In the village called Japan: Wazir Shah, Saheb Shah (audacious name, audacious moustache), and Edward Shah, elders, lounge around on charpais. Smoke rises into the shimmering air from an immense hookah. A Datsun pick-up drones up towards Malakand, away on the main road.
The road bisects a vast borderless dusty yellow plain, over which a parched breeze whispers. Here, conversation is unhurried and there is no need to have a punch-line to your stories.
There is an impressive bank of largely redundant light switches, traditional to Pakistani electricianship, on the wall of the house against the wall of which Saheb Shah leans his back. Japan gets a few hours of electricity each day. There are two electrical appliances in the house: one ceiling fan, and one lightbulb. The remaining switches play a role later on in the story.
What sort of a place is Japan? Noseless ghosts of dead Buddhist monks (butchered and mutilated by the armies of Mahmud of Ghazni) from the ruined monastery on the hill sometimes come down into the town, and are not liked by the superstitious population. Little boys with braziers come and shoo the ghosts away with acrid smoke for two rupees a go. Itinerant salesmen of dentifrice with loudhailers mounted on bicycles and sample cases of bright pink powders periodically pass through the town on their endless journeys. Legless men, scuttling through the traffic on powerful overdeveloped arms, gather to beg at the customs toll booth. They are heavily involved in the heroin trade, smuggling wads of drug-money under the noses of policemen. The police and army shoot it out sometimes, at the petrol pump on the corner of the road up to the red hill.
(nothing has happened yet; to be continued...)