"Here." I handed over the sheet of letterhead paper I had received from the Minister's secretary. "Mr. Stewart is a medieval antiquary interested in the anthropology of Herat."
"But it is not signed."
"Mr. Yuzufi lost the signed copy."
Yuzufi, who was staring at the ground, nodded slightly.
The two men talked together for a few minutes. I did not try to follow what they were saying. I noticed, however, that they were using Iranian-not Afghan-Persian. This and their clothes and their manner made me think they had spent a great deal of time with the Iranian intelligence services. I had been questioned by the Iranians, who seemed to suspect me of being a spy. I did not want to be questioned by them again.
The man in the stiff jacket said, "We will allow him to walk to Chaghcharan. But our gunmen will accompany him all the way."
Chaghcharan was halfway between Herat and Kabul and about a fortnight into my journey.
The villagers with whom I was hoping to stay would be terrified by a secret police escort. This was presumably the point. But why were they letting me do the journey at all when they could expel me?
I wondered if they were looking for money. "Thank you so much for your concern for my security," I said, "but I am quite happy to take the risk. I have walked alone across the other Asian countries without any problems."
"You will take the escort," said Yuzufi, interrupting for the first time. "That is nonnegotiable."