parameters of justice

by Kristina Woodhill

rarely were we children witness
to the laws meted out
for crimes between Afghans
within our extended community
where foreigners
were wise to keep clean noses
and speak politely at all times

just at the periphery of my
young mind was the knowledge
of this country's eye-for-eye retribution
and at least one large noisy crowd
lives within my memory
spoken of in hushed tones
by my father
behind our closed doors
after the fact

justice had been done
the living
or what remained of them
moved on

my sense of the order of things
in Lashkar Gah was as simple
as the flat dirt street on which we walked to school
the narrow ditch in front our house
that channeled precious water for irrigation
the tough green pine trees that flanked
our wide straight streets
lending us their dusty shade
while helping break the drying winds
and the oleander hedges that lined
the alleys behind the older houses

the oleanders were large dense
broad leaf evergreen shrubs
providing inexpensive fencing
and privacy for side-by-side living
softening our harsh environment
as well as perfuming the air
with their lovely, fragrant pink flowers
they are one of nature's most poisonous plants
we did not touch the oleander

the night my friend walked home
from our house to hers
a short 100 yards away
the man who grabbed at her
young body from the shadows
perhaps thought this blond
blue-eyed foreign woman-child
might make a quick moment
of pleasure more exotic
might provide a quick fortune
from one who knew where to sell
a premium product and make
it quietly disappear into the desert

whatever his motives
he was unprepared for
my friend's quick mind
unprepared for
her courage and
passion to survive
unprepared for the flashlight
suddenly shining into
his blinded eyes and face
giving her a split second of surprise
that let her wrench free
and run for the safety of her home

there were no phones, no televisions
no crews of histrionic reporters
parked outside the victim's house the next day
we had none of those
news of the incident spread slowly, quietly
and discretely by word of mouth
from parent to parent, then child to child
now, as a parent, I can imagine
the silent prayers of thanks
and the frustrated gnashing of teeth
as the girl's friend I was tearfully grateful
and humbled by her courage

the local commandant was notified
although I am ignorant of what followed
apparently suspects were brought in
and my friend with her parents
were asked to look at them
for possible identification
my friend always shook her head
no, not him, he is not the one
the excitement and concerns from the incident
slowly subsided
and we, too, got on with our lives

Only later in a quiet moment
held sacred by close friends
where whispered voices
echo aching hearts
did she tell me she indeed
had been shown
the man who had accosted her
on that frightening night
privately she with her parents had decided
they would not implicate this man
for my friend was safe and whole
and the man's fate would have been unspeakable
one they chose not to cause

games of chance are popular pastimes
in Afghanistan
betting on buzkachi or dog fights is common place
roll the dice
flip the coin
choose which cup covers the pea
regard carefully the stranger
standing next to you
consider that your fate might someday
rest quietly
on the tip
of her tongue


Author's Note: Only once in the 6 years I lived in Afghanistan was I aware of such an occurence. We lived peacefully and happily beside these people. This could have happened anywhere in the world - the particular judicial system of this region makes the event unique in my mind and the actions and bravery of my friend have been an example I will not forget. Edited and removed three stanzas just to see how it feels this way for awhile (12/1/07)

Posted on 11/30/2007
Copyright © 2020 Kristina Woodhill

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Mara Meade on 12/01/07 at 01:05 AM

Kristina, I give you the only word I can utter after reading this: akh...

Posted by A. Paige White on 12/01/07 at 05:48 AM

It is a story you've told beautifully and it kept my eyes and attention glued til the end. You've done a marvelous job sharing a traumatic childhood event.

Posted by Elizabeth Jill on 12/04/07 at 04:03 PM

You are a master writer, and this is yet another incredible piece. One cannot help but feel every nth of this. This part here:

regard carefully the stranger
standing next to you
consider that your fate might someday
rest quietly
on the tip
of her tongue

on its own ówould be a perfect opening preface remark on your book of Afghanistan, my friend. The one you must write.
Posted by David Hill on 12/13/08 at 01:23 AM

This is a good piece to ponder. Your friend and her family were very brave, and they chose forgiveness. And the terrible thing about being human is that their mercy may have set the man on the right path, or it may have left him free to find another victim. That is what makes our stabs at justice so excruciating.

Posted by Laura Doom on 12/16/09 at 04:22 PM

A valuable, if unpalatable, taste of indigenous cultural norms, portrayed from an individual perspective -- to balance the generic, statistical coverage which frequently affords us acute discomfort in consumption before egestion brings relief in ignorance.
This could have happened anywhere in the world -- it does happen; everywhere in the world...
equally: We lived peacefully and happily beside these people. -- so who is qualified to judge, define or impose anything on anyone beyond their comfort zone?
Yeh -- book material...any chance of posting the entire original as a journal entry?
[note to self -- read more, type less :]

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