Batool Heydari – Untold: Write Afghanistan

Batool Heydari teaches psychology at Kabul University. Her stories have been published in local newspapers, with one translated into French. She lives with her three children and husband. Her story ‘Khurshid Khanum, Rise and Shine’, developed with the Untold–Write Afghanistan programme, will be published in English, in Words Without Borders in December 2020. “My conservative, religious family discourages my writing, except for my husband who encourages me, because when I am upset writing makes me feel better”.

Bagri Foundation is proud to present, Batool Heydari, our third writer featured as part of the project ‘Untold: Write Afghanistan’ supported by The British Council and Bagri Foundation.  Batool shares with us an excerpt of her story, ‘I Don’t Have the Flying Wings alongside a  video which features some of her selected images and her reflections on what it means for her to be a writer, her process, and her inspiration.

‘Write Afghanistan’ is a project created by Untold, a development programme for writers in areas of conflict and post-conflict, that offers support to women writers and works remotely with them to develop and promote their stories which often remain hidden. Find out more about the project here.

Batool on her story: I Don’t Have the Flying Wings’ is the story of a transgender teenager. Most of us know who we are, but for many people their internal and external selves are not the same. Transgender people in Afghanistan want a normal life, just like everyone. But they are victimised and suffer psychological and physical attacks from fundamentalists. Out of fear, they are forced to do things in secret, far from the views of others. In this story, I wanted to be a voice, however small, for this group of people.

Note these writings are works-in-progress, but we feel offer a glimpse into the worlds of these emerging new voices as they work together with an editor to further refine their story.

I Don’t Have the Flying Wings

By Batool Heydari

My mother kept our winter clothes inside a wooden trunk in the corner of the house – my father’s woolen coat, was there, the one he has been wearing since my birth, and my sister’s leather boots and jeans. There were also two bundles of my mother’s things– her wedding-day mirror and comb, and two little red-and-white coloured boxes containing charcoal for her eyes. My mother used to say that, when she was washing clothes in the stream, my father would use the mirror to reflect the sunlight onto her face.

I took the mirror and transfixed it on the roundness of my face. I pulled the little stick from the charcoal box and ran it around my eyelids, turning them dark. There was also a lipstick, which had no lid. It was turquoise around the edges, as if it were withering. I applied a small bit on my thin lips and then, with the tips of my fingers, spread the colour around. I saw myself in the mirror.

I saw a wine-coloured, embroidered miter with soft loom-beading, and put it on. Then I saw my mother’s white shawl, with its golden edges, which she had so neatly folded. I put it on the miter, and I felt its softness around my face. It tickled.

I clapped my palms together, and then I started on one foot – leaping and circling. I danced, my hands on my waist. I stabbed at the floor. I danced on the tip of my toes, just like any other girl, with softness and delicacy. I felt as if all the boys were circling me and kneeling down. They were clapping for me, and all the rest of the girls were jealous. Whenever I stamped my feet on the floor, I saw the dust rising and filling the faces of the smiling boys. And I felt shy. As I danced, I also saw the sky, and I saw the clouds in blue and white. The edge of the shawl covered my face, and the sweat felt warm around my body. I even heard the sound of tambur in my ears. The fingers of the young would lose their life for its strings, the tambur. I danced as if I had been freed, and felt very light on my feet, and – in the midst of the heat in my body – I sensed a liberation: I should make sure to not be a scapegoat for my father.

My cousin was getting married, and they had implored me to go to the wedding and, as the groom’s only cousin, stand next to him. I had said no, because I didn’t like the hustle and crowdedness of weddings. I had asked to stay home so that I could study for the exam I had the following day.

I was left alone, and so was the house. We were both quiet. Whenever the house was empty, I felt different – I mean, I became a different person. My breathing quickened, and the walls became colourful, and the smell of the air changed. Here, alone, I wanted to be seen; I was hidden from everyone else’s eyes, but I wanted to see myself for myself.

I couldn’t tell how long it took me to come to reality, but, when I did, I was still standing in front of the mirror in the hall. I collected my hair from around my ears, tied it, and put on my sister’s flower hairband. I divided my fringe with my fingers. I shook my head so that all my hair would fall on the one side of my face. I opened my lips, and drew a line under my eyes, and wanted to sing out a poem that had always rested in my throat.

Then, in my heart’s mirror, I saw my father standing behind me – like a wild, rough cow, ready to attack. I felt his heavy fingers around my wrist. I had no saliva to swallow.

-This excerpt was translated from the Dari by Parwana Fayyaz.


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