Silent Trees Prologue

2001

Maggie Reed awoke at once. She could clearly hear a tapping noise. Was it in her head, the remnant of a dream? No, she was sure it was coming from outside her bedroom door. She listened carefully. Someone was walking along the corridor. A notion dashed through her head, the prospect of it jolted her like a strong electric current coursing through her body. Habib Dhil, she thought. It’s Habib Dhil?

The steps came closer and stopped right before her bedroom.

She raised her head from the pillow and stared at the door, straining her eyes to penetrate the darkness. Her heart raced. She felt hot. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead.

She trembled at the thought that Habib could enter her bedroom any moment. Without thinking, she put a hand up to her breast, feeling her nipple erect against her fingers.

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This wasn’t a dream. She was wide awake and this was reality. She filled with joy as she anticipated Habib’s return into her arms after such a long absence.

Seconds crept by. Nothing moved on the other side of the door. The house was cloaked in perfect silence. Only the sound of her own breathing disturbed the windless summer night.

Maggie dropped her head back onto the pillow. Never had she felt Habib’s presence so strongly.

Her hand trembled as she reached out for the bedside lamp and found herself surrounded by nothing but familiar objects. She slipped out from beneath the covers and rose from her bed. Gasping for air and barely able to keep from collapsing, she dragged herself to the kitchen and fetched a bottle of water from the refrigerator. She walked out onto the porch and sat down on one of the white lawn chairs.

Immersed in the stillness of the night, she leaned back and turned her head upwards. An impenetrable darkness hid the sky. Trying to regain her sanity, she closed her eyes, raised the plastic bottle to her lips and let the cool water pool into her mouth.

She sighed. Perhaps it was a dream after all. Or maybe a spirit Habib’s ghost, coming to inform her that he had already left this world, the world of the living, and that she should end her search for him.

Too much television, she told herself, halting the anxiety taking further hold of her.

She closed her eyes and Habib Dhil appeared before her. They were together at the old fort outside Baghlan in the north of Afghanistan. Before long, however, her picture turned painful.

Habib Dhil was suffering; sweat and dirt covered his face. Blood dripped through his fingers onto the thirsting earth as he pressed his hand against his stomach. The same fingers, she thought, that had slid over her skin and caressed her ever so gently.

She took another sip of water from the bottle. She had to face the facts. It wasn’t going to be too long before she would be considered an old woman. And what then? Her years would be spent working in her garden and volunteering at the Women’s Club.

Yes, she decided. She would make the trip to Pakistan one more time, probably for the last time. She would again search the refugee camps in Peshawar, hoping to find a trace of him.

But first she would visit the central immigration office in Arlington, Virginia and go through the files once more. Habib might have applied for asylum since she had last checked the records.

She looked at the back of her hand. In the soft light streaming out through the sliding door, she saw tiny dark spots on her skin.

So much time had passed. The collapse of Communism and the disintegration of the Soviet empire had turned the world upside down. Yet, she had been unable to find Habib Dhil, not even a trace of him. Could he have died, murdered by someone who was jealous of his wealth? Given the everlasting turmoil in Afghanistan, that was a distinct possibility.

Strange, she thought. Until a few minutes earlier, she had not, even for an instant, thought of him being gone. Whenever she tried to imagine where he could be and what he might be doing, he always appeared on the move, as if he could not find a place to settle and had to travel continually.

Now the tragedy of September 11th had forced America’s hand and another war seemed poised to descend upon the destitute Afghan people. She became determined to visit the refugee camps again, making one final attempt to find him or at least discover a trace of him, a sign, any sign that helped her find peace of mind.