Abdul Aziz looked up on the way home from the Ramadan feast. The night was cold and his mother was hurrying the family through the darkness. He was chewing a piece of dried fig as slowly as possible, trying to make it last as long as the chewing gum the American soldiers used to give away. It had been a long time since those soldiers had come around.
Abdul Aziz looked up. The stars were so clear, so hard, and there were so many of them. And suddenly, one of them started to glow, like a switch had been thrown.
“Mama, look! It’s like a little sun!” Abdul Aziz stopped and pointed. His older brother Suleiman stopped to look up.
Mother hit them both, hard. “If the Devil looks at you, you don’t look back!” She spit over her left shoulder three times.
For the rest of Ramadan the little star glowed in the sky. Abdul Aziz heard from Suleiman that it wasn’t a star, it was the biggest planet, Al-Mushtari. There was something behind it that was on fire, according to the radio.
The teacher at the madrasa said to ignore the radio. “Simply a trick by the Americans to tempt the faithful. Do not pay any attention.”
But of course everyone was paying attention.
It was after Eid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan that the first of the refugees arrived. They said they were from Syria. No, not exactly. They said they were Sirian. They were escaping a war.
Suleiman spit. Abdul Aziz wanted to learn how to spit like Suleiman, because it was a very adult thing to do. “Everyone knows there is a war in Syria. The Americans caused all this trouble, now they are going to pay. The imam said so.”
“Is that why all the Sirians are going to America?”
“Of course. The great punishment is going to fall on them from heaven. The imam said so. That is why no Sirians landed here. We never did anything wrong to another Muslim, except those dirty Shi’a infidels.”
Everything was quiet until the third month of the year. Abdul Aziz had gotten new sandals for his birthday. At about that time, the Americans came back. They ignored the fighters who tried to attack. Instead they fenced off a huge area in the plains south-east of Lashkar Gah and pushed out everyone that lived there. Now there was a circular fence around the place.
Abdul Aziz and Suleiman went to look at the fence from the hilltop near their village. It was the new kind of fence, no wires – but a flickering in the air between the posts. A drone copter flew back and forth along the perimeter, a wire touching the fence to give it power.
Suleiman spit. Abdul Aziz spit, too.
“Do you see,” Suleiman said? “Now the Americans are working for the Sirians. It serves them right. All those years putting down faithful Muslims, see how they like it!”
“What are they building?” Abdul Aziz was amazed at how much his brother knew.
“They call it a ground station.”
Eventually they put up a sign next to the road. ‘Ground Station 427. Stay back.’
By the next Ramadan, the ground station was finished. There were lines across the ground, a perfect circle under which something was buried that groaned. When it was finished a line came down from the sky, a rope of one hundred strands. The ends of the rope were connected to the circle. After the rope was connected the groaning stopped and a humming started.
Well, it turned out that ‘refugee’ might not have been the right word for the Sirians, that ‘retreating army’ might have been more appropriate. Suleiman and Abdul Aziz were helping in the poppy fields when they heard the people shouting. The rope was glowing blue and throwing lightning into the air, higher and higher until it disappeared. A faint tracery was appearing in the sky, the entire dome covered in silvery hexagons.
The drone from the ground station was flying through the middle air, shouting ‘DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN!’ in perfect Pashtun.
Suleiman decided to look at one particularly red poppy flower. “Everyone knows not to look at the sun.” He was crying. Abdul Aziz’ older brother was crying! “This flower is so red! Can you believe it, Aziz?”
Abdul Aziz looked at the flower. He wanted to ask Suleiman why he was crying, but he couldn’t make the words come out.
The entire sky went blinding white.
Abdul Aziz spit. “You can’t move the whole Earth at once.”
“They swapped it with Venus. Don’t you know that Earth and Venus are practically the same size?” Suleiman sounded disappointed his younger brother knew so little astronomy, which now seemed to be the only topic of interest.
“They forgot to take the moon.”
“There were people on the moon!”
The sun is red, now. It isn’t the Sun but calling it the Sun is easier than calling it Kepler 1138. The stars are all different, too. And some planet that had been orbiting peacefully here was now where Venus had been.
Swapping with Venus was just a temporary move, the Sirians explained. Now everyone on Earth was safe, they said. They said.
“How can we know when Ramadan starts without the moon to tell us?” Abdul Aziz still mourned for the loss of the moon. And the people.
“There are books.” Suleiman sighed. “The Muslims on the moon, they used books.”
“There were Muslims on the moon?” The thought horrified Abdul Aziz.
“A man and his wife. Americans.”
Somehow the thought that there could be American Muslims was stranger to Abdul Aziz than everything else that had happened.
Suleiman picked up a fig from the plate their mother had set out. The red sun was slipping ever so slowly below the horizon.
“You think it is impossible? With Allah’s mercy nothing is impossible.” He bit the fig.