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One evening the Young Man was coming back to Saddar along Hospital Road. A man was looking at him out of the crowd of people looking at him. —“Asalamu alaykum,” said the Young Man automatically. —“Walaykum asalam,” the man said. “Where you go?” —“I’m just walking,” the Young Man replied. “I like to walk.” —The Pakistani bought him a cold Sprite. It was a very hot evening, and he was dehydrated from dysentery; he drained the bottle in seconds. The Pakistani bought him another. — He was an engineer studying at Peshawar University. He also liked to take walks, he said. — They walked together down past Balahisar Fort (originally, said the guidebook, built by Babur, first of the Mughal Dynasty), and along the wide British avenues. The trees were painted with wide white stripes of lime.

“You want to see Peshawar Museum?” the man said. — “Very much,” he said. — It was six-thirty. The museum had closed at five, but the Young Man’s benefactor spoke for a long time to the grumbling old caretaker until finally the wooden doors were flung back, and the Young Man stepped into the dark. Behind him, the caretaker turned on the electric lights one at a time, as they were needed. There were beautiful Qur’ans, in blue and white, and other colors; a whole room was set aside for them. There were women’s costumes that would have jangled in silver, had the women still been alive to wear them; and water-skins, and knives, and muskets; and remote black Buddhas from the forgotten time. The Pakistani was among friends. He told the Young Man something about every display that was there, until the Young Man felt great respect and wonder creeping upon him like a lovely evening shadow across sunny rooms. Again they went to look at the room of the Qur’ans, which were so perfectly made that even now I can still sometimes see them with my eyes closed, the pure blue and white cursive weave of them, and I hope that I will see them again.

At sunset the Young Man and the Pakistani walked into the old city and its dinner smells of kebab and mutton tika and curry. Entire streets sizzled with frying meat. As twilight came, a weariness settled over the town. In the fabulous garden of Shahi Bagh they stopped beneath the trees, and the Pakistani bought him a Sprite and a 7-Up. Shahi Bagh smelled like flowers. In the fading light, he saw men sprawled in the grass, or sitting with one another talking quietly. — “Who are they?” he asked. — “Afghan refugees,” the man said. “They sleep here.” —“Where do they sleep if it rains?” —“In the mosque,” the man said. “If there is room.”

When it was dark the man got him a rickshaw, paid his journey to Saddar for him in advance, and disappeared.

 

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