I stood on the balcony, staring out at the carnage. Houses burned. People screamed. Fires raged throughout the kingdom. It was still impossible for me to believe. To think it would take this destruction to convince me, to show me what I had been unwilling to believe. What I had turned my back on. I walked back into the room fingering the fine silk quilt of my bed. The way it shone so slightly in the moonlight, the beautiful dragon pattern woven into it so delicately, everything about it seemed to open my eyes the longer I looked. How much blood had been shed to buy this blanket? How many lives lost for my sake? If only I had faced this sooner, maybe my heart wouldn’t ache so much. I knew reality would catch up with me in the end….
My father, the ruler of a large province in Afghanistan was a well-loved figure. I was watching from the balcony that day as well when he’d been mingling with the crowd, touching babies and showering rose petals on them. People called him a good kind ruler, one who had abolished the lawlessness which his predecessor had wrought. As I stared, my chest seemed to swell with pride every time a person screamed his name or wished him a long life. He looked back, seeing me on the balcony and grinned, waving to me. The whole crowd followed his lead, crying out my name now, raining blessings upon me. The son of their ruler, it brought tears to my eyes. My mother had passed away long ago so I had no one else. To me, he was everything. I idolised my father.
Later in the day, he took me for a walk, laying an arm on my shoulders as we walked, flanked by a crowd of men in suits I’d always known as his “friends.” As we waved and gifts were thrust upon us, an old man broke out of the crowd and began screaming. The profanities that spilled from his mouth were so filthy that Father covered my ears. Before that however, I’d heard many odd things. In his stream of frenzied abuse I’d heard him say that my father was wicked, that he was a murderer and he would rot in hell. I wrested free from my father’s grip, ready to defend my father against this insolent man, but felt a wet glob hit my face. I felt the warm spit dribble down my cheek. “Spawn of evil. Your father did worse to my son,” he said.
I was drawn back by my father, whose face was now drawn and white with rage. He hissed something under his breath and the men in suits closed in around the old man. I was pushed to keep walking as I asked father what had happened. He answered me shortly by saying the old man was insane. He would be taken to hospital. I believed every word. To men, his words were fact. It never occurred to me that he was lying. However, that night when I went to sleep I heard the screams. I’d only heard it because I was lying on the floor. The slightest sound had escaped through the floorboards of the mansion. I’d fallen as I turned in my sleep and I could hear the agonised moans when I pressed my ear to the wooden planks. I remember that I had went down into the basement, the only part of the house where the noise could be coming from. I was met with a terrifying sight. The old man who had spat on me was prostrate on the floor, blood weeping from a dozen cuts on his back. I saw a number of men holding cruel barbed whips. Evan as I watched they mercilessly lashed the old man’s back, drawing a small groan from him. He was too weak to do anything else.
I opened my mouth to tell the men to stop, but before I could I was bundled up and brought back out into the upper house by a grip. I knew only too well. My father. He stood there smiling at me, and I sat numbly in the kitchen as he made me a cup of hot chocolate. He placed the mug in front of me and I regarded him with terrified eyes. “Why didn’t you make them stop Father? Who are those men?” I asked.
He continued to smile, urging me to drink before he talked. He nursed his own cup has he spoke, his words turning my blood cold. “Son, sometimes there are people who disturb the peace. It’s never good to leave these people be. All you need to know is that if I’m happy the people are too.” That was the end of the discussion. I couldn’t bring myself to go on. His approval was too important to me. But I had never been fooled. There was an unspoken message in those words. I spent the next few nights with my ear pressed against the floor to listen to those screams, but I heard them in my mind for years to come.
Whenever I walked into the market I would notice things I’d never seen before. The way people smiled but never met my gaze. How they begged my father to touch their children, but never let him hold them, as if he would snatch them away the second the children left their hands. The acrid stench of fear hung in the air and every time I walked through the streets I felt hatred bore into my back. Rebellion hung in the air and we all knew it. Maybe that’s why when we were close to it, my father took every precaution to make sure I was safe. He became frantic, forbidding me to leave the house lest I be kidnapped or harmed. But it was no use. The people refused to stay quiet any longer. I could only guess what crimes he had committed over the years, how many people he had destroyed. However, the one thing I was sure of was that the luxury of this mansion, the lifestyle we lead and the bodyguards who escorted us had been paid with countless suffering. Nothing in the mansion was clean. Including me.
When the revolt started my father ran out, but before he left he’d given me a quick smile and told me that everything would be all right. I had nothing to worry about. I watched him leave and knew that it was a lie. I went to the balcony to watch the chaos as people burnt down buildings and overwhelmed the police. Years of anger and resentment had been unleashed and I saw my father being subdued and beaten by the people. Turning away, tears streamed from my eyes as I waited on my bed. There was no hope that I could ever have escaped this and when my father died, I heard his final scream as it echoed across the town and the sobbing didn’t stop, my hands shaking as they gripped my legs and my body shaking desperate for some comfort. The real pain was to come when the cheering started. My nails bit into my legs so hard that my pants were soaked. I finally had blood on my hands. When they came to arrest me, I didn’t even fight back. Reality had finally confronted me and I hated it. “You don’t have to tell me anything,” I said quietly. “Please just kill me.” My last tears blurred my sight, but they opened my eyes.