We are connected by fiber-optic cables, technological threads that crisscross the world. Over 4,200 kilometers of fiber optics exist in Afghanistan, and you are there, a mere 11,297 kilometers away from me. Messages of hope, frustration and the mundanities of everyday life—both in Arlington, Virginia and there in Kabul, Afghanistan—are transmitted over thousands and thousands of kilometers each day. The transfer of communications via fiber-optic cables is punctuated by precise moments in time—first in the morning, then midday and finally in late afternoon. Then the wires go silent. The hours pass while you slumber, beneath the snow-capped mountains of the Hindu Kush, where the Taliban hide with their weapons and where almond trees grow during the summer months.
You told me about the mountains and their snow-covered peaks on a recent call. It was sunny in Kabul, and you were sitting outside before going work, work that is a mere 11,297 kilometers away from here.
Your sentences, your words, become more halting just before you say the same phrase at the end of each phone call.
“I’m gonna let you go now.”
It is similar to what you said the night before you left in early September, nearly seven months ago, “I have to go now,” meaning you had to board a metal bird to fly a distance of 11,297 kilometers, to that mountainous place filled with improvised explosive devices and murder.
11,297 kilometers away from me, to that place high in the mountains, that place of war and terror and loss.
Before you hang up though, for that brief moment while we talk, time collapses in on itself. We enter a sanctuary of memories, something we’ve carefully built to remember that what we have is sacred. Although time seems to collapse in on itself, it also plays a nasty game, something I watch carefully. Time is still a vicious thief in these precious moments we have together over telephone cords. Wielding a razor-sharp ax, she hacks each minute into pieces, pieces so small that they disappear, leaving us with no trace of space within her limits. Left to her wicked devices, time as torturer halts all movement as soon as you say, “I’m gonna let you go.” With those words, I am sent back to her prison, an oubliette with an hourglass in which the granules of sand race towards its center point. That is when I’m truly reminded – once again – of the distance, of the 11,297 kilometers between us.
For now, the homecoming is but a fantasy.