Hunza Valley, Pakistan
The twins lived at a bend in the road at the bottom of a steep hill. I had seen them almost everyday in my daily walks; two identical girls, very small, poking their heads over a broken slab of concrete, watching people. The girls had an intense, haunting gaze.
One day I walked past their home and saw them looking at me. I stopped, returned the stare and they ran inside. I followed them down a narrow path to a small white house.
I was greeted by their father who welcomed me with a handshake. He spoke no English and sent for his son who was to be found two blocks away, playing cricket.
One girl’s name was Mahreen and the her sister was Samreen; both were frail and neither spoke a word.
We waited and the two girls stared at me, not moving, just standing and staring. It unsettled me.
Samreen was standing at her fathers knee while Mehreen was perched in the doorway, holding a stick. They were both wearing the same clothes; red dress, white sandals, turquoise hat with a green flower pinned on. Their ears were pieced and in the place of an earring was a black
string tied into a knot.
The brother arrived, grinning. He shakes my hand, “welcome.”
I jerked my thumb at the two silent twins.
“What is their disease?” I asked him.
“I don’t know.”
He removed Samreen’s turquoise hat. She bowed her head down in a way that indicated that she had done this many times before.
The top of her head was hairless and covered with thick, bloody scabs. From her forehead back, her head was a mess of scar tissue, slick with pus. I wanted to touch it, see what it felt like.
“Is she like that too?” I ask, pointing at Mehreen.
‘Yes,’ brother said, commanding the girl her to come closer. She reluctantly approached us and removed her hat, smiling. Like her twin sister, she bowed her disfigured head for inspection.
“Do they talk?” I asked.
I stooped down to look at their faces. They turned away, refusing to look at me. The brother snapped at them in tepid Urdu and Samreen turned to face me. I looked hard at her face; long eyelashes under one furry eyebrow; her skin on her neck and chest was brown with dirt.
She began to cry.
I had had enough and wanted to leave. I walked back the way I came, through the narrow dirt path, down the mountain trail and past the rushing waters of the Hunza River.
I could have walked forever.