Red Poppies

BY: NIAZ A SENGUPTA


A somewhat fictionalized journal of a young queer woman's experiences in Afghanistan during the rise of the Taliban (2021).


trigger warning: mentions of sexual assault, queerphobia, death, violence, drugs


August 13, 2021: My name, Gulnoor translates to "the light of flower, divinity, and radiance" and like each one of us siblings, Father had named me too. Speaking of him, he hasn't received my calls in the past two hours and I'm starting to worry. How can I not? Kandahar has fallen, Kabul will inevitably follow suit, and yet, he's out there toiling from dawn to dusk. I don't have the guts to log into my social media accounts anymore; the anxiety makes my mind ponder over the question of whether we would ever be able to make it to the other side of the world or our lives — although that's for God to decide. The doorbell is being rung continuously; it's Father, he's panting heavily.


August 14, 2021: I miss Zahra. She came into my life like spring and her departure drained the spring from my life. Now with the Taliban rising to power, I doubt I'll ever see her again, nor the red poppies enveloping the fields we used to spend our afternoons in. I don't know why; perhaps it's the guilt of the fact that the opium from these flowers pushed Afghans to the brink of destruction, or simply heartache. Aban is watching the news, even though I tell him not to. The horror in his pale-green eyes matches the one he had when I came out four years ago, he told me it's haram and that I was bound to face execution at the hands of the Taliban; I was afraid then, not so much anymore.


August 15, 2021: "Why can't we just move elsewhere?" I asked Father, who was tending to his cacti on the windowsill, "Why don't we go to the United States like Zahra's family did?" I asked couple more questions but his concentration was unwavering, so was that sorrowful half-smile on his wrinkled face; neither Aban nor I resembled him, maybe Afra did — but she didn't live long enough to answer me. Our fates won't be much different anyway. Frustratedly walking back to my room, I can't help but peek out through the curtains into the street: they've surrounded a middle-aged woman who didn't bring a male companion to the fruit market. The cacophony has drowned out her pleas; but I know she will suffer, just like Afra did.


August 16, 2021: President Ghani fled last night, we're doomed. Aban is watching the news again; I yearn to go on a walk to one of our neighbouring gardens, but I'm concerned about his safety. Kabul has fallen, the world has left us here to die, no one will evacuate us from our deathbed. There's knocking on the door, twilight has set in and we know it can't be Father. My sixteen-year-old brother's face is painted with an expression I can never possibly comprehend, he's not even looking at me anymore. I tiptoe to my room and hide under the bed, internally cursing myself for leaving him alone. "Open up!" they scream and I wonder if Afra's screams were of the same degree when they raped and burnt her.


August 17, 2021: Just like that, I burnt my high school diploma on the kitchen stove, unknowingly triggering Aban's asthma. He's trying his best to cover it up, but those eyes don't well up for nothing; I chose to not acknowledge it either. Father didn't return last night, now I'm determined to depart from this hellhole. I wait for my brother to come out of his room but he doesn't, and my present intentions refrain me from checking up on him. I scribble lines from one of Rumi's poems — "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there," for Aban or whoever finds it, and leave it on the kitchen table, before setting out into a world I'll never be prepared for.