Alternatively, the Rose keeper.
Kabul shifts under fine gold dust. Like a fish in a fish bowl (the fish bowl is the Hindu Kush - purple, hazy). There is a rose keeper who lives there and tends the Afghan Roses. He is not from Kabul. His name is Afsar and he comes from Panjshir.
Afsar is tall and shadowy. Twisted and knotted by time and war. He is old. In his mouth are a clatter of teeth and not teeth - all colours.
He works at the American Embassy in Kabul still, tending the Afghan Roses there deep into the night. The roses are at the centre of the compound, square like a cloister garden. They are passionately red beside dun walls and dun sky. They sparkle underneath the middday sun, bringing him a sense of joy.
He wakes every morning and listens to the rattle of his windows in the wind. The land is dry because the sun shone and shines and will continue to. He has one room; in it a bed and a blown glass vase under the window. Growing in the vase, always an Afghan rose.
In the afternoon, Afsar is bent over rose trees - in and out of shade which falls in stripes on the dirt. He picks insects off flowers, waters them, and admires their vibrant red petals.. His duty is to protect.
At lunch, he sits down beside them. Sun seeps through the petals and soaks the ground and him in a puddle of red light. Usually, he eats bread and looks up through the branches. Sometimes he reads rusty old books from his father. They smell of mildew and roses.
In 30 years the rose trees have grown tall. Their red petals overcome the compound wall and wave in the sky. Afsar rests his water bottle in a crook of roots. Where he drinks, spots of water darken the dust and evaporate at the same moment.
He is used to his lack of teeth, but he often still gets surprised when his tongue searches the back of his mouth where a tooth should be, but it isn’t.
He remembers losing it in the red darkness somewhere. He remembers how the glinting rifle and velvet dark flowed into each other. Became one another. The man with the yellowy eyes knocked two shooting-star teeth out with the end of it - the butt of his rifle or his darkness.
But then he sees the hawkish figures of men in suits trickling back in through the iron gates. They’re coming from different places, laughing, and talking - their far away babbling reaches him.
Seeing them, Afsar knows lunch is over. He spends the rest of the day working in January’s clement breeze.
He walks home early as the sun begins to set; the purple mountains pierce the sun like a yolk- it bleeds orange into the clouds. Grains of sand from the tarmac irritate his eyes. Children on the street look at him, at Afsar and his clatter of teeth and not teeth (all colours), at his crunched-and-re-grown bones. They aren’t sure what, if anything, to think.
Afsar marches a long time to go to sleep in his one blue-green room. Night in that room takes on a carded cotton darkness. In his blue-green room Afsar remembers a darkness that wasn’t. He remembers a night 6 years ago when the dark bristled, like steel wool, with potential energy.
Prone in his own soft darkness Afsar can remember this moment. He holds it in his mind carefully - His memory, like his life, is brutal but fragile.
Afsar stood by his rose trees as serpent-men slithered over the steel gates; They looked like skeins of oil that trickled, dripped, and then spilled.
the rose keeper