Boy and girl
A modern-day Afghan fable
by SABHYATA TIMSINA
But the love part is only a fragment of the plot Siba Shakib weaves into her phenomenal tale. Shakib gives us a peek into the struggles of a woman compelled to live as a man and how she combats these conflicts to finally realise her true identity. This story would have been extraordinary anywhere, but the fact that it is set in Afghanistan makes it all the more potent.
It starts with the shrill cry of a newborn. To the Commander's fury his wife Daria has given birth to a girl, not a boy who would grow up to be a strong warrior to carry on his legacy. Ashamed that he could not prove himself a true man, the Commander decides to bring the child up as a boy. And so Samira becomes Samir.
Samir grows kicking up sand dunes in the desert, going hunting with his father and learning how to fight. As the years go by, he walks, talks and feels like a man. Bashir is Samir's only friend in the village, but is no match to the brawny, hefty Samir. Nevertheless, Samir and Bashir become good friends, Samir teaching Bashir the tricks of the trade of being a he-man.
In time, Bashir realises he is attracted to Samir, and Shakib skillfully presents the transition of Samir into Samira through the identity crisis that she begins to face. Samir is distraught when he finds out he has to wed Gol-Sar, the chieftain's daughter, but he is secretly pleased to posses such a stunning wife. Her world is torn into two. One that wants to become Bashir's wife and one that forces her to keep her secret safe by being Gol-Sar's husband. Having married Gol-Sar Samira is wrought with guilt at not being able to become a true woman.
When the secret is out with Bashir, they run away to start their lives afresh. Samira is at pains to act like a woman, and Bashir is fed up with her manly ways. He wants her to sit at home behind a veil and be a wife that will 'carry his son in her belly'. Samira decides she cannot live as Bashir's woman. She has dreams and aspirations of her own, a future that she knows she can pave by herself. Moving on to pursue her dreams to become a pilot, she promises Bashir that she will fly over their terrain and call out his name.
Shakib urges us to put ourselves in Samira's shoes. Her trauma at finding out that she was never who she thought she was. Her struggles at pacifying the people in her life, as she herself battled to find answers for the way her life was. Presented in simple present tense with no direct quotes, the story reads like a modern-day parable hinting at a symbolism in every turn of event.
But you can feel what Samira feels: a woman who had the gumption to confront obstacles and follow her heart.