Malika’s Shoes

Karima Delijam


It was the morning of Tuesday, January 11, 2022. As I looked out the plane window, the night was gradually giving way to the light of day, and I could see white, cotton-ball clouds. The pilot announced that it would be sunny in Calgary when we arrived. Our last day in Kabul, Afghanistan, had also been sunny, but all I remembered was darkness and horror.

I received a call from my sister that morning. She was in panic, telling me the Taliban had entered the city. I was in my office. My hands shaking and my heart breaking, I rushed to destroy documents. I was a woman working with foreign organizations, and my husband was a human rights activist, so we knew we would soon be targeted by the Taliban. I also knew that if they saw me without a hijab, they would cut off my head. Then what would happen to my children?

I kept working to destroy evidence of twenty years of toil. When I left the office, I had to fight my way through crowds of terrified people. Car horns blared. A street seller stood by his cart of apples dumped on the ground, wondering if he should pick them up or just run. A school girl I hurried past was crying because her book had fallen out of her hands and was being trampled underfoot. Our country was collapsing while the world witnessed and did nothing. 

When I arrived home safe but in shock, my husband Haidar said that his office planned to get their staff to Pakistan and find a way to evacuate them from there. I never imagined that one day we would have to flee our own country, leaving beloved family and friends behind, but we had no choice. We had one hour to get ready. Our house was full of belongings and the memories connected to them, but we could take only one set of clothes.

We hurried out to buy shoes for the hard journey ahead. I was looking for something comfortable and sturdy when I spotted a pair of white sneakers.  I realized they were the same style as the shoes worn by a school girl called Malika who had been killed in a suicide attack in front of her school. Her bloodied sneakers were all that remained of her. A photo of them had gone viral on social media. I bought the shoes, but my husband didn’t want me to wear them for the border crossing because the Taliban did not allow women to wear white.

I arrived at the border wearing a long black hijab and a pair of old black shoes. We joined thousands of people standing in the scorching heat, on a long, narrow path with barbed wire on both sides. A Taliban soldier whipped an old man standing next to me and then hit him with the butt of a gun. My son Yasan, who was in my arms, started screaming and crying in panic. But we made it to Pakistan.We stayed there for about five months. 

As the airplane started its descent into Calgary, I looked at my son sleeping at my feet and my daughter, Soraya, sitting beside me. I knew that they would have a bright future in this country. As tears clogged my throat, I had a strange feeling of being sad and happy at the same time. I tidied myself up, bending over to tighten the laces of my white shoes. I wear them in memory of Malika and all the other young victims of war who will never have a chance to start a new life.


More Stories from Edmonton 2022