Meraj, the bright, handsome Afghan who's been working as my interpreter, has started telling me about his love life. It begins when I ask about the dark orange stains on his hand.
"In Afghanistan, when a man gets married he puts henna on his hand," he explains over a lunch of kebabs and pulau on my first full day in Kabul. "I was married two days ago."
"Congratulations," I say. "I wish I would've come a couple days ago."
"Yes," Meraj says. "It was a very great event, with music and dancing and you would have had a very nice time.” He is 28, his wife is 18. And what's her name? “We don't mention the name of our wife,” he tells me. “Only to members of our family; even my friends don't know her name. Why should they?” He does tell me that her name is the Pashto word for blossom.
The next day we're waiting to go into a play and he gets a phone call. After he hangs up I ask if everything is alright. "No," he says. "That was my girlfriend." I ask if he means girlfriend girlfriend and he says he does. "I didn't want to tell her about my marriage because I love her so much. I have been seeing her 5 years and I love her and I don't want to lose her. But I think a classmate of hers, who was at the wedding, told her about it." He explains that his wife would be unhappy to hear about his girlfriend, who is only 17. He is worried his girlfriend will not speak to him anymore now that he is married.
"David, she is now speaking to me, but only sometimes," a slightly happier Meraj tells me a few days later. "She knows I am married and it will never be the same again." But that's fine, I say, because you love your wife, right? "Yes, of course I do, she is wonderful. But also I have lost the love of my life."
It seems twisted and very wrong, but Meraj's drama is complex. He couldn't marry the girlfriend he loved because she is from Herat, and not approved by his family. So he married a girl who was, which led to this. He's not a bad or sleazy guy, just stuck betwixt his heart and his culture.