An Afghan mother tells her child, “The coward dies but his shrieks live long after.”1
AUGUST 1. I waked to discover I was alone. No Afghans—and no bread, tea or sugar. The stale bread crusts sat in a swarm of flies. A brawny spider was making off with crumbs the size of my fingernail. I fetched water from the spring in an empty ammunition can and stirred up the coals to warm up the tea. An oily slick undulated on the surface of the water. Slowly some mujahideen dribbled back. I was feeling low. Things picked up when I found out we were moving out of Kootybasta that day for a new camp.
When we were ready to leave in the late afternoon, they helped me tie my tsadur into a backpack that contained my sleeping bag and two RPG rockets. We started off around the mortar mountain; Rauf stuck close to me as my truh, my uncle. Soon I was also carrying the brush for cleaning the recoilless rifle whose long handle had to be maneuvered around obstacles. We stopped at an exposed stretch of hillside. They told me to follow after two minutes, then they hustled across. We were moving double-time across rock faces with precarious footholds and over steep loose-dirt inclines, and it was hard to keep up. At twilight we reached a grassy hilltop where the other mujahideen were already praying, and hurried to join them.
Early the next morning, after a miserable night in the rain, Rauf and some others left on an RPG patrol. It seemed that a few mujahideen did most of the fighting, guys like Rauf, Sherif or Inzer Gul, because fighting, like the possession of a Kalashnikov rifle, was highly prized and sought after, and not everyone was entrusted with it. The others were literally hewers of firewood and drawers of drinking water.
In the daylight our new position, which was called Sangar, turned out to be close enough to Asmar Mountain that they told me not to walk around in the open. The recoilless rifle, a strange thin-walled tube with a bulge at the breach end and holes to vent the detonation, absorbed their attention, but there were no hits, only the tremendous noise. They rarely gave any warning