August in Kabul

Title: August in Kabul: America’s Last Days in Afghanistan and the Return of the Taliban

Author: Andrew Quilty

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books

I had been thinking about a book set in Afghanistan since late 2020. The Doha Agreement, signed that February, was already working to the Taliban’s advantage. Thousands of their prisoners had been released, and battlefield commanders were capitalising on the ‘active defence’ posture the Americans had pushed Kabul into adopting while being careful not to overextend and cause the Americans to stall their withdrawal. I saw the Doha Agreement as a death knell for the Afghan Government, but I never anticipated it would come so quickly.

The book I wanted to write would follow the theme I’d been following for several years. I would chart how the United States’ refusal to reconcile with the ousted Taliban regime, and the ensuing occupation, ignited the insurgency, just as it had in Iraq.

I would follow the lives of rural Afghans whose experience of the war, unlike those in Kabul who, while also encountering horrific violence, were given an array of new opportunities, was one of deprivation and disaffection—a story less often told.

Admittedly, the fascination with those living behind Taliban lines was amplified because their lives were virtually off-limits to journalists.

An unspoken race for access among writers, photographers and filmmakers began, intensifying in recent years as the prospect of a Taliban return to power became increasingly likely.

After the signing of the Doha Agreement, with US air support curtailed and the Taliban enjoying a wave of international recognition, some commanders began to open the doors to their districts. I had already been reporting on the ruthless exploits of the CIA’s Afghan proxies from the 01 National Strike Unit in Maidan Wardak—albeit from the relative safety of Kabul and the provincial capital, Maidan Shahr—when opportunities to visit the villages where they occurred began to arise from the middle of that year.

Those trips, which, for security reasons, lasted one night at most, were indeed as fascinating as I had expected. They also vindicated the hypothesis that the punitive neglect of the rural class— particularly those in predominantly Pashtun districts—and the violent ordeals they’d endured living among—and, often in cahoots with—the Taliban, were creating an increasingly unbridgeable gap between rural Afghanistan and the central government. The lack of accountability for their suffering was self-defeating for the aggressors, and, for journalists, I believed, the war’s essential theme.

It must be said that the Taliban’s military victory would never have come without the ineptitude and malfeasance of successive administrations in Kabul and their armed forces, and the hubris of the American-led international military coalition. The Taliban’s readiness to seize the advantage after the signing of the Doha Agreement did, however, expedite the eventual collapse that the agreement ensured. The realisation that the Americans were leaving, along with the military support and air power that had given Kabul a lifeline since 2015, was the final straw.

Aside from the almost daily guerrilla-style attacks by the Taliban and other anti-government groups in Kabul—‘The years long fears of the vehicle in front of you blowing up or the guy on the motorbike opening fire,’ as a friend who read an early version of this book reminded me—the war in Afghanistan had been fought largely in remote districts since the early 2000s. As I wrote in the prologue to this book, once the momentum swung decisively in the Taliban’s favour in the spring of 2020, and areas under government control started shrinking to virtual islands accessible only by air, many rural battlegrounds fell silent. The lives of those who had gained the most since the Taliban’s fall in 2001—lives that had overcome hardship and flourished, which I’d rarely been compelled to write about—were all of a sudden under threat. While their physical safety may not necessarily have been at risk, their personal liberty, the simple freedom to choose the trajectory of one’s own life, certainly was. For them, life without choice was no life at all.

If the threat of such loss had instigated a change in what I felt was pertinent to write about, 15 August completed the about-face.

With the Taliban’s victory came a level of scrutiny and critique that no insurgency warrants, no matter the wrongs of the government it was trying to overthrow nor the infringements on human rights it would institute once in power.

Amid the chaos of that day, I hugged farewell a tearful Aziz Tassal, a journalist with whom I’d worked for years and grown to love for his gentle company and care for his wife, three cheeky young daughters and everyone with whom he’d worked. I’d spent a week sharing a room with him in Uruzgan earlier in the year, reporting for an article published by The Monthly where we traded stories about our mutual friend Aliyas Dayee, a journalist from Helmand who had been assassinated three months earlier (the article won the 2021 Walkley Award for long-form feature writing). He’d calmly taken control when the car he was travelling in with Nanna Muus Steffensen, a journalist and my housemate, came under fire during a Taliban ambush in Maidan Wardak some months before. But on 15 August, he was inconsolable. ‘They betrayed us,’ he sobbed, before undertaking his own harrowing journey to the United States with his family.

The next day I photographed Noorullah Shirzada, a photographer with Agence France-Presse, carrying his baby into the French Embassy. The photo was published the day after by the French newspaper Le monde. Farshad Usyan, a friend who I also consider Afghanistan’s best photojournalist, was also there. His passport was inside the embassy awaiting a visa, but the Taliban weren’t allowing him in. Phone calls were made and eventually someone called his name. He disappeared behind the gate before we got a chance to say goodbye.

That day, 16 August, was also when BBC correspondent Kate Clark was flown out of Kabul.

Extracted from August in Kabul: America’s Last Days in Afghanistan and the Return of the Taliban by Andrew Quilty. Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2022.

About the Book

As night fell on 15 August 2021, the Taliban swept into Kabul, capital of Afghanistan. After a twenty-year conflict with the United States, its Western allies and a proxy Afghan government, the Islamic militant group once aligned with al Qaeda was about to bury yet another foreign foe in the graveyard of empires. And for the US, the superpower, this was yet another foreign disaster. As cities and towns fell to the Taliban in rapid succession, Western troops and embassy staff scrambled to flee a country of which its government had lost control. To the world, Kabul in 2021 looked like Saigon in 1975.

August in Kabul is the story of how America’s longest mission came to an abrupt and chaotic end, told through the eyes of Afghans whose lives were turned upside down: a young woman who dreams of a university education but whose family now want to give her up to the Taliban in exchange for security; a presidential staffer who works desperately to hold things together as the government collapses around him; a prisoner in the notorious Bagram Prison who suddenly finds himself free when prison guards abandon their post. Andrew Quilty was one of a handful of foreign journalists who stayed in Kabul as the city fell. This remarkable book is his first-hand account of those dramatic final days.

About the Author

Andrew Quilty is the recipient of nine Walkley Awards, including the Gold Walkley, for his work on Afghanistan, where he has been based since 2013. He has also received the George Polk Award, the World Press Photo Award and the Overseas Press Club of America award for his investigation into massacres committed by a CIA-backed Afghan militia. August in Kabul is his first book.

Click here to read the interview and the review


Interview Review

Women, Taliban & More: In Conversation with Andrew Quilty

 August in Kabul: America’s Last Days in Afghanistan and the Return of the Taliban is a real-life account of a journalist who returned to Kabul from Dubai to be with his “friends”, to let them know that their well-wishers had not abandoned them, even while the American forces withdrew and the Taliban took over. Most, including President Ghani, were flying out of Kabul while acclaimed photojournalist who had spent eight years there, Andrew Quilty, flew back from Dubai on 14th August, 2021.

His account traces the history of the takeover, the inception of the Taliban, the reactions of the people to their earlier regime dating from 1996 to 2001: “The Taliban were initially welcomed there, and many young, uneducated male residents, enamoured by the group’s piety, joined their ranks. But to Soviet-era communist officials, senior Hezb-i Islami figures and those with tertiary educations or financial means, the Taliban’s devoutness foretold merciless intolerance, and they left the country, travelling to the West through costly smuggling networks or to neighbouring Pakistan or Iran, joining the millions who had moved there during the Soviet war, as refugees.”

He is vocal about the Doha Agreement made by the Trump regime and executed by Biden, where the handing over left gaps which caused suffering not only among foreigners but also the local population of Afghanistan. Citizens died trying to find safety for themselves and their loved ones. Chaos prevailed and both Taliban forces and American soldiers killed innocents. With more than hundred interviews, Quilty brings the plight of these people to light. What touches the heart in this narrative is the human suffering caused by political games and beliefs. This has been captured well in the account.

That the current acknowledged rulers of Afghanistan, the Talibans, have reverted in certain senses to their past stance, especially pertaining to a major issue, the freedom of women has been acknowledged. But is this an issue that is related essentially to Taliban only or does it run deeper within the culture? Through the narrative of a young girl, Nadia, the author relates the equation for Afghani women: “Preserving the safety of women is a common sleight of hand used by Afghan men to keep those within their family under control. Neglecting such a duty and allowing a young woman the freedom to walk when they wish in the streets, to socialise with unrelated men, and to develop their understanding of the world outside the home and their ideas about their place therein, is deduced by many outside the immediate family to imply the woman is what Nadia refers to euphemistically as a ‘bad girl’. Boiled down, a ‘bad girl’ is one who cavorts and sleeps with men out of wedlock—a prostitute in Afghan terms, a great stain on a family’s honour. To avert such a possibility, rather than confront those who deliberately misinterpret the young woman’s ways and use it to undermine her family, instead, her brothers, father and male members of the extended family more often elect to restrain her behaviour.”

Women are not the only victims of a society that balks at liberal or out of the box thinking. The book is an eye-opener and reveals how the events of that August unfolded in 2021. It was an amazing coincidence that the takeover was completed on a date that coincided with the Independence Day celebrations of its neighbours, India (15th August) and Pakistan (14th August).

This account varies from an earlier account of Afghanistan written almost a century ago in its tone – that was humorous essays, a memoir by Syed Mujtaba Ali translated by Nazes Afroz from Bengali, called In a Land Far from Home: A Bengali in Afghanistan. This is a journalistic account. But one thing that runs through both the narratives is the bonding both these writers experienced with the locals, perhaps a bond born of friendship with people who have lived in oppressed communities and the need to get the world to hear their voices. The social norms still sound the same with wild gun shots marking celebrations. But what was not mentioned in the earlier were the scars left by Soviets and American weapons – because Mujtaba Ali’s account ended at the start of the civil war (1928-29), long before the superpowers intervened in a major way, even though the then-ruler Amanullah Khan (1892-1960) had abdicated and escaped to British India.

Andrew Quilty in Kabul. Photo provided by Quilty

Andrew Quilty who gives a splendid coverage of the current scenario, had been in Afghanistan since 2013. He is the recipient of nine Walkley Awards, including the Gold Walkley, for his work on Afghanistan. He has also received the George Polk Award, the World Press Photo Award and the Overseas Press Club of America award for his investigation into massacres committed by a CIA-backed Afghan militia. In this conversation, Quilty tells us more about the writing of the book and his own responses to the change in regime and the takeover, and most of all what made him return to a conflict zone.

What made you return to Kabul, when others were fleeing from a Taliban takeover?

There were two things: as a journalist and photographer, the days ahead of when I decided to return to Afghanistan were going to be the country’s most pivotal since the US invasion in 2001. Having covered the country for eight years at that point, despite the risk, I really wanted to be present to cover the period that was to follow. But more than that, at the time I really just wanted to be with my friends, both foreign and Afghan, with whom I had experienced so much with in the country over the years leading up to August 2021. While many of my Afghan friends felt the international community was abandoning them, I didn’t want them to feel their friends had as well.

In your ‘Epilogue’, you tell us that the book turned out to be different from what you had thought it would be at the start. What was it that you had wanted to start with and how has it departed from the way you had visualised it earlier?

I had envisaged writing a book about the way international military special forces had, through their tactics of night raids and air strikes, turned much of the rural Afghan population against the central government and the US-led military coalition.

You are a well-known photo-journalist and yet your book is written only in words. Why did you opt to use words instead of photographs this time?

I am currently working on a photo book that will cover the entire time I spent in Afghanistan (2013 – 2022). But my photos of the events of 2021 alone wouldn’t have been sufficient to tell the story of what happened in the detail the way words can.

In the twentieth century, a book had been written by Syed Mujtaba Ali in Bengali and translated by a journalist who was in Afghanistan, Nazes Afroz, talks of the dislodging of Amanullah by Bacha-ye-Saqao (Habibullah Kalakani) during the civil war. Can Bachai-ye-Saquao be seen as some kind of a precursor to the making of Taliban? Please elaborate.

Not really. He was of Tajik descent and so didn’t have the support of the majority Pashtuns. Also, his rule didn’t even last a year. The Taliban that took control of Afghanistan in 1996 are a closer replica of the Taliban that took control of the country in 2021 than Kalakani.

Afghanistan seems to be a country torn by the politics induced by Cold War, which of course is said to have concluded now. How would you compare the Soviet intrusion from 1979 to 1989 with the recent American intrusion which concluded with the Taliban takeover? You have mentioned how bio warfare by Soviets ruined the countryside. Please elaborate.

There are a lot of comparisons that could be made. Both the Soviets and the US-led coalition had superior technology, equipment and training. The Mujahedin and the Taliban (whose fighters call themselves Mujahedin) had poor quality weapons, funding and training, but they had a motive to fight that invading nations could never match. The nature of the style of warfare they used also made them very hard to defeat — ie. an insurgency that lives among the population, whose fighters are very difficult to distinguish from the local non-combatants.

Reading some of the case stories that you have taken up in your non-fiction, the oppression of women seems to be an accepted social norm in Afghanistan and persisted before the current invasion of the Taliban. Can you please comment on this?

While there were improvements for women in Afghanistan after the Taliban were ousted in 2001 — education was once again permitted, they were allowed to work in all sectors of the workforce and allowed to own property etc. — across much of the country, especially in rural areas, many women’s lives were still highly restricted by conservative cultural norms. Despite the constitution giving women many more rights than they had previously, culture often overrode the law. That said, the Taliban have now enshrined the most conservative interpretation of cultural norms in law, and so for those families who had permitted women to live under the more permissive post-2001 laws, the choice is no longer theirs to make.

One of the major issues one gathers from various narratives as well as yours in Afghanistan is not only the lack of freedom to women but also extends to freethinkers. Is this a cultural issue, religious issue or Taliban induced?

I think this is more about stamping out dissent as well as ideas that don’t conform to the Taliban’s worldview, like communism or democracy for example. So, it’s both religious as well as a means for the Taliban to enforce those under their control to follow their very strict worldview.

The Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddha. Have they changed since then to become more accepting of diverse thought?

I had hope that they might be. Most Afghans cautioned my optimism, and they seem to have been proven vindicated. While the Taliban haven’t yet destroyed any cultural heritage like the Buddhas, it took them five years in control to do that in 2001. The way they have rolled back rights in the 18 months they have been in control, it doesn’t bode well for what the next few years will bring. So far, however, they don’t seem to have been targeting ethnic minorities specifically or systematically.

The Taliban had taken control once earlier to be driven out by Americans in 2001. Can you tell us a bit about the origin of Talibans? Are they the same as Mujahedins?

The Taliban emerged from several groups that, combined, were known internationally as the Mujahedin. Once the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, the seven Mujahedin factions fought for control of the country. The Taliban, whose fighters were mostly drawn from religious madrasas, and known to be better-disciplined than the other lawless factions, promised to bring order to the country. Initially they were welcomed.

Photo provided by Andrew Quilty

You had moved to Afghanistan in 2013. Would you think of returning there now? Why?

I hadn’t planned to live in Afghanistan. Initially I went for two weeks to photograph the Afghan cricket team for an Australian magazine. I only planned to stay two weeks but quickly fell in love with the country and my work there and stayed nearly a decade. I have no plans to return as yet, but it will always be close to my heart, and I would love to return one day when it feels right.

Are you planning more books in the future? On Afghanistan?

Yes. As I mentioned, I will publish a photo book on Afghanistan later this year with Melbourne University Press. After that, let’s see.

Thank you for your time.

(This review and the online interview conducted through emails are by Mitali Chakravarty)

Click here to read the Book Excerpt


Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles


The Agent

By Paul Mirabile

Nisa, Portugal. Courtesy: Creative Commons

  “ … And do you think our present government is meeting the demands of its people ?” spouted the Spokesman Doctor, chairman of the Portuguese Communist Party Delegation in Nisa. Seated in a squalid, fly-laden café, he directed his poignant words towards a group of glassy-eyed villagers, seemingly rather perplexed at such a display of political pathos. He had been at it now for at least two hours.

A dusty gust of wind and shuffling of feet directed the villagers’ languid attention to the doorway. Long strips of coloured plastic peevishly scraped against one another. Someone stepped in : a young man, well-to-do, by his appearance, obviously not from Nisa. He side-stepped a dozing dwarf, making his way to the counter. All glassy eyes fell on the stranger.

 “You never answer questions,” the Spokesman Doctor said, turning on the villagers coldly, although keeping a watchful eye on the stranger at the counter. “All of you, how long are you going to sit here swallowing insult and humiliation ? You can’t live on olives and bread alone. Look at our land … where are the tractors ? Where’s the money from America ?” There was no reply to those beseeching questions, only the slight chuckling of the stranger, who leaned gingerly at the bar sipping a coffee.

 “You’d rather live then without running water and electricity ?” the Doctor spat out, staring hard at the stranger, who stared back at the Doctor even harder. “And still you don’t understand my questions.” One skinny, toothless fellow made some effort to amuse the Spokesman Doctor, but only succeeded in ordering another cup of coffee. The stranger broke into a wide grin. All eyes peered at him from yellow, sunken sockets. He broke the frosty silence by asking in the most delicious courtesy, but in the most atrocious Portuguese, for a glass of iced lemonade.

The unexpected appearance of this stranger brought whispered comments from the villagers. The Spokesman Doctor’s wiry face eyed the stranger with suspicion. He set aside his cup of coffee. A fly aimlessly found itself inside the sugar-coated rim of the cup where it remained until the Spokesman Doctor swished it disdainfully away.

“Are you Portuguese ?” he asked, rhetorically, with a slight accent of irony. The young man turned to him and answered in his choppy Portuguese that he was not, adding a few instants later that he was an American on visit to a friend whom he works with in France. This last phrase was declared in excellent French, something which surprised many of the villagers, most of whom had worked in France for years. The most astounded, however, was the Spokesman Doctor.

“So you have a friend in Nisa ?”

 “Yes I do,” returned the American, catching a note of doubt in the Doctor’s authoritative tone.

 “Who is this friend of yours ?”

“Domingo Flaco, but he’s still in France just now. I think he’s on his way, or at least he should be. I’m not certain ; he wrote me some time ago.”

“Do you still have the letter ?”

The American searched the Doctor’s tiny, black eyes, twitching nervously in their sockets.“No, am I supposed to have it ?”  the other retorted dully.

The lanky American’s easy flow of speech and command of French relieved some of the villagers’ mistrustful thoughts, thoughts put there by the Doctor’s obsessional fear of alien spies in the mountain villages. Domingo’s name set the villagers at ease, but the Doctor remained on his guard, shifting irritably about the table, playing mindlessly with his empty cup of coffee. Another fly, finding itself helplessly stuck in the grounds of the coffee, the Doctor savagely crushed it with his thumb. He seemed to sense something foul ; something amiss, even insalubrious in this clean-cut American who spoke excellent French. Domingo indeed did live in Nisa, that was an undeniable fact. But what would an American be doing with Domingo … a poor mountain peasant who had immigrated to France, and there was presently working on a wine farm ? This relation had no logical link to it, or if it did, it completely escaped his wits. A well-to-do American visiting a peasant in the poverty of Portugal concealed a reason that his imagination could not fathom.

The Spokesman Doctor fell on his prey like a lion : “Does anyone know him ?” he asked the villagers in Portuguese. There followed a long pause. During that pause the American ordered another lemonade, quite unaware that he had become the topic of discussion. Nonchalantly he drained his glass, eyeing the assembly curiously. Again a jumble of words struck him oddly. The cold lemonade contrasted sharply with the heat that had been accumulating around him.

“Do you know this American ?” asked the Spokesman Doctor again, but this time addressing the veiny-face villager behind the counter.

 “I think he does work with Domi,” he responded, wiping the counter for about the hundredth time which scattered the vexatious flies.

 “No, I don’t think he does work with Domingo,” rallied the Doctor hurriedly. “I saw him handing out Jesus Christ leaflets yesterday. He was haranguing people for money. Then he went from bar to bar asking questions. Where’s your papers, American ?” The Doctor shot a fiery glance at the young man, who for one, was relieved that this man had finally spoken to him directly, and in French.

“What papers ?” he inquired. The Spokesman Doctor laughed haughtily. The others followed, but with more restraint. The Doctor now felt he had hit the nail on the head. His ‘people’ were with him, as always. “Come on, we want to see your papers. I saw you yesterday handing out Jesus Christ leaflets to people in the streets.”

The American wiped the sweat off his forehead, intrigued more by the use of ‘we’ than by the accusation. “What the hell are you talking about ?” replied the American, crimsoning under the glow of a dozen eyes.

“Are you a Communist ?” rifled the Doctor. The American nodded in the negative, taken aback by the bluntness of the question.

“Are you then a Capitalist ?” Again the same negative nod.

 “Then you are nothing but an evangelizing parasite !” A pasty smile flitted across his lips. The American breathed deeply, moving a trembling finger across the counter. He couldn’t think of anything to say to defend himself ; all this seemed utter nonsense.

“Where are your papers ?” asked the Spokesman Doctor cloyingly.

 “What in God’s name are you raving about, man ?” fired the American, stepping back, the enraged flies skirling about his red, sweaty face.

Again the Doctor smiled, slowly pushing his way towards the circle of villagers round the counter.

“Do you know about the CIA here in Portugal ?”

This question frightened the stranger. He brushed his flaky blond hair from his forehead, then threw the villagers a bewildering look. “Should l know about it ?” he retorted, involuntarily shifting his right foot towards the swaying, plastic strips of the doorway.

Suddenly a man shouted out coarsely : “No Doctor, he does work with Domi in France. I saw him there six months ago when I visited my cousin in Beaune.”

“No !” brayed the Spokesman Doctor vehemently. “I tell you I saw him yesterday handing out  Jesus Christ leaflets. You know, there’s lots of those people in Portugal today, mostly Americans, too … you know, with the elections coming up … Look what happened before the last elections … the same thing, American agents running about the countryside posing as people of the Jesus Christ Movement.” This last statement was met by incredulous glances from the villagers. They all acknowledged the Doctor as a grand man, politically astute and well-read, but a doubt reigned over their blurry, uneducated minds. And yet, it was true: an American in Nisa posed a problem, and raised a mystery that none, at least in that hot and illiterate café, could unravel.

“You know a lot about many things, don’t you ?”enquired the Spokesman Doctor, ingratiatingly. This time the subject of conversation did not deign to reply. The Doctor scoffed at this show of pretense. “I don’t know American, but I saw you yesterday going from café to café with those dirty leaflets in your hands. There’s something about you I can’t understand. I know you speak excellent Portuguese, too.” With this ‘compliment’, if it may be considered as one, the American lifted an enigmatic eyebrow.

“There’s a lot of CIA activity in this area round election time,” continued the Doctor with his pasty smile. “Communism is very strong in our villages. Look around you … everything is falling apart in our villages. Americans are to blame for the poverty of our country.”

 “Not Americans,” blared out the young man beside himself. “The …”

 “No !” screamed the other louder than his rival. “I don’t want to listen to your sweet, poisoned words. Laughing, he turned away to speak quietly to his people.”

Many words darted in and round the savage, swirling flies, words which the American was at a loss to comprehend. He could have left, the way was clear to the door. But he remained adamant in his right to be in that café and drink coffee with the villagers. No proxy lout of a Communist courtier would eject him from that public place. Then a strange sensation crept up on him : everyone appeared to have come to some sort of resolution … verdict would be a better word … As if he had been accused of some crime. He saw the jury to his right … then the judge, to his left, a dark man, sporting a moustache with a horrible pasty smile.

“We have found the accused guilty,” came a hushed, indescribable voice. A wave of panic seized the accused.

“Guilty … guilty of what ?” The sad, sunken eyes of the jury hung suspended in the air. The flies, too, seemed to have adjourned their monotonous gyrating. The eyes of the judge were laughing at him, as a sickly moustache inched its black way into the left corner of his mouth.

— Has everyone gone crazy ? the American thought. –An innocent man has been falsely accused. Yes, something is very wrong here. How could this have happened ? I only came in for a cup of coffee ! Really I did … — These inner pleadings hammered at his temples, hot and pulsating. Was it real ? –To the doorway– were his next whispered words. –Must escape before they trap me in here.– The American rushed towards the doorway but scraping feet forced him to swing his shoulder to the left. –It’s not true … they’re on me. For what ? — A knotty fist shot out. He blocked it with his forearm. Then another which again he easily countered. –They’re all crazy … really crazy, — a tiny voice within him admonished.

He wanted to speak aloud but his voice found no chamber to echo his confused thoughts. Something cracked in his mouth; blood filled the spaces between his teeth. He stumbled back, catching hold of the counter. Turning, he faced his judge, and in an instant of crystal clarity he caught sight of a dull, metal object in his hairy hand. A flame tore through his belly. He grabbed at it … fingered it … found clots of blood smeared on it.

“What have you done ?” he managed to spit out in a flow of blood, his eyesight gradually fading into an empty space behind his head.

The American crumbled to his side, still conscious of his surroundings. A face slid across his sight, that of a moustached man, smiling a very pasty, wicked smile. A glibly voice nettled what remained of his pride. “That will be all for you,” said the pasty, wicked smile.

And it was true what that smile said. For the young man moaned aloud, then lay still. Everyone rose and left the café …

Paul Mirabile is a retired professor of philology now living in France. He has published mostly academic works centred on philology, history, pedagogy and religion. He has also published stories of his travels throughout Asia, where he spent thirty years.