It had been two months since my husband had come home, and we had run out of food. So, a few days ago, I locked the room where my children were and left home to buy groceries. A Taliban fighter looked at me creepily when I reached the market. I thought that he was looking at me because I was without a mahram (close male relative). I needed to get away from him as quickly as possible. As I bought flour, oil, and sugar, I wrapped my chador tightly around myself and then headed home, taking long strides.
I heard footsteps behind me. The faster I walked, the quicker he followed. He called out for me when I reached a crossroads. I had to stop. I was so scared that I couldn’t understand what he asked. “Do you know any poor people here?” he repeated. “We’re here for food aid and cash. We want some names.” I sighed in relief and thanked God that he didn’t inquire about my absent male companion. “Yes, there are many poor people here. We are also poor and in need. Please write our name on the list, too,” I responded. “Give me your phone number so that we can contact you whenever assistance comes,” he said. Without thinking about his intentions, I gave him my contact number, saying, “Thank you for thinking about poor people. We need help. We live in a rented house, and I have young children.” The Taliban fighter smiled and said, “Don’t worry – help is coming.” I was happy and thought that my children, who are 2 and 4 years old, would be able to eat more and better food.
When I got home, I started cooking. While I was busy in the kitchen, my phone rang. It was a man’s voice that I didn’t recognize. “Sorry, you’ve got the wrong number,” I said. He replied, “No, I didn’t make a mistake. I am calling from the aid distribution centre. We met in the market today.”
I was pleased, thinking he may have aid for my family, and asked, “Are you helping today?” He replied, “No, I called you so you can save my number.” I said, “Thank you, I will save it for sure.” Then I hung up.
An hour and a half later, he called again. “Where are you?” he asked. “I’m at home,” I answered. “Where is your husband?” he asked. I was suddenly trembling with fear as I replied, “He’s at home.”
He was not deterred, asking, “Is he nearby or far away?” My fears multiplied – I doubted the man’s true intentions had anything to do with aid deliveries. “He’s nearby. Should I give him the phone?” I replied, with a firm voice. He sounded surprised as he asked, “Move away from your husband a little. I’ll tell you something.” By then, my entire body was trembling with fear. I hung up.
I was terrified, panting for breath – it felt like my hands and feet no longer moved properly. What trouble will I face if this Taliban fighter finds my house and sees my husband is not home? How will it affect the honor and dignity of my family? I looked at my children, and uncontrollable tears streamed down my face. I cursed myself for going to the market where I could be seen by that Taliban fighter. Yet, I knew I had no choice but to get food for my hungry children.
I was thinking about how to get rid of this man when my phone rang again. At first, I thought of not answering, but I feared he might get angry. I answered the call, “What do you want?” He said, “I want you. If you fulfill my demands, I will provide any help you need.” I said, “Do you consider yourself a Muslim? I am a married woman. How can you make such a demand of me? I’ll give your number to my husband, and he’ll take it to the authorities to have you arrested.” He laughed loudly and said, “Are you threatening me? Take it to the authorities and have me arrested.”
Given his response, I hung up. Then I removed the SIM card from my phone and broke it in half. I knew I had to leave the house immediately, so my children and I went to my mother’s house. I stayed there for three days, always fearing that the Taliban fighters would find me.
We only returned to our home when my husband came back from work. Explaining that I was scared when alone in the house, I asked him to stay home for a few days longer than usual. But I didn’t tell him about what had happened. I know that he can only come home every few months, otherwise his income will be spent on travel expenses. So, every time he leaves, I live in fear that the Taliban fighter will find me.
*Zakia is the pseudonym for a woman living in Kandahar, Afghanistan.