The next day, Laila stays in bed all day. When Rasheed returns home, he shows her the new clothes he has bought for the wedding and his new haircut. He also shows her the new wedding band and explains that he had been able to buy it, because he head traded in Mariam’s wedding band. Laila says she cannot take it like that, but Rasheed says Mariam will never miss it. He also says that he will take her into a tailor and have her fitted for a wedding gown. Laila quickly insists she doesn’t want to wait. He smiles a yellow, toothy grin and says, “Eager,” in response.
Even before Abdul Sharif’s visit, Laila had thought she would go to Pakistan in search of Tariq. After the bad news, she still thought she might go and detach herself from this horrible city where every street corner is a trap, where every alley hides a ghost that springs at her like a jack-in-the-box. But now, leaving is no longer an option. She has continued to retch daily, there is a new fullness to her breasts, and she has missed a cycle. She imagines herself in a refugee camp with her and Tariq’s baby wasting away and dying. How can she run now? How can she jeopardize the only thing left of her old life? She believes she is probably six weeks pregnant, so she can’t wait any longer or Rasheed will grow suspicious.
Laila remotely remembers bits and pieces of the wedding ceremony, mostly
the realization that somewhere in the room, Mariam is watching, the air
choking with her disapproval. Laila knows that this is spectacularly unfair
to Mariam, but her fears for her baby push her onward. Later, lying beneath
the sheets of Rasheed’s bed, Laila is aware of his age, his ugly body,
and his agitation. When he looks at her there, he says, “God help me,
I think I love you.” She accepts his lovemaking with chattering teeth
and once he is asleep she pulls a knife from the mattress where she had
hidden it earlier. She cuts her own thumb pad and allows her finger to
bleed a few drops on the sheets where they had lain together.
The reader now knows the real reason why Laila accepts Rasheed’s proposal:
she is pregnant with Tariq’s baby. In a country where she could be murdered
for this shame and in a country so torn by war that her baby might die,
she has no choice. However, she takes care to make it look like it is
Rasheed’s child even though she knows what she is doing to Mariam is unbelievably
For a long time, all Laila is to Mariam is the creaking of a bedspring or a patter of footsteps overhead, but inevitably they would run into each other. There is an awkward tension rushes into the space between them. Sometimes she can smell Rasheed on her, his tobacco, his appetite. Their orchestrated avoidance, however, cannot be possible once Rasheed is home from work. He insists they are a family and they will sit down together for dinner. He hates it that they won’t speak and wonders if they are a pair of statues. When Mariam won’t speak, he says that she is a harami, and her quietness is a blessing although he concedes that she is a good worker and has no pretensions. He compares her to a Volga, a sturdy, ugly Russian car. On the other hand, he says Lalila is a Benz and that one must take certain care of a Benz in respect for its beauty. He uses this as an excuse to impose on Laila the same rules he imposes on Mariam: she must not leave the house without him, and she must wear a burqa. He also tells her that Mariam will be her servant and will fetch anything she might need when he is not there to go with her himself. He calls her the malika of the house, but says that if she doesn’t follow the rules, Mariam will be his eyes and ears and will be accountable if there is a slipup. His judgments rains down on them like the rockets of Kabul.
One day, while Mariam is folding the wash, Laila appears and apologizes
for startling her. Mariam can tell she is nervous and after a tentative
attempt to make small talk, Laila begins to apologize for what Rasheed
had said the other night. Before she can say what she feels, Mariam interrupts
and forcefully states that she will not be Laila’s servant even if the
girl complains to Rasheed and he slits her throat. She also will not allow
Laila to have her cast out, and she won’t nurse her. Furthermore, Laila
must take up her share of the housework. The whole time Mariam surprises
herself by speaking out so blatantly, Laila tried to insert her words
of agreement to this and that what Rasheed had said was wrong. However,
Mariam will not listen and tells Laila that she has no intention of putting
up with her company ever. Then, she makes Laila put Rasheed’s laundry
away while Laila says she is sorry. Mariam can only say to that, “You
should be. You should be sorry.”
Rasheed’s deliberately cruel comparison of Mariam as a Volga and Laila a Benz
fuels Mariam’s dislike for the young girl who she feels has usurped her
place in the house. She ultimately stands up for herself even though Laila
makes it clear she agrees more with Mariam than Rasheed.
Cite this page:
Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Thousand Splendid Suns".
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