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War Robbed Him of His Family, Then His Eyes, Then His Love

KABUL, Afghanistan — The last time Zaheer Ahmad Zindani thought he could still see, he was 17 and in a hospital bed, heavily drugged and covered with shrapnel wounds from a Taliban bomb.

He asked the doctor for a mirror.

“The doctor told me, ‘Son, you don’t have eyes, how will you be able to see your eyes?’” Mr. Zindani recalled. “I raised my hand to feel my eyes — it was the ashes after a fire has burned, and nothing else.”

That was five years ago. He remembers that even in those first moments, when the reality of his blindness made him howl with grief, another realization took his breath away: His love for his childhood sweetheart had already been difficult because the girl’s family did not see him as worthy. Now, it was surely doomed.

“If I had lost my eyes and had her hand, I would still be happy,” he said. “But now I neither have eyes, nor her.”

But Mr. Zindani knew he had a trump card: the girl’s heart. She loved him. The stronger their love grew, the more difficult it would be for her father to stick to his opposition.

All that changed when he lost his eyes.

The night before, Mr. Zindani had booked two bus tickets in Kandahar. Just before dawn, he and his sister Ahmadia, 15, set off to visit relatives in Herat Province. They had grown close — she was his secret bearer, and a frequent courier for his love notes.

They were sitting in the fourth row opposite the driver, he recalled, when the bus struck a roadside bomb planted by the Taliban. He remembers fire all around him, and either him or Ahmadia screaming their mother’s name.

She didn’t make it.

“When I reached the hospital, I remember calling out for her,” Mr. Zindani said. “No one would say anything.”

After the bombing, Mr. Zindani still clung to the possibility of his love. But her family made their opposition clear: Not only was he from a different province and different tribe, now he was a blind man and could not provide for a family. They married her off about two years ago, and she now has a baby, he said.

Mr. Zindani would not give identifying details about the girl or her family, in order to protect them. Still, his relatives and friends confirm that it all happened.

He said that he still talks with her sometimes, secretly, on the phone. But Mr. Zindani tries to keep some distance — out of respect for her new family — just enough now and then to hear her voice, playful and full of energy still, and to keep memories of her fresh.

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