From outside came the din of Quetta, which is much, much noisier than my little village in Ghazni, that strip of land, houses and streams that I come from, the most beautiful place in the world (and I'm not just boasting, it's true).
Little or big.
It didn't occur to me that the reason for all that din might be because we were in a big city. I thought it was just one of the normal differences between countries, like different ways of seasoning meat. I thought the sound of Pakistan was simply different from the sound of Afghanistan, and that every country had its own sound, which depended on a whole lot of things, like what people ate and how they moved around.
Mother, I called.
No answer. So I got out from under the covers, put my shoes on, rubbed my eyes and went to find the owner of the place to ask if he'd seen her, because three days earlier, as soon as we arrived, he'd told us that no one went in or out without him noticing, which seemed odd to me, since I assumed that even he needed to sleep from time to time.
The sun cut the entrance of the samavat Qgazi in two. Samavat means "hotel." In that part of the world, they actually call those places hotels, but they're nothing like what you think of as a hotel, Fabio. The samavat Qgazi wasn't so much a hotel as a warehouse for bodies and souls, a kind of left-luggage office you cram into and then wait to be packed up and sent off to Iran or Afghanistan or wherever, a place to make contact with people traffickers.
We had been in the samavat for three days, never going out, me playing among the cushions, Mother talking to groups of women with children, some with whole families, people she seemed to trust.
I remember that, all the time we were in Quetta, my mother kept her face and body bundled up inside a burqa. In our house in Nava, with my aunt or with her friends, she never wore a burqa. I didn't even know she had one. The first time I saw her put it on, at the border, I asked her why and she said with a smile, It's a game, Enaiat, come inside. She lifted a flap of the garment, and I slipped between her legs and under the blue fabric. It was like diving into a swimming pool, and I held my breath, even though I wasn't swimming.
Covering my eyes with my hand because of the light, I walked up to the owner, kaka Rahim, and apologized for bothering him. I asked about my mother, if by any chance he'd seen her go out, because nobody went in or out without him noticing, right?
Kaka Rahim was smoking a cigarette and reading a newspaper written in English, some of it in red, some in black, without pictures. He had long lashes and his cheeks were covered with a fine down like those furry peaches you sometimes get, and next to the newspaper, on the table at the entrance, was a plate containing a pile of apricot stones, along with three succulent-looking, orange-colored fruits, still uneaten, and a handful of mulberries.
There's a lot of fruit in Quetta, Mother had told me. She had said it to entice me, because I love fruit. In Pashtun, Quetta means "fortified trading center" or something like that, a place where goods are exchanged: objects, lives. Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan: the fruit garden of Pakistan.
Without turning around, kaka Rahim blew smoke into the sun. Yes, he replied, I saw her.
I smiled. Where did she go, kaka Rahim? Can you tell me?
When will she be back?
She's not coming back.
She's not coming back?
What do you mean? Kaka Rahim, what do you mean, she's not coming back?
She's not coming back.
At that point I ran out of questions. There must have been others I could have asked, but I didn't know what they were. I stood there in silence looking at the down on kaka Rahim's cheeks, but without really seeing it.
It was kaka Rahim who spoke next. She told me to tell you something, he said.
Excerpted from In the Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda. Copyright © 2011 by Fabio Geda. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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