My Project "The Afghans"

 

Chapter 3       

Bilal was sitting in his kindergarten class and wanted to run away.  He was worried that his teacher was looking at him and that he knew that Bilal had not done his homework.    Yesterday his friends from the neighbourhood had come and they had played all afternoon, and Bilal had forgotten all about the homework. He put his head down and would not look up, for he was afraid of the teacher asking him for his homework. Suddenly he had to look up as there was a lot of noise of gunshots.   He saw a human shape made of fire coming towards him and yelling at him.

“Homework, where is your homework?”

The human shape on fire asked him again and again. Bilal got up and started running.   He wanted to run away from that demon.  He was sobbing and running.   Whichever way he turned another demon would come towards him. He ran with his full strength but the evil sprit got hold of him and shook him.

“Wake up! Wake up Bilal.”  His eyes suddenly opened. His mother Catherine was shaking him.

“Wake up! It’s just a dream.”  Bilal was soaking wet with sweat and tears, his mother wiped his face and said.  “It’s only a dream, love”.

“Yes, thank God, I am sorry mom! I woke you up in the middle of the night,” he said hoarsely.

“No need to be sorry! Was it the same dream of fire and destruction?”

“Yes!”

“I will bring a glass of hot milk for you.” She turned to go.

“No please, please don’t leave me.”

“Alright.” she sat down on his bed holding him, and after a few minutes when he was a little better, said, “It will only take a minute to bring the milk. It will help you to sleep.”

She smiled and went to the kitchen to fetch the milk.

“What is the matter?” his father also came out of the bedroom.

“Nothing is the matter.” she replied.  She was a kind hearted woman of forty five. Her husband Victor Romanov, on the other hand, was a bad tempered and violent man. Bilal was afraid of him.

“You are spoiling this boy, tell him to go to sleep and come back to the bedroom.” he shouted.

“I am coming in a minute.”  She said, but she sat with Bilal for an hour until he went back to sleep.  Bilal was very young then and as he grew older, his nightmares grew less and less frequent.  However, if he had some problem in school or at home he would have the same terrible childhood nightmares all over again, of burning men coming towards him, grabbing him and dragging him down in a bottomless inferno, where there was only smoke and fire.

His father was not very affectionate towards his only son. He was reserve, uncommunicative and snobbish.. His work kept him away from home a lot.  He was working in the interior ministry of Kremlin, and never discussed his work at home.  He was said to be a trusted and respected comrade of the Communist party.  Nobody knew what his job was.  The rumours were that he was working for the KGB, the Russian secret police.

Bilal’s mother loved and pampered him.  She doted and indulged him, and tried to give him anything he wanted.  He was very popular at school, as he was a brilliant student and had many friends.  At home he was very lonely.

His mother also worked but she never neglected him. It was his father who was difficult, and seldom showed any interest in him.  Victor Romanov was fond of his vodka.

.  In the severe winter months of Moscow his intake of alcohol would increase.  He would sometimes come home drunk.  Those were bad nights for Catherine.  Victor would be more obnoxious and short tempered.  Bilal would hide in his room when ever Victor became aggressive.  He was terrified of his father’s drunken moods.  Victor would sometimes even hit Catherine on a small provocation.

Bilal was very fond of football.  He was a good centre back and was in his school’s team.

He needed football shoes, which were very expensive but he wanted them desperately.

“Mama I want the shoes for my foot ball practice.”

“Okay, I will ask Victor to take you to the sports shop and get you one pair of shoes.”

Unfortunately Victor came home drunk. It was difficult for him to take the pressure of his work as he was in charge of Afghan war, and the war was not going according to the plan.

“Victor honey, please take Bilal to the sports shop. He needs a pair of shoes?”

Catherine requested.

“What another pair of shoes? He bought one a few months back.”

“Yes, they are old, he wants new ones now.”

“Well he can’t have them.”

“Why?”

They started to argue and the argument changed into ugly words. Suddenly Victor slapped Catherine.

 “How dare you?” Catherine yelled.

“I will dare as much as I want, you are spoiling him. He should be disciplined if he is to live here, other wise I will throw him out of my house.”  Victor said.

“You leave him alone! I will get him those shoes with my own money.”

Their argument aggravated and Bilal could not understand why they were fighting.  He was hiding in his room but he could hear everything.  He wanted to come out of hiding and tell his father that he did not want a new pair of shoes, he would make do with his old pair, but he was too frightened to speak to his father..  He hated when ever his parents fought because of him.

The next day Catherine got him the shoes and Bilal was very happy.  When he came home from school he tried them on and the shoes were of his size, and fit him perfectly.  Catherine came back from work and Bilal hugged her and said, 

“Mama thanks you for convincing daddy to get me the shoes.”

“No need to thank Victor for it, I got them for you.”  Catherine said bitterly.

“Oh!” Bilal could not say anything but he wondered why his father did not like him. That night he had his nightmare again. He knew that whenever he was unhappy about something the nightmare would come back. He learned to live with them.  

Bilal had many friends at school.  One of his classmates was a girl called Natasha. She was his special friend. They were class fellows since he joined the school. Both of them were very intelligent, and they had the healthy competition between them, and both of them would compete for the first position in class. One day she started teasing him about his inheritance. Laughingly she asked.
”Why are you called Bilal? I know it’s not a Russian name.”

“I don’t know, my parents gave me this name and that’s what I am. I am Bilal Romanov and I am a Russian”.

She smiled and said, “Maybe you are Bilal, but you are definitely not Russian”.

“What do you mean?” Bilal asked.

She smiled sweetly, “Maybe you were adopted!”

“Me adopted? No way. I am very much a Russian and I am a Romanov, how could you say these things to me? I am very much a Russian like you, like anybody else.”

“Well you do not look like your mother or father for that matter. Perhaps you were adopted after all.” She was enjoying teasing him.

“No! No! I was not adopted at all.” He was very upset.

 Natasha realized that and said. “Okay! You are a Russian, I was just teasing you,” and Bilal looked away.  He was really very upset by her comments. He had Natasha’s words engraved on his mind and he could not forget them. 

He was so upset that he had the same troubling dream that night, but he was alone in his room upstairs and his parent’s bedroom was not next-door, like the old times.  He woke up all soaked in sweat and tears, but he did not get up from the bed, instead he started analyzing his dream and thinking about it.

‘Was he really adopted? He thought; does his past has troubled memories in his sub-conscious mind? Maybe he had a very bad experience in his childhood.’

He was awake for a long time.  By early morning he managed to sleep.  It was Sunday and nobody came to wake him up.  He got up at about ten in the morning feeling very hungry, came down and saw his mother in the kitchen.

“Good morning.” She smiled.

“Good morning, mum. I’m feeling very hungry.”

“You must have slept late yesterday so I did not disturb you and your father left in the morning.”   She said..

“Where did he go, Mama?” he asked.

“To work outside Moscow.”

“Where?” He insisted.

“To Georgia” She said.

“Mama, what is my father’s job?”

She looked at him.

 “Why are you suddenly interested where your father works, or what he does?”

“All my friends know what their fathers are and what they do, and they discuss it amongst themselves. It is only I who has no clue about my own father’s job, or what his rank is.”

“Well!” She looked worried.

 “You know we are all equal, we are all comrades and we all work for our great country and the country in return looks after us.”

“Okay Mama, it’s alright, I do not want to know.” He said and changed the subject of conversation.

“What am I getting for my breakfast?” He asked. 

From that day onwards he started noticing things, like why his mother did not want to discuss his father’s job, or why his father never took him anywhere with him.  His class-mates fathers are very proud of their sons and usually took them everywhere.  Bilal never went out with his father, not even once in his childhood.   He was growing up and looked up to his father for love or some attention but never got any.  He also noticed that his eyes and hair were dark brown, while his parents were very fair.  His mother was an ash blond and his father had a very light brown hair.   He knew that there was something very wrong; but he could not figure it  out.  Whenever he would ask Catherine about his father’s attitude towards him, she would have a ready made excuse for him.

“He is very busy,” or

“His job is very important,” or

“He is working hard for our comforts,” She would say.

Bilal stopped asking such naive questions and started noticing things for himself.  He thought maybe he was born to his mother from her earlier marriage to some one else.   

Bilal was on high honour role in his school. He thought that his father would be really proud of him. Catherine was full of joy and she praised him on his achievement.  “I am proud of you son.  You can take admission in any university you like; they will open their doors for you.”

“Thank you Mama. I wish Dad was here and felt as proud of me as you are.” Bilal said wistfully.

“Yes! I know. He will be coming back after two weeks.” Catherine said.

Bilal showed his high grades to his father expecting praise and encouragement from him, but he got a lukewarm response.  Bilal was not surprised. He knew in his heart of hearts that his father had no love for him.