Read the opening pages of Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

‘Although this is a work of fiction there are truths to it that will tug at your heart. For anyone who has not read one of Patricia’s books then I would recommend this one. ‘ Mandie Griffiths, Book Reviewer

‘Wisdom is threaded throughout Silent Heroes. This novel is an intense, evocative and heart-wrenching narrative of destruction and hope. There is a philosophical exploration of the fragility of human life and the consequences of power struggles.’ Amazon Reader

‘I recommend that if you are unfamiliar with why and how the young men and women of our armies are involved in this conflict, that you read Silent Heroes.’ Sally Cronin, Author, Goodreads Review

Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting For, is the new novel by Patricia Furstenberg, the author of Amazon Bestseller Joyful Trouble.

How far would you go to save strangers in need? Military Dogs risk their life for their humans in a heartbeat, but can soldiers do the same when personal struggles and global affairs defy humanity?
When Taliban raids an Afghan village and discovers that girls can read, a woman accepts the blame to save the community. Her teenage daughter witnesses the sacrifice swearing revenge, her own life and that of her brother becoming intertwined with those of the Marines serving at a nearby military base.
Led by Captain Marcos who conceals, under a cool appearance, a lifelong disability, the solid team of soldiers is faced with the trauma of losing platoon-mates, both human and canine, with PTSD and with becoming estranged from families left behind.
When the Marines are instructed to accept a mysterious young Afghan as their guide the humanity of local population they come in contact with raises questions about the necessity of war. It is a race against time, fending off the Taliban lurking at the ancient Qala-e-Bost fortress and defending Bost Airport, a vital strategic point for the allies, while saving the kidnapped civilians at the same time.

Silent Heroes, When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting For – read the opening lines

“‘They’re coming!’ were the words synonym with death for the few wretched souls still calling Nauzad Village home.

The far distance war cry, still a rumble clouded in dust, swept along the eastern snowy slope of the Hindu Kush Mountains in an avalanche of hoofs. As it neared the hamlet it expanded and conquered its deserted streets, amplified by dark, bearded men waving Kalashnikovs above their heads, thirsty for blood.

Those who have heard it before knew it brought terror and death. Those who have met them before remembered the reek of slaughter that seeped through their long robes, the wild beards that swelled from underneath their flat hats, pakols, revealing gap-toothed jaws. Even those too young to comprehend, the tots born after the last grown men of our village left for war, shrank from their sight.

They were the Taliban soldiers who dwelled in our mountains.

Their sulphur stench yanked us, women and children, from behind the fake safety of mud walls. It was execution time again.

A young woman stood in the door frame of a modest hut, holding herself tall in an attempt to shield her young brother who, transfixed, watched as a cloud of menacing smoke tumbled along the mountain slope, thundering and calling ‘Allāhu akbar’, ‘Allah is great.’ The same praise women sang, with tear-stained eyes, whenever a healthy new-born arrived into the world.

Her mother still called her ‘girl’, although she had already passed the threshold to womanhood. But a girl would still fit in her mother’s arms where she would be protected. A girl would not be expected to obey and cover herself with a burqa and a girl would not be forced to cease her learning because she is over a certain age.

A second woman, with eagle eyes and a guarded attitude, materialized behind her. Adjusting her hijab over her head, she kept to the shadows, yanking the young one inside. Only her hooded, dark brown eyes spoke. There was distress in them and a prophecy, words to be whispered, but words no one else was allowed to hear.

Between their skirts, a skinny boy of eight moved along. The girl, Emma Dil, meaning ‘Dil ki khawahish’, ‘Heart’s Wish’, was thus named to illustrate her father’s pride in having a girl as their firstborn, instead of a boy. His heart’s wish. The same honour had glinted in their mother’s eyes the night their father joined the fight against the Afghan insurgents in the never-ending war versus the Taliban; knowing it might cost them his life.

‘Come inside, my heart. It must be done. We must hurry, hurry,’ the second woman said, her voice in check, yet Emma Dil’s strung nerves picked the rise in pitch, its agony and anguish. The mother pulled Emma indoors and bolted the door, sealing out most of the light. A gleam of steel in the mother’s right hand caught the last rays of the sun. Hugging her daughter one last time the mother pulled the little boy between them, her free hand soft and warm on Emma’s wet cheek. The girl filled her lungs with the familiar scent of faded rose petals she had associated with love and safety all her life, knowing it was the last time she would. The three of them lingered in their embrace, the girl holding her breath, willing time to stop. Yet, three heartbeats later, the mother pulled away.

‘Rafik, my clever boy, my pride, take your flying legs and run like the wind to the neighbouring village. Warn them.’ Her eyes urged him. ‘They’ve come again,’ she added. Her work-worn hand lingered on his face, cupping his childish cheek one more time. His eyes gleamed, his body wired up, ready to please. However his mother’s hand stayed on his face, drawing him closer for one more kiss. The woman pulled him near her chest while urging him to g0. ‘Run, child, run!’

Once he was out through the back door, the woman turned towards the girl with dead eyes and scissors at the ready. ‘Swear, my girl. No one must ever find out.’

~~~

As a culmination of each one of their raids, the Taliban troops would round us all in the dusty centre of the village. My brother and I would always try to obstruct our mother’s presence. But today it was only me so I tried to square my shoulders.

My aunt and her three daughters nestled themselves against us, eyes cast down, and the young ones shaking like leaves, counting their heartbeats. ‘One – alive. Two – alive. Three – alive.’ The small one wet herself.

I never understood why we were held at gunpoint by men speaking the same language, only crazed for power, thirsty to kill in the name of Islam. Throwing menacing looks their black eyes, creased, glare from behind filthy headdresses they yanked over their faces as soon as they stormed into a village.

Mother said such questions were not to be uttered, but maybe – just maybe – raised in the back of my mind when I was alone in our bedchamber.

Then their leader would arrive, dressed in black pants and a black, long shirt, the traditional shalwar kameez. Wickedness personified.

‘Allah is great!’ They’d all yell. ‘May Allah give Davron a long life!’ They’d welcome him. It was a call for joy. It was also a call to sentence us – innocent or not.

This time, they found enough proof to kill another one of us, all in the name of Islam. A child or a woman had broken a law. Their bloodlust and fanaticism in reinforcing their dominance over us knew no limits. To them, self-imposed soldiers of the religious police, the Islam law stood above human life.

In the middle of the dirt and in front of us all, landed a tattered book. A small cloud of dust rose as the book touched the ground. Its pages opened by themselves to the part most enjoyed – a line drawing of a world map. In its middle, someone had penned, in blue ink, a little star. It marks Afghanistan’s place on the map. The small star on a two-page chart showed how big it is, this world we are all a part of. Such a promising world, a world I often dreamed of. A world that knows nothing of us.

The man dressed in black, the one they call Commander Davron, had a scar along his left cheek.

Once I asked mom if she thinks he was chosen as their leader because he is the ugliest man on earth. She watched me, amazed, and then laughed so hard as I’ve never seen her laugh before. When she was done she wiped her eyes, hugged me, and asked me to never say those words again. But that she thinks I was right and that I had a brilliant intellect, and I must never forget that.

Their leader kicked the book with the tip of his stained shoe then tramped past us all, hands behind his back, his eyes boring into our souls even as we stare at our feet. The stench surrounding him like an aura of death turned my stomach. I swallowed hard.

From the corner of my eye I watched the book flying like a wounded bird, and crash-landing face down, a few feet away. A page was bent and my book-lover self winced.

He strode back, his black robe swaying with every step like a death flag, his beard nodding disapprovingly like it’s got a mind of its own. Halting near us he smacked his lips and bent, twisting his head sideways, listening, and making a show out of it.

A trickle of water echoed nearby. To the right, my little niece has wetted herself again. Commander Davron’s mouth twisted in a smile, yet his eyes remained menacing. He bent forward, his beard almost touching her rosy cheek, hot and wet with tears, lined with dust. Her small hands were pressed against her mouth in a desperate attempt to keep any noise inside. I froze. There was an ink stain on her index finger. The bearded leader pretended not to notice, but as he turned towards the rest of us his hand, as sharp as an eagle’s beak, fastened on the girl’s fragile wrist yanking it forward. She collapsed near the book, her knees scraping the dust, her shoulder nearly dislocated. Only a sharp scream escaped her, his grip steady,crushing her wrist.

‘Proof! Again!’ He bellowed. ‘Islam’s sacred law had been broken! AGAIN! Girls, that read AND write?’

Should his shouts be visible, they would be a whip reaching each one of us, extracting any hope out of our hearts.

I grabbed my mother’s hand, willing her to stand behind. Too late. She would never witness one of the girls tortured. I felt my heart ripped from my chest as my mother threw herself in the dirt, at the feet of Commander Davron, her arm embracing the broken girl.

‘Please!’ She sobbed through her burqa. ‘Let her go. In the name of Allah, it is my fault, only mine.’

His tongue slithered over his bottom lip like a snake pushing out of his hideout and he dropped the girl’s wrist turning towards my mother, greed swimming in his eyes.

‘Take off your burqa,’ he ordered her.

All the women gasped. The law of Islam ordered women to stay covered in front of any men outside their immediate family.

‘I wish to know who broke Islam’s holy law.’

If she shows her face, she will break a law; a different law, by Taliban’s standards.

My ears rang and tears burned my eyes, yet I dug my nails into my wrists, behind my back. I promised mother not to tell.

Not to tell a soul.

My knees shook underneath my father’s dark robe and a trickle of sweat rolled down my neck, escaping my short hair and my manly headdress, also my father’s. The tiny hairs that stuck to my neck after mom’s hasty haircut itched, but not as much as my tongue. I craved to yell the truth, but I promised.

The dark Commander’s index, lined with grime, singled me out.

‘You have a boy, I see. Almost a man. He doesn’t need his mother anymore. Take off your burqa.’

A guttural wail escaped my mother as she removed her headdress and face covers in front of Commander Davron and his army.

She had just sentenced herself.

They cheered in the name of Allah, crazed at the thought of another kill.

‘This woman broke two of His sacred laws!’ Davron bellowed. ‘No girl over the age of eight is to learn to read or write, yet this woman taught reading and writing. And she has removed her face cover in the absence of her husband and in front of strange men! If you want lessons to learn, I’ll teach you lessons.’

His army cheered and they emptied their guns towards the Heavens.

By the time he was done speaking our brave mother laid dead in the dirt, a bullet through her brain. Her open eyes were fixed on the book, yet she couldn’t see it anymore. Her life sacrificed because she’d been willing to pay the ultimate price. To save us.

Her face was as beautiful as ever and I felt a sudden surge to kneel and cradle her, but I could not, I was a boy now and I promised not to tell.

Perched on a nearby eave, a purple sunbird watched us and my heart warmed to her. Its lapis lazuli plumage was my mother’s favourite colour. I remembered mother telling us an old Egyptian belief. Whenever a person died, a bird was sent from the Heavens to escort its spirit home.” (Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg)

Silent Heroes: When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for

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Silent Heroes

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