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       The taxi drove slowly down the streets of Kabul, but Kala’s heart pounded as though they were racing. Her eyes watered from the rich scent of roasting meats. She took in a shaky breath and let it fill her lungs till they burned. This was the smell of Afghanistan. The land her father abandoned. The land her mother had begged her—with red, puffy eyes—not to visit.

      The cheerful cling-clang of music filled her head and spilled into the market. A boy sat on the ground cracking nuts to the rhythm of the song. A man with a beard like seaweed showed a turkey to figures in blue burkhas. Raw chunks of meat dangled from either side of his stand.

      “Where we go now, lady?” asked the driver, his teeth gleaming beneath a thick mustache.

      “I don’t know,” said Kala, “Some place real, where the tourists don’t go.”

      “Ah, but that is where all tourists go,” said the driver with a wink.

      “Somewhere else then.”

       They turned into an empty street, and the scents and sounds of the market faded. The road unwound before the weather-beaten taxi and the dust rose faster and thicker. Dust everywhere. As though this were a corner someone had forgotten to clean.

       They were only driving for twenty minutes when Kala saw it. A mob of people: shouting, laughing, singing. One thousand, maybe more, packed tightly. Young boys, their fathers, and their grandfathers wrapped in layers of ragged clothing.

       “What is it?” Kala’s eyes raced from face to excited face. She felt drawn to them. These were not the savages her father resented and her mother feared. They were real and bursting with something she wanted to feel deep under her skin.

        “This is celebration,” said the driver, “You stay in car?”

        “No.”

        “Better stay in car.”

        “Just give me a minute.”

        The car door opened with a whine, and Kala stepped onto the cool sand. A few people glanced at her but quickly turned back. A skinny boy, about eight years old, squatted beside her with a tin of cakes.

      “Ddoddei!” He pointed to the cakes and patted his stomach, “They good, clean!”

Kala reached her hand into her pocket and drew out a dollar.

      “Good?”

      “Very much good!” The boy grinned, grabbed the money, and handed her a cake. His sleeve was stained dark brown, his wrist deeply wounded. He noticed Kala’s expression and smiled, waving humbly, as though she had paid him a compliment.

      “What happened?” Kala whispered

      “Dog,” said the boy.

       “What?”

       The center of the crowd erupted with chaos. There were shouts, joyful and angry at once.

        “Come,” said the boy, “I show you.”

        He ducked into the crowd as though it were bushes and vanished. Kala slipped in after him and followed as he weaved through row after row of people. Her heart raced, and she dug her fingers in the small, sticky pastry in her palm. The shouts grew louder and more frantic, and then she was in the front row. A sharp pain spread across her arm, and she jumped back.

        “Tshéghe, tshéghe!” shouted an old man with a thick, red turban. He clutched a leather tipped stick and whipped anyone who moved too close to the center. The center.

        Kala stared as men dragged two massive dogs into the center of the crowd. Both dogs were thick like bears, one brown, the other black. They lunged at one other with a ferocity that sent their handlers staggering forward.

        “Watch!” whispered the boy, hugging the tin of cakes to his chest.

        The animals flew forward in a whirlwind of dust and fur. Their enormous bodies collided in midair, and their teeth bore into one another’s flesh. The brown dog grasped the other’s neck in its jaws and shook its head. It twisted in the air, shrieking, blood gushing onto the sand. In another second it was over. The brown dog was tied up and led out of the arena. The black dog, whimpering and bleeding, was dragged out by its leg.

      “You drop cake,” said the boy, pointing to the ground, “Want to buy more?”

       Kala shook her head. She watched the blood seep into the sand, and she breathed hard to keep herself from vomiting.

       “Why do you do this?’ Kala whispered.

       “It is like festival,” said the boy, “We have nothing else.”

       Kala watched the faces, beaming with anticipation. Were these savages or just people living in savage conditions, having nothing to do but savage things? She thought of her mother, holding her head in her hands.

       “It’s part of who I am,” Kala had said.

       “It’s a part we’ve all chosen to forget,” her mother had said hoarsely, her voice spent.

       “I can’t forget what I don’t know,” had been Kala’s reply. But the argument was just as fruitless as all the others. Her mother would never understand. Only this time, Kala was old enough to make her own decision. Or maybe it had been a long time since she was old enough.

        “This is part I don’t like,” said the boy tensely, “This is test of dogs for sale.”

         Kala couldn’t move. She could hardly breath. The crowd pressed closer to the center, pushing her forward like a rushing wave.

         A tall teenage boy led a dog into the center. It had a pristine white coat. Still a puppy. A killer in training. The audience cheered and the young handler waved proudly. From the opposite side of the arena, an old man emerged with a much smaller brown pup. He dragged it out by a rope around its neck, and the animal cowered by the man’s legs. He kicked it sharply in the ribs, sending it flying forward. The puppy yelped, and the crowd pointed and smirked.

         “This is part I don’t like,” repeated the boy and set down his tin.
 
         The handlers released the dogs, and the little brown pup raced toward the crowd, his tail between his legs. The handler kicked him back into the center, and the white dog leapt forward, snarling. The pup cringed, his head lowered, his tiny body quivering.  The white dog sprung on top of him, tearing into his neck, ripping off chunks of flesh, sinking its teeth into his face. A puddle of urine formed beneath him and the audience roared with laughter.

          The teenage boy grasped his dog. The man in the turban yelled something, and several men stepped forward, waving and shouting.

           “They selling fight dog,” explained the boy, his large brown eyes filled with pain. The bidding lasted several minutes, and the new owner beamed as he led away his prize. The man in the turban shouted once more, and the audience laughed.

            “He ask who want buy this other dog,” said the boy with a wistful smile.

            “I do!”

            The boy spun around and stared at Kala. She stood in the center of the ring, pale and shaking, her hand clutching a wad of bills.

            “How much?” she asked, her voice barely audible. Nobody answered. “Here, take it.” She pushed the money into the old man’s hand and grabbed the rope that held the puppy. The old man let go, staring at the money and grinning ear to ear in sly silence

             Kala turned and willed herself to step forward again and again. The crowd parted, and she walked on, gripping the coarse long rope with both hands.

            “Wait!” called out a little voice. The boy with the sad brown eyes stopped in front of her, panting hard. He extended his bitten hand and held out a small, sticky cake.

             “For you,” he said, looking straight into Kala’s eyes. She took it and nodded, her head spinning, her mouth dry as the desert.
 
              The taxi was gone. Only tire tracks in the gray sand and no cars on the horizon. No police to run to. No law had been broken here. Kala turned in the opposite direction of town and started walking. The airport. She needed to get to the airport and leave this place, go home and forget it, just like her mother had said. This was not a part of her, and she never wanted it to be.

             More than twenty minutes passed before she could force herself to look down at the puppy limping obediently beside her. His ribs protruded from beneath his matted coat. The flesh was torn off one side of his muzzle, and one eye was caked in blood. The other looked up at her, unwavering, waiting. Kala knelt down and reached out her hand. The puppy licked it with a warm tongue and his little tail wagged so hard that it threw its own body off balance. Kala broke off a little piece of the cake, and the puppy lapped it up gratefully.

              It was another two hours before they saw the airport, both limping, both mouths open from thirst and fatigue. The sun had begun to set, and the ground grew frigid. The icy air snapped at Kala’s skin, and the dust streaked her cheeks. But they had reached the airport.
       
            “Animal paperwork,” the European officer at the glass doors barked, “We cannot let an animal onto the airplane without proof of health and vaccination.”

            “You don’t understand,” Kala heard herself saying, her voice strained, “I don’t have paperwork, and I need to get home right now.”

            “You are free to board without the animal,” the officer said coolly, keeping his eyes off Kala’s, off the dog, maybe off the entire world.

            “I’m not leaving the dog.”

            “That is your choice.”

            “You can’t keep me here!” Her voice was rising to a shrill scream. She heard the rush of blood in her head, and her heart raged in her chest.

            “No one is keeping you here,” said the officer.

            “I have an American passport!”

            “I don’t care if you have God’s passport,” the officer snapped, “You are not bringing that mutt on the plane. We have enough problems to deal with, lady.”

            It was as though the man in the red turban had lashed her skin again. Kala turned on her heels, leading the puppy with her. He could barely walk now, and his face was puffy and starting to swell with pus. Kala felt her stomach tighten and pinch terribly at her sides. Her throat felt raw and she shook violently. She was trapped here. Tied down by the same rope she held in her hands. But what would become of the dog if she abandoned it?

           Kala turned into a narrow alley and grabbed a rock. With a shaking arm, she lifted it high in the air and held it above the pup’s head. He sat down on the sandy ground and looked up at her through his one good eye, his tail wagging weakly.

           “Put it out of its misery,” Kala whispered to herself. She clenched her teeth and tightened her grip on the heavy rock. It would be quick. Painful for a second, but then they would both be free of it all. And she could go home. Home, where it was safe. Where she didn’t have to think of the hungry children, the angry men, the bleeding dogs, the endless dust. Home, where she could forget, the way her father had.

           Only she knew that she couldn’t. The faces, the blood, the sand: they had pierced her to the core, and the wounds wouldn’t heal faster if she pretended they didn’t exist. And the dust would only thicken here with no one to sweep it up. Kala let out a breath of air that she had held for too long, put down the rock, and sat on the cold ground beside the puppy. He licked her hand and lay down.

           “Good boy. Stay,” she whispered, “I’m staying too.”



Tania Luna writes fiction by night and, by day, she teaches psychology at Hunter College and runs her own business (www.SurpriseIndustries.com). She is deeply interested in animal rights issues, and so are her four cats, her rescued pit
bull, and her husband.
 
     
 



We named our dog Scarlett because her body is covered in scars (and because it gives her a feminine mystique). She's a rescued bait dog from NYC, and she's wonderful. Her story led me to realize that dog fighting is a growing problem worldwide. In "The Scarred" it becomes a reflection of society, and the main character's decision to stay is a demonstration of the courage and hope it takes to make change possible anywhere in anything.

 





  


Copyright 2009