I find my brother in my dreams, tinkering on old airplane parts with sparse and broken-down tools. I know he is my brother not because I recognize his face—when he turns to me his features seem smaller, unwilling to claim the same plots of skin as they did when he was younger. I know he is my brother from the shapes of feathers peeking through his threadbare long-sleeve shirt. I do not claim these visions to be real, though at times fiction proves itself more au- thentic than truth. This is the role of the story: to prove how truth substantiates itself in our lies. Our petty myths designed to comfort us from the chasm separating us from the unknown.
He told me Kabul was a city of wires. He told me wires hung loose from the poles like over-used tightropes. He told me that when he looked up, he felt as though he were looking through a huge net, one tangled together by the arthritic hands of God. Sometimes the electric- ity running through that canopy sounded like screaming.
But what shocked him the most in this city of wires was the lack of birds. So many perches, so little bird shit. He said it was the bombs and the gunshots, the explosions—what made the birds flee. “Forced migration,” he called it. He told me that when he dreamed, his spirit left his body and drifted to distant times and places. Not distant dreams, you understand, but distant and different realities. Which is why he must’ve felt so… disemboweled… when his spirit returned to his body every morn- ing. His very being had to pass through those thick, tangled wires every night. He told me once his body felt sliced open ever since his time in Kabul. I asked him what he meant in a letter once, but the best he could explain was that, when his spirit left and returned every night, passing through those wires, it would be cut. But the instant the wounds began to bleed, the electricity… I don’t know, cauter- ized them. And when he left Kabul for good, he felt the burning of old wounds, as though they’d been closed with salt still in them. “The scars of my soul,” he wrote, “glow like stars.” He was eviscerated.
He said … He said as soon as they’d entered the city, they’d become victims too. Watchers. The city of wires trapped the people in, so that, even if their hopes for wings did come true, even if they could fly away with the birds insome strange, miraculous, freak- occurrence, some gift from God, say if maybe, just maybe the people’s backs did somehow sprout wings, the wires would ground them from flight. He said Kabul was a city of stranded angels.
But one evening, when the sky was setting, he’d seen one of them break through the wires. He knew it was a man who’d sprouted wings. But instead of coming from his back like he’d imagined, the wings grew from where his arms would’ve been, like his arms transformed, or… mutated. Above the wires, the man tried to fly away. But he found he couldn’t. His ankle had somehow been wrapped by one of the wires. And he couldn’t untie it now, with his wings that held no fingers. He said, above the city of wires, he’d watched an angel die. And he also said, that somewhere above all that city-sprawl, a man with wings for arms lie in the cheesecloth mesh of those hand-hung wires, lifeless.
A city of wires, a city of strand- ed angels. Angels grounded for so long they began to look like men. I wonder what will come of my brother. I wonder if, when I reach him, I’ll be able to tell him apart from the rest. My hand moves to separate the feathers of countless broken wings.