We’d set it up for you to talk
to the woman who spoke English, who’d
opened a secret school for girls –
as featured on the Taliban’s
list of Allah’s also-rans.
She thanked you for Great Britain’s part
in ending such a tyranny
and then described in moving terms
her undercover past, the fear
now tempered, since the West was there.
Don’t leave us this time – her final plea.
We won’t, you said. We’ll see it through.
She smiled, and you moved on, to charm
a minister or a general.
I didn’t think that I’d recall
that brief encounter ten years on
when you were plugging your memoirs
to a strategy forum in Whitehall.
Afghanistan, I heard you say,
would have to find an Afghan way.
I asked you whether you remembered
that trip; her words; your words; her smile.
You shrugged, and said in politics
sometimes it wasn’t possible
to finish all you’d hoped to do.
Well yes, it’s true each body bag
is a weight we carry, you and I,
and bled votes for those who’d stay the course.
But what should I say, were I to meet
her once again, on that Kabul street?
First published in Snakeskin 248, February 2018