Months on the ground in Pakistan accumulated information at the pace of crystallizing carbon. Distrustful local residents of the Swat Valley feared retribution for revelation of any titbit of information, or even for speaking with strangers.
Under pretext of government cover and educational purpose, llhaesa and Jahrae arrived fluent in Pashto, instructors volunteering to a school in Mingora. Addison, upstart daughter who muscled in on the mission despite parental misgivings, couldn’t complain over her student assignment.
Far from drudgery, Addison assumed a role critical, for the students carried less of the conversational inhibitions of their parents, and in some cases, all of the information known to the family.
Despite the high elevation, Addison struggled with the high heat of summer. Some of the young women wore hijab. Others left their heads uncovered. Addie chose to cover. As an outsider, she believed traditional wear eased her way.
While students rallied for Malala Yousufzai, Addie watched rather than participated. Some wrote petitions, others held signs in photos that declared their solidarity with their fallen classmate.
The three outsiders didn’t start from scratch. They knew the identity of the attackers, information obtained through means inaccessible to any earthbound government. They hunted for information on the current location of the three.
On the ninety-fourth day in Mingora, a clandestine force of the Taliban returned to the city. Eight in number, they stormed and occupied the school. To protect the students, llhaesa and Jahrae refused to fight.
“You are not of this Valley,” said one attacker to llhaesa. Her pale skin stood out, unlike the darker Jahrae. The barrel of an AK-47 nudged her along toward one classroom, de facto detention space for the educators.
“True enough, but I am here to help the people, and help them I shall.”
This earned a contemptuous laugh from the Taliban insurgent. “Empty words.” The man attempted a shove, but his strength faltered, unable to handle her distinct size advantage. Llhaesa slipped a step and rooted for a second, but acquiesced and entered, her message clear if not yet grasped.
Jahrae soon followed, along with seven other educators, each outraged and eager to fight. With no door window, Jahrae gambled on a simple act. Her hijab fell to shoulders and revealed jet-black, shoulder length hair, the front locks along her temples trimmed with white, rust, and red. The appearance of glowing embers, the other six at once recognised.
“You…I know you, the one who never gave up hope her wife still lived.”
The speaker turned toward llhaesa. “And you, wife and musician who plays as if guided by the spirit of Allah. Why are you here?”
“We came to help bring to justice the attackers of Malala.”
“For three months, you teach without asking us what we know. Do you distrust us?”
“No. We thought you would distrust us.”
“Because you come from there?” Aimal pointed at the ceiling, her intent aimed at a place the distance thereto measured in comparative increments of light.
“Because we are strangers.”
“You are no strangers to us. Your child, not so little, is Addison?”
“She will watch over our children and keep them calm.”
The woman inclined her head, not quite a nod, but a signal of acceptance and satisfaction with this small positive in the face of threat. The presence of these three meant the advantage fell to the women detained, not the men with guns. The people of the Swat Valley embraced daubs of hope with the same practical affection they did water in the dry months.
They would act together.