bury all of the walls that greedy people try to build. When nature is reunited, no human power is strong enough to defeat its unity.”

Was Darya right? Years later, there were no walls. Both inside and outside of Kabir’s old garden, the land overflowed with nature and its vast collective of animals and birds. Millions of swallows returned and flew free. Mother sparrows showed their babies the vineyards, eating the grapes that now grew everywhere. The doves and canaries sang their bracing songs in the tops of tall trees. From snowy mountains wide and far, waterfalls and rivers brought green life to every corner of the land. Poor people grew wheat, rice, and cereal in their fields and farms. The birds curried their precious seeds to and fro, freely giving and taking, and soon more forests and fields grew, becoming one great garden that belonged to everyone.

 
 

Spring / Summer 2024



Mozhgan Mahjoob

Mozhgan Mahjoob is an Afghan poet and writer graduated from the humanities and English literature faculty of Herat University. Her stories (inspired by true life incidents), essays, and poems are published at The GOAT Pol, Anis National Newspaper, Hamdeli, and Shahr e Sokoot Magazines. Her first book of stories, Under the Sky Beneath the Moon, is available in softcover and eBook, from The GOAT PoL Books and Publication Studio.



Mohsin Taasha

Mohsin Taasha (BFA, Beaconhouse National University, Lahore) is a visual artist from Afghanistan, based in Nice. His paintings, drawings, videos, and installations have been exhibited widely, including at Galerie Nikki Diana Marquardt (Paris); Documenta 13 (Kassel); the 56th Venice Biennale; NordArt (Büdelsdorf); Mucem (Marseille); Kunstmuseum Thun; and artgenève. Taasha produced the multimedia series “Rebirth of the Reds” following the 2016 Deh Mazang suicide bombings in Kabul, to which he lost many of his friends. A painting component comprised of forty pieces in four parts narrates the history and culture of the Hazara People. (Additional thanks to Art at a Time Like This.)



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