This is fiction. Any resemblance to any persons living or dead is coincidental. The events outlined have never to my knowledge occurred. Some of the locations are real.
Afarin Khan had never been blessed with the type of cleverness required to ingest, sift, collate and then regurgitate information onto an examination paper. If anything as far as the British State Education system was concerned, she was cursed with a questioning and interrogative mind. She took nothing at face value and questioned established wisdom at every cut and turn.
“Why are we concentrating on the Native Americans and Black people in the 1930s, Miss. Surely the depression affected all poor and working class people? What about the Chinese immigrants to America?”
“Why do we call the Nazis ‘Right Wing’ when they were called the National Socialist Workers Party?”
“Why is it when we’ve been sending millions of pounds to Africa over the past sixty years, do they still send their kids loads of miles with a manky plastic jerry can to gather water from a polluted river and then complain because they can’t go to school. Why don’t they boil the water or move the village a bit closer to where the water is and dig a few, new clean wells?”
Afarin Khan was blessed as well as cursed. She certainly ticked the right diversity boxes, she was “Asian,” she was a “she,” she was a Moslem and therefore came from a very special and protected niche of Liberal society. Her teachers expected very little of her because of her “disadvantaged” background, but in their heart of hearts, her kindly, liberal teachers with a social justice agenda hated her guts. She was roundly and secretly detested and had she been a white, working class boy, she would have been excluded at the drop of a Pussyhat. Unfortunately they had been hoisted by their own politically correct petard.
It was late spring in the secondary school in south Derby and the GCSEs were coming up. A clump of the more right-on teachers were in the common room, drinking fair-trade, decaffeinated green tea and discussing Afrin Khan’s prospects of achieving a reasonable set of examination grades.
“I don’t suppose we should expect too much. It’s quite surprising that she’s still in school to be honest.”
“I find her quite disruptive in the class,” the Religious Studies and Citizenship teacher observed with a trace of rancour, “She constantly interrupts me when I try to explain the six articles of faith in Sunni Islam and five roots of ‘Usul ad-Din in Shi’a Islam.”
They were joined by the physical education teacher, a rather strapping young woman with close cropped hair, interesting tattoos and numerous piercings, both visible and hidden. Because she was a lesbian, she also fell into a “special” and therefore protected category.
“Are you lot talking about Ms Khan?”
They nodded with pained expressions.
“Ahh, she does present somewhat of a challenge, doesn’t she? But I quite like her. At least she isn’t constantly menstruating like the other girls in her year, she will expend some effort and will at least take a shower after PE, unlike the other skanks.”
There were pained expressions around the group and the terribly camp arts and drama teacher looked like he was having a touch of the vapours.
“She just lacks application.”
The PE teacher drained her coffee, “No she doesn’t. Her problem is that she has a questioning and independent mind. The kiss of death for kids in state education. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some year eights to brutalise in the gym. Circuit training for the little bastards.”
Afarin always wore a Hijab to school, not because she wanted to, but because it was expected of her by her community, her female relatives and the oh so liberal teachers. She hated it and pulled it off whenever she was at home. One afternoon on leaving the school, she saw a group of girls hanging round a pimped-up Mercedes parked outside the school gates. The girls were mainly year eights and nines and came from what their teachers and social workers called rather euphemistically, “troubled or challenging” backgrounds. Their white male classmates called them “skanks.” The men who would have been called by a reluctant media “Asian men of Pakistani heritage” in the Mercedes called them “fresh meat.”
Afarin Kahn walked up to the car and sneered at the young men inside. Her father and her family originated from the Hindu Kush area of Afghanistan, so her first language was Pashtu. Afarin was also fluent in Arabic, Urdu and Bangla. Although she considered them to be of a lower social caste, she addressed them in Bangla.
“Looking for some little white girls for a spot of fun, are you?”
“Fuck off you Afghan whore,” the driver said to her in English.
“Yeah, piss off you Taliban bitch,” one of the white girls said to her.
Afarin shook her head with incredulity, “You do know what this is about, don’t you? What’s it been up to now? CDs? Play Station Games? Some fags? Soon it’ll be booze, then drugs and then you’ll end up staring at the ceiling in some grotty hotel, while their uncles, fathers and grandfathers queue up to fuck you. They don’t care.”
She looked at the young men in the car and her face screwed up with disgust, “مشيمة الخنزير.” She spat at them.
Afarin crossed the road as a police car drove slowly past. Despite looking into the parked Mercedes and at the underage girls outside a school, the coppers did nothing and the police car disappeared around the corner.
Her grades were predictably disappointing and she went home in tears. Her mother and sister were quite sanguine about it, because academic results meant little in their world. It was the reaction of her father that she was terrified of. Eventually she caught him alone and told him, fearing the worst. They spoke in English as he insisted, even in the home.
“Father, I messed my GCSEs up. I only managed a B in Science, a B in Art and Design, a C in Geography, a C in Computer Science, a C in History, a C in literature but two Es in English Language and Maths. I am so sorry.”
Her father smiled sadly at her. He and his wife and elder daughter had fled Afghanistan when the Russians invaded. He had been a high-ranking member of the Civil Service but carved a new life for himself in England. He deliberately avoided the Pakistani ghetto towns in the north and West Midlands and settled in Derby. He ran his own carpet business and he loved his middle daughter with all of his heart. There was something about Afarin that stirred his soul. She was just so unique and he wanted the best for her.
He had argued with his only wife when the child was small.
“No, she will not be cut. It is a barbaric superstition from the Swat valleys. Afarin will leave this world in exactly the same way as God brought her into it. I will not allow her to be mutilated. If you go against my wish, you will go back to the home country without me.”
He knew the problems his daughter faced, being torn between two different cultures. And he knew he didn’t want her to be in an arranged marriage with what he considered some inbred wide-boy from Pakistan.
“Come on, Afarin, let’s look at this dispassionately. You have two subjects with good passes, one of which is science. You have three other good passes. Unfortunately you have not done well in the two most important subjects, the ones potential employers care the most about. What shall we do about it?”
“I could go to college and get a part-time job.”
“You could, and so you shall.”
She hugged her father still crying, tears of gratitude now, “I thought you would be so cross, Daddy.”
“What’s the point? But I do worry about you. I won’t always be here and I want you to make a good life for yourself. One that will provide you with the opportunities this country offers, but nevertheless, a life that pays homage to your background, religion and culture. As a girl, Afarin, it will not be easy. Do you have any idea what you want to do?”
She shook her head, “I literally have no idea.”
“Then think. The choices you make now will be the most important for your future life.”
Afarin Kahn went to college and struggled once again with English and Mathematics, but the difference was, that now she was in a class of men and women who actually wanted to be there. The disruptive morons had gone and at last she was able to concentrate, instead of waiting twenty to thirty minutes for an ineffectual, but oh so liberal teacher to gain a modicum of control over the class.
A few days before she took the examinations again, there was a display in the entrance hall of the college by a group from the Armed Forces Careers Office. The Army display was quite impressive with lots of radios and technical stuff (no Guns allowed), but lots of boys toys. The two men and the woman from the Royal Navy looked really good in their best uniforms and the looped video showed ships and helicopters and was slick and professional. The Royal Air Force display had two females, one was a medic with an impressive tally of medals on her No1s breast pocket. The other was a pretty woman with long auburn hair, tied behind her head in a ponytail. She was wearing a green flying suit and with wings and two, tiny thin, light blue stripes on her epaulettes. She was sipping coffee from a black, metal insulated mug. She exuded confidence and easily batted aside the boys’ attempts to make a pass at her. Afarin looked shyly at her and the RAF lady caught her gaze.
“Hello,” Afarin said shyly, “What do you do?”
The woman put down her coffee and smiled, “Well….”
“Afarin, Afarin Kahn.”
“Well Afarin, my name’s Louise and I fly one of these,” she said pointing to a picture of a helicopter on the display board.
“Cool. I bet you’ve got a degree or something.”
The RAF pilot nodded, “Yes, but if you join up you just need GCSEs and then apply for aircrew duties. If you pass the aptitude tests.”
She handed her a leaflet, “This tells you what you need to have for exams and how to do your homework before you apply to join.”
Afarin could have got lost in those hazel eyes and she felt hot with embarrassment. Louise had that effect on both sexes. She took a long time to read the paperwork on the bus and by the time she got home, Afarin Kahn knew what she wanted to do. Unfortunately her father was not happy about her decision when she told him.
“Have you taken leave of your senses? You are placing yourself at odds to two communities, neither of which will ever accept you. The kufar will always distrust you and your own fellow-believers will ostracise you. To our community you will be dead!”
She was shocked by his negativity as she had always seemed such a beacon of tolerance, but it would appear that if the veneer was scratched off, the lie of multiculturalism was revealed. In truth, she was deeply disappointed with her father and her stubbornness kicked in. Now would not be a good time to tell him that she found the entire premise of a supreme being to be nothing more than a ridiculous throw-back to the Dark Ages.
Afarin passed GCSE English with a B and Mathematics with a C and the previous week she had celebrated her eighteenth birthday. That afternoon she put on her best job interview clothes, collected her educational certificates, birth certificate and passport, and walked into the Armed Forces Careers office on Sitwell Road in Derby and made an appointment. She sat the first of a raft of aptitude tests interviews and initial medical PULHEEMS. Seven weeks later she was attested into Her Majesty’s Armed Forces as an Intelligence Analysis (subject to successfully completing Recruit Training and the sixteen week course, in the fundamentals of Intelligence at the Joint Intelligence Training Group, Chicksands in Bedfordshire). She was initially paid over £13,000 pounds a year, a figure that was beyond her wildest dreams. Once her training was finished, she would learn to drive and buy a little car.
She could have written the script herself. Her transit through Recruit Training at RAF Halton was laughably easy because the race, religion and “special category” card was played at every opportunity. Not by her, but by the directing staff who were terrified of failing to show “cultural awareness.” In the end she became so pissed off with it, she asked for an appointment with her flight commander. Of course it was immediately granted.
“What is the problem, AC Kahn?”
“I want to be treated like everyone else in my flight and not picked out for special attention, sir.”
The instant worry in his eyes was almost comical, “Has anyone…”
“Sir, you don’t understand. I want the instructors to stop tip-toeing round me like I was a delicate little flower. I want to be shouted at and sworn at like everyone else. In the past week during kit inspections and my weapon handling drills, I have made mistakes that anyone else on my flight would have got restrictions for. I want to make it by my own merits, not because I tick a diversity box.”
He looked at her with a slight smile and thought: Right you bitch. Be careful what you wish for.
Another major irritant for Afarin were the recruiters who wanted to photograph her at every cut and turn so she could be a pin-up for diversity at the AFCOs.
Relaxing on her bed, “Can you wear one of those headscarf thingies for the photos?”
“Do you mean a Hijab?”
“Yes, one of those.”
“What about a picture of you sitting at the table, reading the Koran?”
She was the only person on her Squadron who had no friends or family attending the ceremony. The problem was what to do during the two weeks leave before she started her Phase 2 training. It had been made clear to her that she was not welcome at home, mainly due to the attitude of her mother and sisters. But the craven weakness of her father left an emptiness in her soul. She approached the Padre who managed to persuade SSAFA to let her use the emergency married quarter, put aside for families who were in extremis due to family break up or major problems in a married quarter, such as flooding. It was a lonely existence, but Afarin had found that all of her life. Some people make very great sacrifices in order to serve their country.
Afarin struggled with the more academic elements of the Intelligence Analysis course but she was good at analysis and with the help of her instructors, she graduated and her first posting was to RAF Marham, a huge main operating base in the wilds of Norfolk, close to Swaffham, much beloved by Harry Hill. Afarin explored the area in her little Corsa, a part of the country she had never been to. Kings Lynn was interesting historically, but had seen better days. Norwich was a fine city that she enjoyed visiting but the less said about Swaffham the better.
She made friends on the station and socialised with them, but the boys were reluctant to get too close. Afarin was a strikingly beautiful young woman but the barriers were there and she hadn’t erected them. So surrounded by thousands of people, she remained lonely and unfulfilled.
She also found out that the route to aircrew through the ranks was much more difficult than direct entry from civilian life. Serving RAF personnel had far more hoops to jump through than keen youngsters coming in from university and Sixth Form College. There were always excuses when she tried to apply. We’ve had our quota from the ranks this year. You really need a degree or your work can’t spare you. It all led to her level of frustration and dissatisfaction, but she had made her bed and would have to lie in it.
On September 11th 2001, Islamic terrorists from Saudi Arabia decided to fly passenger jets into the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon. President George W Bush decided to bomb a country stuck in the Dark Ages back to the Stone Age. The special forces of all English Speaking countries piled into Afghanistan to hunt another Saudi called Osama Bin Laden. These units required a massive amount of logistics support and the airfields that had been bombed to destruction suddenly needed to be re-activated to support counter terrorist operations. Which was why in February 2002, Senior Aircraftswoman Afarin Kahn stepped off the rear ramp of a C130 on a provincial airport, a few kilometres south of Jalalabad, east of Torkham on the Afghan/Pakistan border. She was part of an enabling force of force protection, engineers, EOD technicians, flight operations, medics and chefs who were going to re-activate the airfield. It had been built by the Russians, bombed by the Americans and repaired by the Brits.
They set up an operating base of tents on the edge of the airfield. The bitter rains turned the talcum powder sand to a muddy mush and temperatures would regularly fall to the minus twenties at night. The heavy equipment arrived a few days later by Antonov 225 and the hard work started, but nor for Afarin, whose real work wouldn’t start until the Tornados and their RAPTOR Pods arrived in theatre. She joined the RAF Regiment patrols that pushed into the local area and did a bit of hearts and minds stuff with the women and children. The men obviously shunned her.
A few Groundhog Days after she started patrolling with the Gunners, a Land Rover that was bristling with heavy machine guns, anti-tank missiles and crewed by pirates, trundled onto the airport and headed for the operations tent. There followed a one-way discussion with the senior RAF officer and a runner was sent to the mess tent to find SAC Kahn.
“Station Master wants to see you, Affi.”
“Oh no, why?”
The runner shrugged.
The Wing Commander was waiting for her along with four men who were dressed in a mixture of British, American and Afghan clothing. They scrutinised her like she was a particularly unusual specimen. The man who seemed to be in charge of the pirates smiled at her.
“You speak Pashto fluently?”
Yes, and Arabic, Urdu and Bangla.”
“SAC Kahn, these gentlemen have requested that you be seconded to them for a few weeks and they have paperwork that is signed off by the Directorate of Special Forces, which rather trumps the Air Component Commander.”
“I see,” although she didn’t, “When?”
“Now, treacle,” the chief pirate said, “Get your kit, luv but don’t bother with your personal weapon. You won’t be needing it.”
© Blown Periphery 2018