Nick Perkins – Allegory on Afghan Education

Saturday- 0800

There was no time for fear.  There was no time for anything.  One moment, the world was still.  Aeva sat eagerly in her chair as the teacher introduced the class to letters, things that Aeva had only ever seen her Aunt or big sisters work with.  Her littlest (and favoritist) sister, Habiba, was in another classroom, probably learning with some other Tailless ones her age.  Everything seemed perfect.  Then, without warning, without any sort of indication that the world was about to shatter, the window exploded.  Light and sound ripped through the air, throwing Aeva back against the wall.  Her mousey head smashed against a poster of the alphabet, and the small girl crumpled to the ground.  There had been no time to feel afraid, no time to prepare herself, no time to even say a prayer.   Panicked screams from other parts of the school mixed with the cheers and hollers echoing up from the ground beyond the broken window.  Aeva barely had time to recognize that her fur was growing hot before her eyes quit on her, and everything went black.

Friday- 0800

Smack!  A pot smashed into Aeva’s back, and the girl staggered. 

“Such a freak, Aeva.”  That was her sister, Afzalah.  Unlike Aeva, who was forced to wear heavy robes and a thick veil, Afzalah’s clothing was light and colorful.  Her Tail swished behind her, the furry appendage adorned with silks to emphasize the power and beauty that came with it.  As always, Aeva felt the damning absence of any such growth with a sting that had absolutely nothing to do with the pot her sister had just thrown at her.  “I mean, look at this place.”  Afzalah waved a paw at the dark bottles littering the corners of the room, and Aeva bowed her head.  Anger stirred in her stomach; it wasn’t her fault that her Tailed sisters had made such a mess last night.  She wanted to say something, but Aeva knew enough to hold her tongue.  The last thing the girl wanted was for her older, more powerful sister to hit her again.  “Well, don’t just stand there, Aeva!  Get cleaning!”

Aeva bowed her head again and scurried about the room, her whiskers twitching furiously behind her thick veil.  She picked up the bottles and made to throw them away, but Afzalah stopped her so she could finish off the ones that hadn’t spilled their contents onto the floor. 

Aunt Dima bustled into the room.  She was like Aeva in that she had been born without a Tail, but the likeness stopped there.  Aunt Dima was so old that most of her fur had fallen out, leaving spotted patches of mismatched grey fuzz growing in random places on her body.  Though she wore the same dark, heavy robes and veils as Aeva did, her portly frame was so large that the concealing and depersonalizing fabrics did nothing to hide her body.  Worst of all, her age meant that she was an elder.

“Afzalah, my darling!”  Aunt Dima’s stomach bumped Aeva into a nearby wall as its owner wobbled over to embrace the beautiful girl.   “How were the Prayers today?  Did you make sure to arrive at the first hour?”

“Yes,” Afzalah replied, “though I was one of the few who did; but more on that later, Aunt Dima.  Aeva forgot to do the cleaning again!”

Aunt Dima’s eyes turned to glare at Aeva, and the younger girl squeezed her eyes shut.  She did her best to tone out the screams, and she did a pretty good job of it until she felt a fat paw smack her upside the head.  This was why she hated Aunt Dima.  She was Tailless, just like her, but the old woman treated Aeva just like all of Aeva’s Tailed siblings did: like dirt.  It wasn’t her fault, though; Aunt Dima and Afzalah were hardly alone in their treatment of the Tailless who weren’t old enough to be considered honored elders.  Aeva and her kind were born without a Tail, and because of this, they were only worthy to be the servants of those with Tails.  Only people with a Tail mattered; only people with Tails could truly think; only someone born with that appendage could be considered important in life.  Aeva sighed and took a broom from a nearby closet as Afzalah and Aunt Dima swept from the room, having already forgotten about her presence.

“Only people with Tails matter,” she said, doing her best to sweep up the shards of broken bottles littering the corners of the floor.  “I don’t have a Tail.”  She took a wet rag and began to scrub the floor, trying to erase all traces of the dark liquid.  “I don’t matter.”

Friday- 1700

“What nonsense is this?”  Aunt Dima glared down at Aeva, her frayed whiskers trembling with fury.  “Have you the fever?  What are you babbling on about now?”

Aeva bit her lip and tried to grapple her excitement into submission.  “Aunt Dima,” she said, doing her best to keep impatience and exhilaration out of her voice, “didn’t you hear?  They’re building a school in-town for children without Tails!  Aunt Dima, I’m a child without a Tail!  I could go to school, and-”

“Absolutely not!”  Aunt Dima’s voice was like a crackle of thunder.  Aeva flinched.  “I’ve heard of this school and the Tailless one who’s running it.  She doesn’t know her place, and neither do you!”


“No!  I absolutely forbid it!  You will not attend this… this… I won’t let you participate in such… foolishness!  The place of a Tailless is to serve the Tailed; that’s the way it’s always been.  Aeva,” she said, her tone becoming gentler, “listen to reason.  I know it can be hard, but it’s the way things are.  And when you get to be my age, you’ll find life to be much better.”

“I don’t want to wait!”  Tears were building up in Aeva’s eyes, and she actually stomped her foot in frustration.  “I don’t want to wait until I’m old and shedding all my fur for life to start meaning something!  I want to go to school!”

Pain blossomed in her arm.  Aunt Dima had grabbed hold of her, her large frame ballooning up to its full size, her fat paws squeezing Aeva’s little arm until the girl cried out in pain.  “You’re not going to school,” she said, her voice a hiss, “not now, not ever!”  She twisted, and Aeva screamed.  “I take care of you.  I give you food, shelter, a home, and this is how you repay me?  With insolence and selfish complaints?”  She threw Aeva from her, and the girl crumpled against the wall.  “Actually, you know what?  Go to school!  Pretend that you have a future outside this house!  You’ll see; you’ll realize I’m right, and I hope I’m there to see the look on your face when you do.  Now go!”  Aeva didn’t need telling twice.  Whimpering, she fled the scene. 

Saturday- 0600

The desert streets were deserted.  Aeva kept looking around nervously, afraid that someone would jump out behind a stall or venue and start screaming at her for daring to defy tradition.  She kept a tight grip on her little sister, Habiba, as she walked.  Habiba was even younger than Aeva, barely older than five, but Aeva didn’t want to do this without her.  She was the only other person in the house without a Tail (besides Aunt Dima, of course, but she didn’t really count), and Aeva felt responsible for her.  She was so excited for this new school that was opening today, and she wanted her little sister to feel that too.  “Come on,” she said quietly, surprising herself by talking in public, “almost there, Habiba!”

Someone was waiting for them outside the gates of the school.  The woman raised a paw, and the two girls flinched and covered their faces.  “No, no!  I’m not going to hurt you.”  Aeva peeked out, her whiskers twitching nervously.  The woman didn’t have a Tail, and she seemed nice- and even better, she looked too young to be like Aunt Dima.  “My name is Basira,” she said, kneeling down to look the two girls in the eyes, “what’s yours?”

Aeva pulled Habiba a little closer to her, glanced around, and muttered a response.  “Aeva.”

“Aeva?   That’s a very pretty name.”  Aeva looked down at her feet and squirmed uncomfortably, not used to praise.  “What about you, little one?  What’s your name?  I bet it’s just as pretty as your sister’s!”

Habiba chewed on her paw, looking up at the woman through sleepy eyes.  “Habiba.”

“Well,” Basira said, standing up and smiling down at them, “hello, Aeva and Habiba.  Are you here for the school?”

“Uh-huh.”  Aeva nodded.  Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after-all.

“Well,” Basira said, “welcome!   Classes don’t start for another couple of hours, but there are already Tailless girls waiting inside.  You can join them, if you like, or you can wait outside with me.  I’d like to stay here so I can meet more people like you!”

Aeva frowned.  Basira seemed to notice her discomfort.  “What’s wrong, dear?”

“Aunt Dima doesn’t like your school,” Aeva said.

“Oh,” Basira said, “I’m not surprised.  A lot of people don’t like the idea of me teaching Tailless ones.  They get very upset when they think of people without Tails being treated as anything but servants or slaves.  Some people are very angry that this school even exists.”


“But don’t let that scare you,” Basira said.  “You know why?  Because you deserve a fair chance, Aeva- you and Habiba both.  You’re capable of so much more than cleaning and cooking, don’t you think?   People are going to be angry, but that’s okay because we’re doing what’s right.  Wouldn’t you agree that’s what’s really important?”

Aeva shrugged, then nodded. 

Basira sneezed, and the sisters shrieked and flinched away from her.  They hid their faces behind their trembling paws, and this time, there wasn’t any peeking.

“Aeva, Habiba, I’m not going to hurt you.”  The voice was gentle, but Aeva still refused to peek.  “No-one’s going to hurt you here, I promise.  In fact, I’m going to make sure that nobody hurts you at home again.”


Saturday- 1700

Seven Tails twitched in tandem as seven pairs of eyes watched the one Tailless person present speak.  Though the assembled women outranked the speaker in every sense of the word, they listened quietly and without interruption.

“A hundred children lost their lives this morning,” Basira said, “today, on the first day of the school.  I want this place to be a shelter for them; a place where they don’t have to worry about their lack of a Tail bringing them harm.  These girls deserve an equal chance at life, and I want them to be safe.  That’s why I called you; I want you to keep an eye on the school.  No more grenades.  I want these girls safe.”

The women nodded and, one by one, they left.  Basira, meanwhile, turned to look out the window.  Smoke was still visible in the sky, and Basira bowed her head.  “I’m sorry,” she said.  “It won’t always be like this.  I had a Tailed one threaten me today; she had a knife, and I think she believed she could scare me into closing the school.  I told her very firmly that I will continue to fight for these girls until my dying day, and that if she wanted to stop me, she’d better stab me right then….” She sighed.  “Though we are faced with adversity and hatred, we have to keep moving forward; it’s the right thing to do, and if we don’t fight for what is right, who will?”


Ms. Razia Jan is the founder and leader of “Razia’s Ray of Hope,” a nonprofit organization that improves the lives of many Afghan girls through free education in Deh’Subz, Afghanistan.  Her school was founded on the principle that education is the key to empowering girls and young women towards reaching brighter futures, both in and outside of their villages.   This story was inspired by her story.  The culture of the “Tails” was an allegory for the oppressively male-dominated culture of the Afghan society in which Ms. Jan built her school.  Her school was indeed attacked on its very first day by people who believed that women didn’t deserve an equal opportunity as men, and 100 girls were killed.  Despite the dangers facing her and her girls every day, Ms. Jan continues to open the school’s doors to any girl who wishes to be educated because she believes that working for a better future is worth the risk.