September 4, 1997- Festival of the Winds, Sydney
The remarkable sight of a blue whale sailed through the salty air. Streams of vibrant, vivid kites of all shapes and sizes adored the ultramarine sky, casting a rainbow hue over the golden sand from the beach below.
In his hands, he held a kite. An old thing, patched here and there until it was fit to catch the bountiful winds of Bondi Beach. It was designed by an expert hand, crafted in the classic dyes and structured in the traditional way. The wings accentuated a pair of fierce coral eyes that stared zealously towards the sky.
Rostam felt a tug from the wind, felt the hum of the kite’s desire to join its fellows and explore the limitless open spaces above.
He let go.
November 21, 1992- Kabul, Afghanistan
Rostam slumped cross-legged, gazing at the vibrant kites before him. They were beautiful, made from the finest cloth, decorated with impeccable scrollwork and intricate patterns. His father was a master kite-maker, and always told him that making and flying kites were a true Hazara calling.
His daydream was interrupted by his mother’s shouting from below.
“Rostam Jan! Good news! Come down here.”
Father and mother were holding an official-looking letter. It had the imprint of a blue flag emblazed with a white and red cross, one he had never seen before. They had not received many letters under the Taliban and all Rostam could make out were the letters of his name, in English, scribbled throughout the letter.
“We should be able to leave soon!” His father smiled gently. His hands brushed through Rostam’s pitch-black hair.
Rostam’s fists clenched, a strange nausea rolled over him. Leave Kabul? Leave the home of the Hazara? His parents seemed glad, but all he could feel was a sense of dread and foreboding.
“Can we go out and practice some Kite fighting,” he pleaded.
A conflicted look overcame his father’s face. It was not safe.
His son’s eyes begged him and he felt Rostam’s apprehensive relent. Soon he would be travelling away from here, and he wanted to indulge him in the time they had left.
His father unrolled a bundle of butcher paper- and Rostam found a majestic creature with fierce coral eyes staring back at him, its wingspan stretched out to encompass the entire kite. It was one of his father’s most acclaimed masterworks, known to have cut over a hundred strings in a single tournament.
His father unwound a length of string as Rostam ran across the barren courtyard. A breath of wind caught the turtle dove, and the kite soared into the air.
“I don’t want to go,” Rostam said after a while, father and son watching the kite sail through the translucent clouds upon the grey sky. “I’m happy here with you, with Mama Jan. I want to battle in the winter tournament.”
“We all need to go and explore the world, Rostam Jan,” he said softly, “think of it like a grand adventure.”
“Australia is a beautiful country,” he added. “Imagine me and you, flying to Australia! What will we see? They have cars and trains there! We can fly kites next to the soothing sea.”
Rostam regarded his father miserably. It was not that he did not want to see this amazing new world. He simply loathed the prospect of leaving this one.
The kite made a gradual decent down the horizon as they sky began to moan with the coming of winter rain.
Naphtha lightning lit the cracks of their home in lines of quicksilver. The windows rattled violently as the wind howled, the rain clattering on the thatch. The winter storms of Kabul were becoming fiercer by the year, more violent, and less predictable.
Rostam gripped his father’s coral kite in the darkness, awaiting his parents return.
The heavens moaned malevolently. Shrill screams echoed violently across the valley. The exuberant colour of the turtle dove was smothered in a thin layer of falling dust.
The front door burst open. His father hurdled into the room, streams of water flowing from his beard. His face was ashen.
“You must go now.” His father hurled him a backpack and led him towards the door.
Rostam reeled from the shock, still clinging tightly onto the kite.
“What about you? Mama Jan?”
His father’s face was of pure agony.
“We will be there.” He said flatly, pushing him outside into the rain.
Another man was shouting furiously through the rain. A cargo truck was outside with its engine running. Rostam saw women, children, and a few boys of his age. He scrambled aboard and saw a glimpse of his father handing a thick wad of Afghanis to the driver.
“Inshallah Rostam Jan.” His father’s shouts were heard in the distance, Rostam’s eyes wet from the falling rain. “May you fare better in the new world.”
September 4, 1997- Festival of the Winds, Sydney
The turtledove soared high into the sky, seemingly untethered to the earth and the string that Rostam held so expertly. It drank in the open spaces and the cool breeze, lifted itself and gazed majestically upon the world below.
“What do you see up there Papa Jan?” whispered Rostam to the air, the currents carrying his soft voice into the ether. “Is this the new world you imagined? You were right. This is better than Kabul.”
He had witnessed the world that his father promised. He witnessed the landscape transform from the dusty red interior to the impossible ocean blues of the coast. He witnessed rivers of cars longer than all of Kabul’s dusty roads.
The kite sailed, a fierce piece of his past flying free in the sky, the final gift of his father.