One morning I was standing amid the blown-up storefronts and the broken buildings of Jadi Maiwand, the main shopping street before it became a battlefield, and I was trying to take it in when I suddenly had the sensation one sometimes feels in the tropics, believing that a rock is moving, only to discover it is a living thing perfectly camouflaged. They were crawling out to greet me: legless men, armless boys, women in tents. Children without teeth. Hair stringy and matted.
Help us, they said.
Help us. A woman appeared. I guessed it was a woman but I couldnt see her through her burqa. "Twelve years of schooling," she said, and she kept repeating the phrase like some mantra, like it would get her a job.
For the first time I was talking to a woman I couldnt see. I could trace the words as they exited the vent, watch the fabric flutter as she breathed and spoke. But no face. No mouth. "Twelve years of schooling," she said. She had a name, Shah Khukhu, fifty, a mother of five, missing a finger and a leg. She was hiking up her burqa to show me.
*A burqua is a head-to-toe garment worn by women.
Excerpted from The Forever War by Dexter Filkins Copyright © 2008 by Dexter Filkins. 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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