Hi and welcome to FromBelgiumWithBookLove, where today I’m sharing book love all the way from South Africa! In spirit that is, since unfortunately I’m typing this from a very dreary Belgium. A while ago, lovely Pat(ricia) Furstenberg invited me to read and review her book, and while I was tempted to accept, I was afraid that Silent Heroes was a little too far from my comfort zone. Nevertheless, I did want to support this awesome indie author, so I’ve invited her to share an extract with us.
Let’s have a peek at the blurb first:
How far would you go to save strangers in need?
Military Dogs risk their lives for their humans in a heartbeat, but can soldiers do the same when personal struggles and global affairs defy humanity?
When Taliban raids an Afghan village and discovers that girls can read, a woman accepts the blame to save the community. Her children’s’ lives become intertwined with those of the Marines deployed at a nearby military base. It soon becomes a race against time, fending off the Taliban lurking at the ancient Qala-e-Bost fortress and defending Bost Airport, a vital strategic point for the allies. But will the outnumbered Marines defend the Taliban cell, find the missing Afghan child and arrive on time to save the rest of the kidnapped civilians?
Ready? Okay! Here’s a little preview from Silent Heroes:
“This garden has been planned,” he said. “See the rows of tall trees? They provide shade for the nearby plants and I bet there are tiny water channels dug through and maintained daily, spanning around the roots of the small plants. Someone waters each plant by hand.”
“There are only children and elderly left here,” said Dunn.
“The water is most probably brought by children and young women from the spring we saw yesterday. Water is like gold here. They cannot afford to waste it, not even through evaporation. I bet these plants are watered by hand as to not waste one ounce. Someone drop-feeds water to their roots every day.”
“I think it’s him,” said Conde.
An old man, with paper-thin skin as wrinkled as the first affectionate letter draft of a frustrated lover, slowly approached them. Solemn eyes, watchful, yet a serene look on his face. His clothes, although clean, were wear-worn and sun-yellowed. Conde could spot the knee-wear at the front of the man’s kameez. A pair of piercing blue eyes, vivid and alert, measured them from underneath a neatly folded headdress.
“As-salāmu ʿalaykum,” he bowed slowly from the waist, his brown palms pressed together, two make-shift wooden crutches tucked between his armpits.
Seen in such proximity his hands were a stone sculpture in red marble, the marble of Turkey and Iran, calloused and raw, like they had worked for him all his life, twice as hard. What kind of a life this man had known? Through how many wars had he live while mending his garden?
The soldiers half bowed, in respect. Honda laid her head on her front paws and offered a sigh of pleasure, in the cool shade.
The man swiped his left hand across the garden. Conde guessed that the man’s left leg was the good one.
“This, our garden. Fruits, greens, for healthy children.” His voice sounded firm but pleading.
“It is beautiful,” Dunn said.
“You are a very good gardener,” added Conde and he drew a grid in the air with his hand; the garden’s floor plan. The old man’s eyes shone with pride. And something else. Surprise? Hope?
A small brown head sprouted at the left side of the man.
“Definitely, left leg’s good,” thought Conde.
Hair parted in the middle, two pigtails plated tightly, to hold.
Two eyebrows pencilled straight above big, brown eyes that spoke of a beautiful soul, at home in the middle of this patch of man-made nature. Eyes that searched his face with a maturity beyond her age. Eyes that knew the intense suffering of an animal at the hand of human cruelty. Yes, she smiled and her pink cheeks offered him two dimples and a strand of pearly whites.
“The vegetables were helping,” thought Conde.
In her hands, the girl held a woven basket filled with mulberries.
“Our mulberries,” explained the old Afghan man proudly as he waved towards the trees lining the sides of their hidden garden.
“This is the land of Brobdingnag and I am Gulliver,” said Tweedledee.
“You’re Gullible for sure,” replied Tweedledum. “These are red mulberries, Afghan ones, they are so sweet. Have some,” he said while extending his arm past Conde and picking a fruit as long and as thick as his thumb. A myriad of tiny luscious beads in shades of berry red, sangria and mahogany, even wine-red, were holding tightly together like a bunch of nuns caught undercover.
The old Afghan man smiled and, repositioning his crutches, retreated to a wooden bench leaving space next to him for the remainder of the soldiers. Dunn joined him, the sweetness of the fruit fresh on his tongue. Conde chose to sit on the earth nearby, his hand stroking Honda’s fur. The dog lifted her head, licked the soldier’s hand then placed it on his knee, groaning in joy. Only Dunn noticed Conde’s jaw tightening in pain as the Marine looked down towards the dog’s head. Honda’s crown had almost the same shade of black as Xena’s, with the difference in the lengths of the hairs.
“It must be difficult to tend to this garden,” said Dunn. “Life is harsh here. You are doing a very good job; my Marine here tells me. He, too, is an expert gardener,” and Dunn nodded towards Conde.
The old Afghan man kept quiet, his cobalt eyes focused on the little girl. One of the soldiers had offered her a cereal bar wrapped in brown paper and the girl was looking at the wrapper, unsure what to do. The soldier’s eyebrows went up then he helped her tear the wrapper. The girl smelled the content and tried to lick it. The soldier laughed and mimicked taking a bite, then rubbed his tummy saying “mmm.” The girl’s face lit up. She took a small bite and closed the wrapper over the remainder of the food, sticking it in a concealed pocket of her shalwar kameez. Conde watched from the ground, his eyes level with the girl. He knew she will save it to share it later with her brothers, sisters, cousins.
“It must be difficult carrying the water from the stream to keep these plants alive,” Dunn went on.
“For the children,” repeated the old man.
“My grandmother taught me to garden,” Conde stepped in. “She, too, had a mulberry tree at the back of her plot, away from the house. I used to help her make jelly. She taught me about organic fertilizers.”
Conde watched the old man from the corner of his eye. His face had changed its composure on hearing the last word but said nothing, his eyes still trained on the girl.
Only the soldiers’ appreciative murmurs rose between the rustle of leaves.
“Do you have enough to keep the garden alive?” said Dunn.
“Only just. But we manage. Allah is big. The garden keeps our children alive and it teaches them that you don’t get a face full of dust when you smell a flower. It keeps their souls alive. And us, for them. Green is happy, green is peace and prosperity. The colours of the true Islam. Who doesn’t like that?” said the old man, turning to face Dunn. The emotion in his eyes was as deep as an ocean and like an ocean it carried warmth and life.
Silent Heroes is Pat’s 13th self-published book and the first work of adult fiction. Her previous writings are children’s books and poetry, most of them featuring a dog or an animal. She has a medical degree, but chose to pursue her long-life passion for writing. She resides in South Africa with her family and she says coffee is her guilty pleasure, nothing to be guilty about, I say!
Don’t be shy and say hi to her on social media, she’s lovely! And for the Outlander fans among you, she’s an Outlander fan as well, just saying ? (Also: any excuse for using a Jamie GIF will do ?) Thanks for joining Pat and me today!