My suit? That’s funny, that you ask about my suit. Because, actually, an Afghan warlord gave me this suit. It’s funny: at first I wasn’t even sure he was a warlord. But his son was showing me around their compound. I can’t say his name. The son. I swore I wouldn’t when they let me in. I can’t say anyone’s name. Anyone from this one compound, I mean. We were walking and I said, “Hey, Hamid.” I’m going to call the son Hamid just because that’s a common name, over there, and I don’t want to keep calling him just “the son.” “Hey Hamid,” I said. “What exactly is it you would say your dad does for a living?” At this point he––Hamid’s dad––hadn’t given me the suit yet. He wouldn’t give it to me until the next day, after this delicious dinner. Lamb, chicken, yogurt, pomegranates, rice, probably eight or nine sorts of rice made different ways. They really, over there, have these very wonderful, really very intricate culinary traditions. Which I’d like to research more, actually, if you guys end up being interested in sending me back. So, the dinner: there was a singer and a dancer at the dinner, the dinner on the night I was given the suit. I don’t know if they lived on the compound, the singer and dancer, or if they came up just for the night. I don’t know. Anyway, Hamid stopped walking, and I stopped walking too, and he stood still and looked down the mountain for a while. The compound is on a mountain. Which is true of many compounds over there. Which I mention only to stress that nothing I’m saying compromises the identity of Hamid––“Hamid”––or his father or anyone else there. Maybe the real Hamid doesn’t even have a father. I mean, he does, but you––you understand. Anyway, what Hamid said was, “Well, I suppose you’d say my father is what people tend to call a warlord.” And he didn’t turn his head to look at me, he kept looking down the mountain at the goats, or sheep. I guess goats. Anyway, goats and/or sheep. And I didn’t feel like doing the hard-hitting follow-up thing just then, which, let me assure you, I know how to go for the hard-hitting follow-up when it’s time, but one must pick and choose and gauge the moment, surely everyone agrees with that. This was just, remember, my first day there, at the compound, and also I figured the warlord thing had been not exactly easy for Hamid to say out loud. Like you know: how sometimes you can tell? That someone’s putting a thing into words for the first time, even if they’ve always known it? And obviously I’d figured. I mean I’d had my hunches. But you’d be surprised how hard it can be to tell over there, with every remotely prosperous person having his own big compound setup with guards and guns and everything. And again, like I was saying before, it’s a very old, very complex tribal situation, and that’s the key thing to understand. There’s a government, yes, but more fundamentally there are tribes, very old tribes, with some very old and complicated alliances and grudges, and plus their religions, all the divisions, and that’s basically the real government: the tribes and various religion groups. Religious groups. So right: I didn’t ask a follow-up question just then because I didn’t want to ruin it, you know? Two guys getting to know each other. Hanging out. Male bonding is very important there. And if I went and took out my notebook––well, I guess I just thought it would get us off on the wrong foot. So I just stood there and looked down the mountain like Hamid was looking, at the goats and/or sheep, and then he, Hamid, looked straight up at the sky, and so I looked up at the sky, too. Over there it’s like it’s rounder, like a dome over top of you, and you’re living inside it, which––it’s just nuts.
Peter C. Baker lives in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.