Peshawar ended on a dark note that proved to be a dire omen. I was walking down a road just outside the city walls, in the ruins of the ghostly decayed gardens of the long gone Mughals when I saw a living shroud run passed me. The girl in a pale blue shroud was running, running, running in such desperation! She actually had her shroud up so she could see. Those pale blue living shrouds all but blind women you see. So I saw her face. She was terrified. It was like the terra cotta head of the terrified woman I bought. She was utterly terrified. That was all I saw. It was so shocking you see to actually see a woman or girl in the ‘City of Men’ and to see her with her living shroud up exposing her face was even more shocking. And to see that face consumed with utter terror!
She ran passed me into the twilight. There was a faint smell of roses. Then I was alone in the ruins of the garden again. It was as if I had dreamed it. Then I saw some eight or ten men running up to me. Except they were not running up to me but rather chasing the fleeing girl in the living shroud. They had weapons in their hands and were howling.
Quickly I drew a line in the dirt and stood there as I pulled out my Indian saber. I then exclaimed in their Pashto tongue that “My Nang Honor requires I fight the first man who crosses this line in the dirt!”
“What? You English are all mad dogs! Stand aside kafir!”
“I have come to this garden to challenge the first man to cross this line in the dirt!” I exclaimed. “It is my Nang.! My Honor! I declared it to my fellow officers. I said I would do this thing! Who will cross this line in the dirt and fight me?”
“Mad kafir! We do not have time for this silly nonsense!”
“Is Nang silly nonsense!” I exclaimed. I held the saber firmly. I desperately hoped the girl was fleeing away into the darkness and that my quixotic gesture would save her. The men growled furiously but Nang required Nang.
“A duel kafir? To the death or first blood?”
“A duel. The end is as it will end!” A young man then suddenly came out and stood before me. He stared at me most intently and then he deliberately crossed the line as his clan snarled howling.
“We have not the time for this silliness!”
“Nang is Nang” the young man replied to his elders as they snarled. “As you have lectured me this day!”
The young man held his saber and I held my saber. I had no small round shield. Nor did he. Then our sabers struck each other as the metal rang out in the growing twilight. We fought hard and furiously among the wild roses and the night blooming jasmine. I had been practicing with Captain Broadfoot and I gambled now and stuck the young man’s cheaper blade with my Sheffield fake Indian saber. It was a trick my captain taught me. My steel shattered his inferior iron. He was disarmed. I could now slay him. But that was not the point was it? I was buying time without appearing to be buying time. I gestured and then I bowed. “My Nang is satisfied.” My boot brushed the line in the dirt away.
It was now quite dark. It was a half moon night. The young man bowed his proud head slightly. I saw a very slight tear in one eye. Or was it the trick of the moon? Then the men ran past me furiously. I could not admit knowing why they were there so I slowly walked back to my cantonment. Later at dawn I again walked in the moonlight of the empty and deserted garden. Some fifty feet ahead of the spot where I drew the line in the dirt I found a shroud. It was no longer a living shroud. The shroud had been left like garbage in the dirt.
I dug a grave and eased the very bloody shroud, now very much a shroud, into the hole and then I layered rocks and stones and branches and brambles. I saw a man move in the early dawn light. He stood a little to one side. He watched me silently.
“The Jackals will eat her.”
“No. I learned this in the Great Trunk Road. It is Road Burial. It foils jackals. I want to practice the skill so I won’t forget how to do it. Who knows when I might need to dig a grave for a friend or lover of mine? It is a skill I do not want to forget.”
“It is garbage. It should be left” the young man said very softly in an odd voice that quivered very slightly.
“It was left here so no one appears to want to claim it. It is just a shroud. I am just burying as shroud. Someone left a shroud. It is not an living shroud. I am merely practicing road burial. That is all.” I finished the grave and pressed the layers of rocks and stones and brambles and branches down firmly. Then I stood up. It was bright dawn. Then I realized the man was the same young man I had fought the duel with last night. Was it my imagination or was there a tear in his eye?
“My clan might come after you English.”
“Why?” I replied. “I but bury a shroud someone left here.”
“Clan Nang is uncompromising” the young man replied in that oddly soft, slightly quivering voice. “It does not forgive or forget.” Beware English! Beware getting tangled in our Nang!”