(Continued from Part 3)
Noushin scrubbed her wet clothes on the flat river stone, glancing occasionally at Sholeh and Sharuz, their wet, plump bodies glistening in the sun. Noushin wasn’t worried about the twins, the water was shallow, the sun was warm, and there was no one about to complain about their nakedness. She was a bit concerned, however, about Niki, the goat, who did not seem pleased at being dressed in Sholeh’s best clothes. “Tuck it up higher,” she called to them. “She might trip.”
At sixteen, Noushin had little patience for overbearing busybodies, and her widowed status brought some measure of independence as a compensation for the poverty.
Although she could not say that she had come to love Akbar in the few weeks of their married life, her grief when he was killed in the massive air strikes of ’05 was sincere. He died without knowing the secret she herself scarcely knew or comprehended. The twins were born a month to the day before her fourteenth birthday, and Noushin was not sure if the backbreaking, assiduous struggle to care for them, and keep them alive and healthy, was motivated by true maternal love or the simple desire to have playmates again.
According to the customs in her remote village, technically in Iran, some said, though so close to the Afghan border that the topic was a frequent subject of the kind of lively debate occasioned by a question of local interest whose answer makes absolutely no difference to local life, she should have stayed with Akbar’s family and raised her children with the help and interference of dozens of in-laws, but Akbar was the only son, his mother had died when he was born, and his sisters had spread out across the globe, married with families of their own.
She could have gone with her father-in-law to live with his youngest daughter in Turkmenistan, but the ravages of war, and the question of whether an aged blind man would count as a valid chaperone for several days’ journey in the company of the sisters’ husband and the half-dozen Turkmen brothers and cousins he had brought with him rendered the invitation lukewarm, and her politely regretful decline of it less of a scandal than her acceptance would have been.
So she stayed in her little mud-walled enclosure, barely more than a cave, and managed to provide enough basic care, and avoid enough social opprobrium, to at last have her longed-for playmates, though she had little time to play with them, she made a face at the pile of clothes still unwashed. She wanted to dress up the goat, too.
Boykin motioned to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Ricardo Sanchez to sit down. Although he admired Sanchez’ steadfastness in the wake of the media frenzy over the souvenir photos that had found their way into the media Back Then, he was not comfortable with the man’s ethnicity. Still, he had to admit that Sanchez had pulled his weight in containing the situation, and privately, had accepted full responsibility for his error in failing to implement a strict camera ban. In fairness, though, Boykin reflected, the real heroes in that incident were the American people, who reaffirmed his faith in them by accepting the photos as what they were: American soldiers just wanting to show the folks back home that they could do their jobs defending freedom and have a little fun at the same time, that life in theatre wasn’t all about sweltering behind shitty buildings and getting your legs blown off by improvised explosive devices. It was generally conceded that overall, the photos had boosted morale at home, as well as on the battlefield. Boykin chuckled to himself. Five years later, and all the new recruits and Selectees alike STILL wanted to work the Ghraib.
“So, tell me how this works, exactly.”
“The Citizen Defenders Program, sir,” is the kind of innovative, outside the box pro-active strategy that the nation needs to win the War on Terror,” Sanchez began.
Boykin waved his hand impatiently. “Don’t recite the press release to me, Rico-Suave. Just tell me how the damn thing works.”
“Yes, sir. A company in Texas has developed a highly sophisticated and adaptable system of remote weapons activation, which the Core of Engineers has reconfigured and customized to dovetail with current operational needs in critical corridor sectors.”
“Damn it, boy! I said don’t read me the press release. Tell me in English. You were born here, weren’t you. Don’t tell me you don’t speak English.”
“It’s like an online computer game, sir. The Citizen Defender, stateside, clicks his mouse, and destroys whatever target we assign him, wherever on earth it is, sir.”
“And how much will this cost us to set up?”
“A lot, sir. But the Citizen Defenders pay to play. The program will pay for itself and then some, within the year. We have already have paid applications from almost every Professional and Preferred adult in the country, and about 80% of the minors.”
Boykin threw back his head and laughed. “God bless the Resolve and Patriotism of the American people, Sanchez. Put your faith in them and you can’t go wrong. How soon can we have this thing up and running?”