The day Kabul crumbled, mourning attire replaced our school uniforms, shrouding our spirits in sorrow. I often ponder if that marked the inception of my heart’s descent into despair. Unsettling emotions choked my throat, denying me the ease of breath. Indeed, that day became synonymous with the collapse of all my aspirations alongside Kabul. At precisely 5 in the morning, I awakened, stretched, and, with anticipation and a forced smile, delved into the pages of my tenth-grade geography textbook. The eagerness to learn and complete assignments consumed me, as if tomorrow didn’t exist, and today held the sole opportunity for study.
I was memorizing the information about the Baba Mountain range. I kept repeating to myself, “The most famous peak of the Baba Mountain range is Shah Fuladi, standing at an elevation of 5140 meters above sea level…” At that moment, my older brother came in and looked at me, saying, “Kabul has fallen. Stop all this effort; everything is over!” But I couldn’t believe it until I, out of curiosity, contacted one of the teachers guiding the university entrance exam course and asked if I could attend the course today or not. However, I received a discouraging answer. There was no solution; I had to accept that everything was over, and I had to cope with those circumstances. I had to accept that the dream of studying, going to university, and achieving my goal was over. The days were tough and challenging; I would always sit in a corner of the house in silence, or wander around asking myself why everything had suddenly come to an end. Why couldn’t I study anymore? Why couldn’t I achieve my dreams?
My mind was filled with whys, and I heard only one answer for all of them: “Because you’re a girl.” But for me, that answer was illogical and unacceptable. Every moment I remembered that I could no longer study, an unconscious smile vanished from my lips, my heart ached, and a lump formed in my throat, and I sought solace in sleep. In dreams, I would forget the sorrow and the weight that pressed on my chest.
After the regime change, I had no motivation to live, but one day my eyes fell on the paper I had stuck on the wall. On that paper was my daily schedule, and at the bottom of the page, a beautiful sentence from one of my teachers was written: “Either strive as much as your desires or wish as much as your efforts.” On that day, I was shaken, and I decided to start organizing my life again. Until September 14, 2021, the courses resumed, but there was no news of girls’ schools. My mind was in turmoil, and I was undecided about whether to resume self-learning or not. Is studying in such a situation good or not? A thousand and one questions spun in my mind.
On one side, whenever I saw anyone, they would say, “Why do you seek education? It is all over!” Even my family, at times, opposed my going to the course because I was the first girl in our family planning to take the university entrance exam and enter university. In that regard, I faced more challenges than anyone else. From family problems and opposition to external challenges and opposition. Not only me but all my friends and classmates faced thousands of problems like mine and continued to study.
We endured countless disappointments until we once again took up the pen and moved towards the course with firmer steps than before. Our hearts were warm with our goal. We felt neither the cold nor the warmth. We sacrificed our necessities—food, clothing, taxi fare, and more—to buy a 140 Afghani book. We walked half-hour and one-hour routes on foot. On the way, our steps were so brisk that our sweat flowed. In that winter, we didn’t think about rain, cold, or snow. Instead, our hearts were warm with the sacred fire of hope. We dedicated all our time to our goal.
The year 2022 arrived, and since then, another year has passed. With all its twists and turns, though immensely challenging, it passed. As long as the courses remained open to us, my friends and I continued to strive, but we didn’t know what would happen. We were an ensemble of 500 in one class, fighting together in the fortress of knowledge. We didn’t just learn Newton’s laws, derivatives, integrals, molar concentrations, prosody, and proper writing. We learned what it meant to be human, to be truthful, to have sincere intentions, and the laws of living. Oh! Perhaps, if we knew what would happen on September 30, 2022, we wouldn’t be so hard on ourselves.
On September 30, 2022, exactly at 6 AM on a Saturday, I energetically headed towards the course with hope. Driven by the motivation to achieve higher grades this week, I arrived at the course at 6:30 AM, obtained the question sheet from the administration, and started solving the problems. However, due to the tight space, I couldn’t write properly. I went to the adjacent classroom and worked on the questions. With each solved question, I smiled to myself and vowed that this week I would surely score above 300. I was on question 40 in mathematics when the sound of a gunshot echoed from the alley. For a moment, I thought the Taliban had caught a thief in the alley, and they were shooting him from behind. But no, it wasn’t anything like that. As the assailant approached, the sound of gunfire became even closer. The intruder entered the adjacent classroom, directly firing a Kalashnikov over my classmates. We were hiding under the desks in fear. In that instant, with a loud explosion that had a terrifying sound, cries echoed everywhere. In the blink of an eye, all the efforts, hardships, pains, and sorrows became equalized in the dust with that very explosion.
We were supposed to take the university entrance mock exam in two weeks, but for some of my friends and classmates, everything had come to an end. At that moment, I was under a desk when a horrifying sound filled the entire space. We trembled in fear. A few moments passed, and I emerged from under the desk. I saw that everything was covered in dust, smoke, debris, gunpowder, blood, bits of flesh and clothing, shattered glass, and moans. I passed over the pools of blood and scattered pieces of flesh and exited from the back door. On the way home, I went so pitifully that I had never felt such a feeling. How others judged me was not important to me. With tearful eyes and clothes covered in dust and tatters, I reached home.
Yes, I wasn’t dead. I was breathing, but I was shattered from within. This time, I had fallen to the ground in such a way that I couldn’t rise anymore. I was in the worst mental state. There was no tranquility in my life. Nightmares haunted me, and sleep had fled from my eyes. Nothing, neither dreams nor food, was bearable for me. Sometimes, when I looked in the mirror, I even scared myself. After a week, the course started again, but this time, Aziza, Aliza, Zahra, Raihana, Fatima, Malika, Wahida, and the rest of my friends were not there. The explosion had taken 53 of my classmates with it to another world. With broken hearts and wounds that had not yet healed, we started studying again. Only one week remained until the university entrance exam, and in this challenging week, we studied hard and participated in the exam, but with hearts full of pain. I managed to achieve a good score and secured a place in the general physics department of Kabul University, but it was in vain, and I couldn’t even see the department I had worked so hard to obtain. My last hope was a scholarship I had received from an international university, but due to not having a passport, I couldn’t go and achieve my long-standing goals. Now, I am here, in a world of unread books, filling my moments by reading them and finding solace for the unhealed wounds of my heart.