For a young rural girl sitting on the plane for the first time, it was indeed a novel experience for Liza. She had difficulty in putting her bag in the overhand locker and almost dropped her belongings. “Let me help you, madame.” An air hostess helped her with her belongings as Liza fumbled on to her seat. She was amused as she watched the air hostess give out the safety instructions. But when it came to tying her seat belts, she was all at sea. Liza got the scare of her life in mid-air when the plane crossed a few air pockets. But she was always glued to the window of the plane watching the sunrise and the mountains and land mass underneath.
As the snow peaked mountains of Kyrgyzstan approached. She was excited and took a deep breath to savour the beautiful peaks as her fellow passengers tried to take a picture from their fancy mobile phones. But it was the landing that got her really rattled up. The plane shook from all sides before it came to a halt. Liza looked out at the Bishkek airport. It was a hot afternoon and the city felt dry. On the airport, as had been instructed, people of the film crew had arrived to fetch Liza who was to be part of the Afghani crowd and cheering party during the filming of the cricket match. “We will take you to the hotel first. There, you sleep, eat and take rest. We start shooting the day after. We have lots of time.” The assistant director tried to explain to her as he handed Liza the keys to her room.
The heat was still on in this ancient nomadic city known for its Mongol, Russian and Turkish Muslim culture. Liza decided to pray and do the Namaz. This would surely calm her jingling nerves down. She meandered to the lobby of the hotel to have tea and some dates. She had to break her fast and dates and fruits were the perfect things. For an impoverished slave girl, this was a rare treat. She felt like a princess travelling in a plane and being ushered to a hotel in a car. On top of that, she had all this good food to eat. It was a dream, all of it, she thought. “Begum jaan aap kaha se aya hei?” A husky Pathan voice startled Liza. She turned around to take a look. It was Babrik. Yes, he was also here to act and was playing the role of a Taliban commander. Lisa took a good look at this tall startling Pathan with a thick black beard. She just froze for a while. He was so much like Baksh in speech and mannerisms. She tried to steady herself. “Bas Afghanistan se bhai jaan, shooting karne, Kabul se a rahein hei.” Lisa tried to explain. “Masha Allah, bahut khoob aap ka hijab bahut mast hei. Enjoy kart ge Bollywood shooting mast hota hei, music, song, fight, action maze aye ga.” Barbrik painted to her what excitement laid waiting for them in the shoot. “Suna hei pura cricket ground lira hei shooting ke life in Bollywood balun ne. Bahut bad picture hogi yeh. Koi Sanju baba hero hei is picture ka.” Liza said as if trying to show that she was not all naive and did have her ear to the ground with regards to the ongoing Bollywood film shoot. Babrik had taken a good look at her and liked what he saw. This was a fair young maiden with chubby cheeks, a polite manner and, of course, the taj on her head – her orange hijab. It glowed like an orange ball of fire in the hot sun against the dusty and sparse backdrop of the city.
There was peace on Liza’s face. She was content with her surroundings. The prayer and the mediation have done her good. She was now getting acquainted with her new situation. The freshness of freedom seeped into her bones as she walked into the streets to do some window shopping. There were markets that she had not seen in her city. She was intrigued by the look and size of a pizza. She even wondered what a McDonald’s was. This was the Kyrgyzstani version of the McDonald’s quarter pounder beef burger.
The sun would only set after 8:30 pm and Liza had her dinner with the film unit. There was pandemonium in the dining hall as people danced to the latest Bollywood songs and celebrated each other’s birthdays. Everyone was merry and so was Liza. She had heard some of the songs when she was growing up in Peshawar at Pakistan with her old family. Bollywood cinema is still a rage in Pakistan and Liza knew who Sanjay Dutt was. She had seen his face in many hoardings and posters in Pakistan. “Hum India se hein. I am a dress designer and a makeup artist and you, are you an actress?” Someone asked her. “Oh, yes, I have come from Kabul. I am here for film shoot also.” Liza gave her reply. “Afghanistani ladies are very good looking. You fit the bill begum jaan.” Babrik took this as admiration for the teenage girl.
“You must be cold, very cold. Its night and it can be cold in this city. Look, it looks like it will rain also. I guess they will have to cancel the shooting tomorrow, with rain and all. Here, you take my coat, it will keep you warm.” Babrik took off his navy blue coat and gave it to Liza. She hesitated but then accepted his gift. She put on the jacket and felt warm and cosy immediately. It was as if Babrik had held her and hugged her from behind. She could smell the whiff of attar from the coat, but now, she felt relaxed as if to say that she had met someone she was comfortable with. She felt this man was like her own.
The rains continued through the night and had played havoc with the cricket ground which was full of puddles. It was decided not to shoot that day and Liza got time to sleep late until the afternoon. She even missed her breakfast but did her prayers properly as usual. Babrik had indeed been kind to her by giving her his coat. She decided to iron it and cleaned it up before she handed it to the strapping Afghan. Yes, he had been part of her thoughts the whole day.
Next morning was a drive up to the cricket ground for the shooting of the match. The two teams were lined up with the crowd cheering and dancing to the theme song of the film. Liza quickly moved to her tent where she got her makeup done and then she put on her orange hijab. It was as if the entire dimly light tent glowed in its pristine orange light. She had changed in a few days. She transformed into a confident beautiful girl waiting to explore and break free. She had kept her cool and bore many hardships while she was living as a slave with Baksh. But now, she felt free. Free from the mud huts of Afghanistan and old stale stifling air of Kandahar. She felt light and free in Bishkek.
She strolled around the group looking at the local people and overhearing film gossips and conversations. Her eyes fell on a Mongol dressed in turban and sherwani. He was smoking a cigarette and really puffing away. Liza felt like trying the cigarette too. So she stretched out her arm and said, “Bhai jaan mushy chi ek peen hei.” She felt hesitant and tried to turn away. The Mongol man handed her a smoke and lit it up with a match. Soon puffs of smoke were bellowing in the air as our little Peshwari girl began to cough and splatter. Her face turned red and cheeks turned pink. “Araam se, aram se ladki ka cheek nahi hei yeh.” The Mongol tried to explain to her and started to laugh at the situation. The makeup man rushed towards Liza and offered her a glass of water and then a cold drink. “Madam, you sit here in the shade otherwise you will fall sick.” Liza sat down on a chair under a shade.
All the while, Babrik was watching the scene as he dressed up. He was playing a Taliban terrorist in the film and looked fearsome with jet black beard and red-hot eyes. He was tall and well-built which gave him an even more menacing look. He knew it would take time and patience from his side. He knew he had created a dent in Liza’s heart and all he had to do now is to go for the kill.