Authors: K'Anne Meinel
VEIL OF SILENCE
A Novel by K’Anne Meinel
Shadoe Publishing for
K’Anne Meinel on Kindle
Copyright © K’Anne Meinel June 2016
VEIL OF SILENCE
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Poetic license was taken with this story as they would NOT have allowed Lieutenant Marsha Gagliano to see her wife or child until after she had been acquitted, adjudicated, or fully cleared of any and all charges. I’ve patterned my army base outside of Chicago after Scott Air Force Base (AFB), a logistics base for the United States Air Force (USAF) and Great Lakes Naval Air Station (NAS), which is a training naval air station. Many thanks to the women and men who have served there along with their civilian counterparts.
The guards were particularly alert. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of traffic on the road in front of the embassy that day. Airport Road in Kabul was a straight road that seemed to compel people to rush along it, past the embassies of The United States, South Korea, and even International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters, on their way to and from Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital. It paid to be alert since American embassies were frequently targeted by extremists looking to make a name for themselves in this violent part of the world. Men, women, and even children were suspect as they wore the robes of their various tribes, which could hide anything from the daily groceries to a bomb. Anyone approaching knew to have their identification ready and their hands spread. Any suspicious behavior was dealt with immediately, not only out of self-preservation, but to protect this tiny strip of land that the Americans declared their own.
The guards were constantly looking, scrutinizing, and assessing any and all possible threats—from the donkey-drawn carts, to the expensive cars that careened down the street as though threatening to hit any and all pedestrians in their path. Pedestrians especially were viewed with suspicious concern as it was not unheard of for people to walk up to the U.S. embassy with a bomb strapped to their body.
Today the pedestrians seemed particularly plentiful, the hajibs hiding the identities of the women. No one could tell if they were young or old under the completely engulfing, black garb required by the men in this country. Purportedly to protect their women, it also provided anonymity from the many hordes of strange men who had come to this part of the world, supposedly to make peace. As the garb hid so much, it could be intimidating to those soldiers who were new to this part of a violent world.
The guards watched as a woman with two very young children observed from across Airport Road onto the
Great Massoud Road where the embassy was actually located. She was
assessing the embassy, at least that’s how it appeared to their knowing eyes. She carefully looked up and down the street several times before cautiously shepherding the children across the busy street. A vendor using a cow to pull his slow-moving cart yelled at her and she bobbed her head in subservience, silently apologizing for having slowed his plodding along the busy street. She had her hands around both of the young children’s shoulders, pushing them along as she approached the entrance. Both guards stiffened as it became obvious she was making her way towards them. A concrete barrier lay slightly behind them, stopping any cars from rushing the embassy and detonating a bomb inside. Still, as she could go by on the busy sidewalk, they watched her warily. She looked behind her repeatedly…this was not a good sign.
She approached the guards and smiled, but this goodwill gesture was hidden by the chador she was wearing—a black veil across the lower half of her face. Comprehending their increasingly alarmed looks at her presence, she realized her mistake. Taking her hand from the back of the older child she was shepherding, she held her hand wide and slowly reached for her face so they couldn’t misconstrue her gesture as she pulled the cloth down to reveal her face. She smiled tremulously as she cleared her throat.
“I am Lieutenant Marsha Gagliano. I’ve been held captive for years. I am an American citizen and I demand refuge in the embassy,” she stated, almost afraid to talk. She glanced around once more, her hand returning to the shoulder of the young child by her side.
“Ma’am?” the guard questioned her, disbelieving. This woman didn’t look at all like an American with the full length burqa she was wearing; however, her accent was decidedly American, nothing like the natives who learned English out of necessity.
“Please,” she pleaded. “I’m certain they are following me. They will take me back! They will take my children from me! They will kill me this time….”
“Do you have any identification–” he began, but she interrupted him.
“Of course I don’t,” she stated angrily, looking around at the faces passing by, some curious, some minding their own business. “Weren’t you listening? I’ve been held captive. I am Lieutenant Marsha Gagliano,” she repeated, looking disparagingly at the insignia on the private’s upper arm, trying to intimidate him into believing her. “I am a lieutenant in the United States Army and I demand that you take me inside.”
“Ma’am, we can’t let…” he began, unsure of what to do.
“Come this way,” the other guard offered, believing her. If all else failed, they would throw her out if her story proved false. He gestured to her with his arm out, showing her into the gates, which another guard began to open as he escorted her. Once beyond the gates and on American soil, she breathed a sigh of relief. The tension in her shoulders immediately drained away as she shuffled along, still pushing the two young children forward.
The older of the two turned to her and in a pleading voice asked, “Moray?”
“It’s okay now,” she said consolingly, the fear she heard in her child’s voice hitting her in the chest. She shepherded them along behind the guard escorting her into the building.
“What is this, Private?” a voice stopped them once they were inside.
Marsha was relieved to be out of sight of the street and behind a door. Another mantle of fear began to draw off from her shoulders. She pulled the chador back from her face and pulled the hood of the burqa off, revealing another scarf tied over her head—a richer, more elaborate, and colorful grey scarf. She pulled this back too, revealing black hair pulled back tightly from her face. “I am Lieutenant Marsha Gagliano,” she repeated it as though a litany, as though she had said it so many times that she had memorized the inflections and tones over and over. “I have been held captive for years and I demand asylum!”
The woman looked alarmed. She did, however, believe the strange woman and ushered her into the office behind her. She looked curiously at the children. They too were wearing a smaller version of a chador, but in blue.
“You can take these off now,” the woman said in English to the children. They looked up at her, alarmed as she began to tug at the all-enveloping costume. Removing the garments revealed a young boy dressed in a blue dress-like garment that covered red pantaloons. He wore sandals on his feet and his hair was covered in a red scarf that matched his pantaloons exactly. He looked like a traditional Afghan child—much loved and picture perfect with dark brown eyes and a cherubic face.
The older of the children was a young girl. She was wearing a red dress to her knees, the same color as her brother’s pantaloons and scarf. Her pantaloons matched her dress as well. She was wearing a headdress that covered her hair, again the same color. It was as though a bolt of cloth had been stretched to make these traditional outfits to match on both children. She looked down at her feet, hiding her eyes shyly from the strange officious-looking woman that was staring at them curiously.
“You said you were Lieutenant…” the woman asked to start the interview as she sat behind her desk. She indicated the chairs across from her and the woman sat the older child, the girl, in the second chair before settling herself with the younger boy in her lap.
“I’m Lieutenant Marsha Gagliano,” she repeated for the third time that day. “I was on a helicopter that went down in the mountains. We were captured. I don’t know how long I’ve been held,” she said, the words rushing out of her as though she was afraid they wouldn’t be heard otherwise. “
I want to go home
,” she pleaded.
“I understand. Is someone looking for you…” she indicated the children, “for them?”
“Yes, their father,” she nodded agreeably. “If he finds us, he’ll kill me.”
She nodded, understanding the culture. A son was especially valuable to a father in this land. “They are yours?” she verified.
“Yes, and this one too,” she indicated her belly, hidden under the robes she was wearing.
The woman looked alarmed at finding out she was carrying a third child, but it was understandable, the robes hid everything.
She introduced herself, “I’m Leslie Murrough. I’m a Foreign Service Specialist,” she quickly became officious as she began to question the woman.
Strangely, the lieutenant had a hard time answering some of the questions beyond her identity, almost as though she wasn’t used to talking…especially in English.
After a while, the woman picked up the phone and spoke rapidly into it. Once she hung up, she turned to the woman again, “Someone will be with us shortly.”
Marsha understood. She would be accused of, if not charged with, colluding with the enemy. They would ask her why she didn’t take the opportunity to escape and evade, especially as it was obvious she had been with them for some time. Three children were the result of that so-called captivity. They wouldn’t want to believe her. They would assume she was lying to save her hide, that she just wanted to go home now with no consequences. She understood that. She resented the assumption, but she did want to go home. She wanted to take her children and go home
...but would they let her?
A man entered the office, looking curiously at Marsha and the woman across the desk. Marsha’s children began to fidget. He asked the same questions as the woman. It took a long time.
“Please, I’ll answer your questions, but it has been a long trip and the children are tired. I’m tired.” She put her hand on her pregnant belly, “We need rest, food if you would.”
“My apologies. Of course you do,” the man said diplomatically. They had to be cautious. If she really was Lieutenant Gagliano and she had married an Afghan national, this could really be messy. He nodded to the woman who had listened to him asking the same questions to see if the woman deviated from her story. So far she hadn’t. The woman, Leslie, made another phone call and in short order a younger woman knocked on the office door.
“Ah, Linda, would you please escort our guest to a room so that she and her children can wash up and rest. Have dinner brought to them,” she said carefully, in code. Basically, she was saying they were allowing Marsha to stay, but only as they verified her identity, and she would be under supervision.
“Yes, Ms. Murrough. Of course, Ms. Murrough,” she answered respectfully.
“Thank you,” Marsha answered sincerely as she gathered her children. She put their enveloping robes over her arm and ushered them out of the room. She knew the two people left behind would be discussing her and her story, what they had gotten out of her. She couldn’t tell them much as the children had been listening. While Bahir had listened and not really understood, Amir hadn’t cared at all. He had, in fact, fallen into a light sleep in her arms. She was tired, so very tired. She had carried them so often on her trip to escape. Fear was a great motivator in keeping her adrenalin going, but it was now gone and she was exhausted.
“Here you are,” Linda told them cheerfully as she showed them to a bedroom. “I hope you don’t mind sharing, but I thought the children would want to be with you.”
“No, I don’t mind and you are right. They would be frightened in this strange place without me,” Marsha told her gratefully. “Thank you.”
“I’ll bring your dinner in a little while,” Linda promised as she showed herself out of the room.
“Thank you,” Marsha repeated politely. Once the door was closed, she sagged in relief. She was here! She was free! Free of Zabi, free…. She couldn’t quite believe it. She wondered how long she had been gone. She protectively rubbed her stomach and the baby seemed to understand her need to be quiet. She worried now that maybe she’d done something to harm the fetus growing inside her. Zabi would be angry, especially if this were a son too. Then she realized, she didn’t have to worry about Zabi and his anger…ever again.
“Moray?” Bahir asked anxiously. She hadn’t understood where they were going and the surroundings seemed so strange. She was frightened of these people.
“It’s okay, my flower,” Marsha told her consolingly, speaking her native language. It had taken more than a year to understand as much as she did of the dialect that Zabi and his people spoke. A lot had been hand gestures and angry demands, but now she pushed that aside. She was on American soil and she was free. She knelt down to her daughter, smiling at the native dress she was wearing…her best, there hadn’t been time to change. The covering robes were full of dust from their travels. The clothes they wore were stereotypical of Afghan children—his daughter and son were Zabi’s pride and joy! They looked beautiful in their best clothes. Marsha was proud of her children and relieved that she had gotten them both away. She was incredulous that she had managed, finally. “Why don’t we bathe? That nice lady is going to bring us food and then we can sleep,” she indicated the huge, by her children’s standards, queen-size bed in the middle of the room. The furniture was sparse, but to the children the room was luxurious and strange.