‘They picked up Rashid last week,’ began Tekeste, the FAO Country Director, ‘as you know. Yesterday they released him.’
I stopped chewing my naan. We were having breakfast at a Kabul guesthouse near Shahr-e-Naw. Rashid worked for the FAO, and was one of the nicest persons I knew. I hadn’t been in Kabul for a month on a UN assignment, and already regretted coming here.
‘Great news!’ A morning high. ‘How?’
‘They came over yesterday, both father and son, and I got the story.’
‘Oh, no. After they picked him up, his kidnappers blindfolded him. They said, “You’re a rich fellow, working for UN.” But he cleverly replied: “No, no, I actually work for the government.” Then they said, “Oh, but you have such a big house. You do have lots of money.” But he said: “No, no. The house looks great from outside, but there’s nothing inside.” They then said, “You trying to make a fool of us?” Next day they called his father, saying, “Your son is with us. If you don’t want him killed, you need to pay.” The father said, “We have no money. The only thing we have is the car my son bought. If I sell it, I can get three thousand dollars.” The kidnappers sneered. “Old man, you must be joking. Why, we’ve spent ten thousand dollars organising this.” To which the father replied, “What can I do? I didn’t ask you to kidnap him.” They laughed. “That’s not enough.” When they called the following day, the father was praying. He requested they call again. After twenty minutes they rang him again. “Now tell us how much.” The old man was silent for a bit. “Five thousand. I can’t give more. A few days later they called to announce, “We’re releasing him.” The father said, “To whom should I give the money, then?” “Consider that baksheesh,” they said. “We are releasing your son because we are impressed by you. You wouldn’t interrupt your prayers, despite your worries about your son.”’
‘Next day they threw a burkha on Rashid, and left him down the street.’