Yet that world also had its special cloaking magic. It was a place where he learned quickly to conceal his thoughts and dreams, and from his earliest years Najeeb's elders taught him to hold in his emotions, sheathing them like a weapon.
At the age of eighteen he abruptly left that world behind, dispatched across the seas to a university in the United States. It was his father's idea, a vain stab at worldliness to impress a few haughty ministers in the government corridors of Islamabad. Najeeb went reluctantly, and for months he held himself sternly under wraps, bookish and brooding through a North Carolina winter amid airless dreams of home.
Then came the spring, and Najeeb emerged timidly from underground, sampling the bounty of bright new places that began to make home seem small, plain and crude. There were supermarkets as big as his village, libraries the size of canyons, lush trees alive with blossoms and songbirds. Then there were the women, practically naked compared to the ones he'd grown up with. They were a temptation, he knew, yet there was a holiness about them, too--as if heaven and hell had been rolled into one amazing creation of bare arms, exposed legs and lustrous heads of hair, their animated faces open to the world and all its possibilities. They soon became responsible for an altogether new kind of training in Najeeb's life. Tell us your feelings, they demanded. Share your thoughts. Having been exposed to Shakespeare in the same heady spring, Najeeb found himself torn in ways he had never anticipated. To feel or not to feel, that was the question.
And now, years after his homecoming, he was not only restless but trapped--banished from tribal lands by his father, barred from America by consular officials.
His father's action had followed a betrayal that Najeeb no longer cared to revisit. The consular ban was of a more recent vintage. The United States had decided the previous month that it no longer wanted his company, after his two worlds had collided in ways previously unimaginable in the burning skies of lower Manhattan.
So he soldiered on in Peshawar, feeling as if he'd snagged a little of himself in each place he'd departed. And as each morning's peace dissolved he often found himself brooding over what was missing, sometimes believing that he, too, was disappearing into the Peshawar haze, as indistinct as the horizon. In a country where most people defined themselves by family or faith, Najeeb found himself resorting to a more American approach, seeking identity from his various occupations. For the moment, then, he was a translator and guide, a painter of birds, an unemployed computer engineer, and, most recently, a journalist of sorts, reporting for a rambling English daily called the Frontier Report.
The few people in Peshawar who knew Najeeb well could have added further labels--disowned son, enthusiastic fornicator, occasional imbiber of forbidden beverage, habitual consorter with foreigners--tireless seeker of any path, in other words, that might lead beyond Pakistan. And at this precarious moment in the city's history, when choosing sides was the order of the day, Najeeb remained dangerously neutral.
One thing no one ever called him was lazy, and today's schedule was particularly industrious. First on the agenda: a ride on his motor scooter to the humble offices of the Frontier Report, where, as always, there would be plenty to write about. His daily task was to fashion a digest of news briefs from the tribal hinterlands of the North-West Frontier Province. It always made for strange reading--rustic feuds and oddball robberies, villages convulsed over the tiniest of matters. Perhaps someday he would collect them in a volume of curios for his friends in the United States, a Pakistani gothic that would finally help them understand what made this place tick.
Excerpted from The Warlord's Son by Dan Fesperman Copyright © 2004 by Dan Fesperman. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, 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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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