"Chidori, hurry up!"
"Coming, Mom!" Chidori had been looking at one of the merchant stalls in the marketplace; the stall was covered with beautiful cloth, embroidered in more colors than she could count. Now she turned to find her mother, who was hard to recognize at first glance in her headscarf and long dress.
Dad's work took him all over the world, but this was the first time Chidori'd been able to come. She liked trying all the different foods, and she kept trying to hear all the different languages Dad had told her people spoke in the country. He'd taught her a few Persian words, but she'd been able to understand salam, and that only a few times.
"Are you hungry?" Mom asked. "I thought we might get some bread."
"Sure," Chidori said, smiling.
Mother wasn't feeling well, so Kashim went to the market alone, the cart filled with fleeces from their last shearing. Her illnesses had gotten more frequent in the past year, and it worried him.
Still, she was as strong as she'd ever been, and he'd grown and gotten stronger over the winter. He'd held the sheep firmly as she clipped the thick wool, and the tribe had worked together to help card the fleeces. Huma and Aliya had begun spinning, but Mohammed preferred to have his wife work the wool for his carpets. Kashim hoped that one day he'd be able to see her at her dye pots, turning the natural colors of their animals into brilliant yellow, scarlet and blue.
When he reached Mohammed's stall, he was talking to a stranger; in his dark Western business suit, the man looked like a visitor from another world.
"Kashim," Mohammed said, "this man is from Japan, like you!"
Kashim looked up at the stranger. He had dark hair and light brown eyes; his face seemed kind and friendly. He greeted Kashim in what must have been Japanese.
Kashim shook his head to indicate his lack of comprehension. The echoes sounded familiar, but he couldn't make sense of any of the individual words. "I must apologize," he said. "I came to this country when I was very young, and I can no longer--"
"That's all right," the man answered in Persian. "I know your language, so we can talk to one another. My name is Hiroshi. Mohammed says you were found in a plane crash?"
"That's correct," he said. "Mother spoke with the embassy and tried to locate my family, but no one could seem to find my name on the flight list." He shrugged. Sometimes he'd been curious, it was true, but he was happy herding with Mother.
"How old are you, Kashim?"
"Twelve," he said, which was close enough. Mother thought he'd been around two when the crash happened.
"And you help your mother with the herd?"
Kashim nodded. His past was a distant mystery, but sheep were easy. "We herd Karakul sheep, which are by far the best choice for superior wool," he explained. They may in fact be the oldest domestic sheep in the world, and are an excellent source of meat, wool, and tallow, as well as wool. We've been fortunate enough to breed a few white sheep, which are quite rare, and our Guligas sheep are beyond compare. Mother is an expert in breeding, and our herds are tremendously hardy and--"
Hiroshi put a hand out to interrupt him. "I see you're quite the expert," he said.
"It's important to know as much as you can about your livestock," Kashim explained. "Mother paid for me to go to school in Kabul for two years, so I could learn to read, and learn more about the herd. Did you know that one of the reasons for the tremendous variety in Karakul sheep is the cross-breeding between those sheep and other, mixed herds? Mother and I have been working to strengthen the bloodline of the sheep in our tribe. It's a lot of work, but we've had several sets of twins in the past few years, which has helped tremendously."
"Ah, Chidori-chan!" Hiroshi called out, looking over Kashim's head at someone behind him. "Miyu, come here, there's someone you should meet."
Kashim turned around. A woman and her daughter were approaching; they looked Japanese, like Hiroshi. The daughter came up to him first; she had wide brown eyes and an enormous smile. She held the remnants of a loaf of bread in her hands. "Salam," she said, and then some words he didn't quite recognize. She was pretty.
"Salam," he said.
Hiroshi told the girl some words in Japanese; from his gestures, Kashim thought he made out the word boy, and maybe sheep, or fleece.
Kashim was sure girls found herding interesting. Surely it couldn't be that different in Japan? The cities were much bigger there, but there were country areas in Japan too, he'd learned that at the embassy. "Does she like sheep?" he asked. "I could show her--"
"We live in the city," Hiroshi said. "I don't think she's ever seen a sheep before she came here."
"Our sheep are very well-behaved," Kashim told him. "We're not camped too far from the market, if you'd like to visit."
The girl was tugging at her father's arm. "Chidori," she said, and something more in Japanese.
"She wants me to tell you her name is Chidori, so you should call her that. To be properly Japanese, you should call her 'Chidori-chan.'"
"Chidori-chan," he repeated, and smiled at her. She took another bite of bread and smiled back at him. She said something else through the food.
Hiroshi answered her, and Kashim watched them debate-- whatever it was-- before Hiroshi sighed and said, "she'd like to know if you know about more than sheep."
"Of course," Kashim said proudly. "I like to read, and fish."
Hiroshi translated, and soon Chidori was asking him what he liked to read; so Kashim explained, slowly so Hiroshi could catch everything, that there were several Persian publications about shepherding that were available at the Iranian embassy, so every time his tribe came near the capital they stopped by so he could read them. There were also several books at the library, and sometimes, when they had a good year, the imam helped him buy more to read through the mail. It took a long time, but he found an excellent resource on the early domestication of sheep last year which was proving very useful....
Chidori interrupted again.
"What about fishing?" Hiroshi said with a sigh.
Kashim shrugged. "One of the men in our tribe taught me. Not many of them fish, but it's excellent for relaxation."
Hiroshi translated once more, and his wife said something. "She's surprised you relax at all," he said.
"Relaxation is very important," Kashim said, ignoring Mohammed's chuckle.
"Well, we'll be relaxing tomorrow," Hiroshi said. "Perhaps we could come visit, if you're not too far away?"
Kashim looked at Chidori again, her mouth twisted in a wry smile. Something in his stomach tightened, and he swallowed. There shouldn't be too much to do tomorrow aside from watching the herd, as long as Mother was feeling well. "I can meet you here," he said, firmly. Then if Mother hadn't recovered, he could simply make his apologies. "After the prayer at sunrise?"
"Perhaps a bit later than that," Hiroshi said. "We're not used to Afghani time. Another hour later?"
Kashim nodded. "I'll look forward to it," he said.
"You realize he'll be here at sunrise," Mohammed said to Hiroshi. Kashim ignored him.
"We'll see you tomorrow, Kashim."
"Nice to meet you," Chidori said, in careful, accented Persian.
"Nice to meet you," he said, smiling at her.
She said something excitedly to her father, and he nodded and smiled at her. "She only knows a few words," he said. "She's happy she got them right."
"Please tell her thank you," Kashim said.
"She's very pretty," Mohammed said, as they walked away, Chidori's hand in her mother's.
"It's just nice to meet someone from home," Kashim said, and almost believed it.