On their last day they visited a town where they had heard there’d been a number of civilian casualties. They were spending the afternoon with a family—cousins of one of the guides—and to avoid attracting attention to their visit, they parked the car a ways from the house. The day was cold, the sky a wide, hollow blue over snow-covered peaks, the streets empty except for a couple of men with rifles who turned their faces away as soon as Melinda came into sight. Seamus shivered under his heavy fleece. The translator pointed to the sky where two black dots hovered a few miles off.
“Smile,” Melinda said. “Some guy in Nevada’s deciding whether or not to blow your face off.”
Soon they had turned a corner, but they could still see the drones and hear the humming.
“That’s a sinister sound,” he said.
Melinda said he might as well get used to it: “Anything you can to do somebody can be done to you.”
The interview was with a father and son who gave Seamus permission to film the conversation. Melinda sipped tea, awkwardly holding the veil up with one hand. Every once in a while she interjected with a question, but mostly the men talked. Behind the video camera Seamus felt useful and strangely detached. A small group of kids gathered at his knees to stare at the machine, scattering when he moved and reconfiguring a few feet away, like minnows at low tide. At some point the men sent the children out and began talking about the latest attacks: a drone had killed ten people at a market, and then dozens more of the victims’ relatives, neighbors, and friends later that same day at the funeral. They had lost two adult family members, including an uncle who was a tribal elder and supported the family, and three children. Seventy-three people were killed in all, twelve of them children. Their neighbor’s wife had her nose blown right off her face.
When the interview was over, Melinda came over to Seamus and leaned in so close that he could feel her breath on his neck. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” she said. He looked down at her drawn face and, in a brief flash of vindication, thought, I’m not the only one who’s shook up. But then he remembered her murdered son, remembered his mother’s friend with the drowned child, and was ashamed.
On the way back to the car, the street was deserted, the wind kicking up dust around them. The guides and translator trailed behind; they seemed to be arguing about something. Melinda walked beside him in full burqa.
“Isn’t it odd?” he said. “I mean, if a drone can read a license plate on a car from miles away, how did somebody make the mistake of hitting a funeral full of civilians?”
“Who said it was a mistake?” said Melinda sharply. Then she broke into a jog, lifting the burqa to her knees, exposing her khakis and tennis shoes. Seamus began to run also and in a second he was behind her. Together they jogged through the empty street, past the mud houses shuttered against the world. They were almost at the car when they came around a corner and found a small boy standing in the middle of the street, weeping. At his feet lay the body of a man facedown in the dirt; the back of his shirt was soaked in blood.
The interpreter appeared behind them and politely, as if he were directing them to watch for a step, said, “Please run.”