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Friday, February 22, 2013

The Dogs

Atti, my translator, leaves to meet his uncle on the other side of the city. He demands a promise from me that I will stay put until morning. “This city is not safe,” he says.

I stare at a tiny color television in the lobby for an hour, watching a traditional dance troupe that’s god-awful, while waiting for a manager who speaks some English. He finally arrives. We negotiate a price in three languages and he shows me to my room.

As we walk I notice that I am apparently the only one staying in the hotel. A long line of room doors are wide open.

The room is fine. It has a bathtub of all things, a bathtub with feet. The bed is enormous. A large window overlooks a pleasant front lawn. Knowing that the windows of this hotel were used for target practice not long ago by an army unit encamped nearby, I avoid the view. After a short nap, I explore the hotel.

Pillars, grand staircases, high ceilings, long windows—all right out of the 1930s. I wander through the cavernous hall and into the gardens behind the hotel. Out of boredom, I hop a fence and start walking towards town. It’s ten or so and quite dark.

I hear it first from the alleys—the howling. It spooks me from the start. Wolves come to mind, but I am, of course, in the center of a city. It gets louder.

I am the only pedestrian out and about. That seems strange in such a large city.

After three blocks the howling is still louder, and from multiple directions: in bushes, behind cars, behind mounds of trash, and above, on balconies. I turn around; retrace my steps, feeling panic, unsure of myself. My pace quickening.

At the entrance to the hotel grounds, the octogenarian guard, armed with a Chinese made AK-47, salutes me elaborately. I laugh at him and at my own foolishness, return to my room, and sleep soundly.

Months later I hear the story. When the Taliban finally moved north and took the city, they decided to punish the Hazaras, a Mongol tribe and a constant thorn in their side, for multiple grievances. They went door to door pulling out every Hazara man, woman and child that they could find. They slaughtered them where they stood in the street. Next they forbade anyone, upon pain of death, from burying the rotting corpses.  So the city’s half-starved dogs took over and became fat on human flesh.

Now that normal times have returned, the dogs are hungry again. But this time with a difference: they remember their predations: days and nights of feasting, and whom they feasted upon.

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