Peter C. Baker

My Suit

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.