Laila’s favorite of all early pleasures is lying next to baby Aziza, her face so close she can watch her big pupils dilate and shrink. She runs her fingers over the baby’s soft skin and whispers into the crown of her head things about Tariq, the father who will always be a stranger to her and whose face she will never know. However, Laila is always careful never to mention him by name. Sometimes she catches Rasheed looking at Aziza in the most peculiar way. Then, he will ask what was between her and Tariq whom he calls yaklenga, the cripple, and even after she says that they were just friends, he will almost interrogate her about their relationship, asking if they every did anything out of order. She tells him he’s sick in his perverted thoughts. She also worries now that he will discover that she has been stealing from him. Whenever he goes to the outhouse or is asleep, she will pry open his wallet and steal a bill or two, depending on how full it is, she then hides it in a pouch she had sewn in her winter coat. She is planning on running away either the next spring or summer once she has at least 1000 afghanis. Rasheed always tells her that it’s a good thing that Tariq is dead, because if he were alive, Rasheed would find him and hurt him. Laila asks him what happened to not speaking ill of the dead. And Rasheed responds, “I guess some people can’t be dead enough.”
Two days later, Laila wakes up and finds a stack of baby clothes neatly folded outside her door. They are all things for a little girl. That night over dinner, Rasheed reveals that now two of the strongest Mujahideen warlords are supposedly joining sides against Massoud. Then, if that happens, he says this war will seem like a picnic. Later, after Rasheed falls asleep, Laila goes downstairs into the kitchen where Mariam is preparing fish for the next day. She sits down on the floor and watches the older woman for a bit and then simply says, “Thank you,” for the baby clothes. Mariam tries to downplay her generosity by saying they would have been eaten by moths anyway. Laila, in between compliments about Mariam’s cooking, asks her if she had sewn the clothes herself. The older woman says she had made them for her first or perhaps her second pregnancy. Then, Mariam has her own thank you for Laila standing up for her against Rasheed several nights before: “. . . Nobody’s ever stood up for me before.” Then, Laila looks closely at Mariam’s tired and lined face where she sees a face of grievances unspoken, burdens gone unprotected, a destiny admitted to and endured. She wonders if she stays in this house, if her own face will look the same in twenty years.
Mariam tells Laila that Rasheed will turn on her, too, eventually, because
she gave him a daughter. Her sin is even less forgivable than Mariam’s
who couldn’t give him children at all. Then, Laila suggests they go outside
for a cup of chai, or tea, but Mariam says she has too much work
to do. Laila says, “The Chinese say it’s better to be deprived of food
for three days than tea for one.” Mariam finally smiles and they prepare
the tea and step outside together. They have three cups while they sit
there and then Aziza awakens and begins to cry. Rasheed yells for Laila
to come upstairs and shut her up. That’s when “a look passes between Laila
and Mariam. An unguarded, knowing look. And in this fleeting, wordless
exchange with Mariam, Laila knows that they are not enemies any longer.”
This is a significant chapter because there is the foreshadowing that
Rasheed is coming to suspect that Aziza is not his child. There is also
foreshadowing in Laila’s intention to run away the following spring or
summer. However, there is a bright thought in the fact that the two women
are now no longer enemies.
From that night on, Mariam and Laila do their chores together. Mariam grows accustomed to this tentative but pleasant companionship. She even becomes anxious waiting for Laila and Aziza if they sleep in. When Aziz first spots Mariam in the morning, her eyes always spring open with excitement, and she crawls quickly to her. Once Mariam picks up the little girl, Aziza quickly pops her thumb in her mouth and buries her head in Mariam’s neck. Mariam has never been wanted like this before. “ ‘Why have you pinned your little heart to an old, ugly hag like me?” She murmurs into Aziza’s hair.
“Huh? I am a nobody, don’t you see? A dehati. What have I got to give you?’ She has found in this little creature the first true connection in her life of false, failed connections.’ “
In January, 1994, the two warlords do join sides and turn on Massoud and just as Rasheed predicted, the war turns even uglier. There is looting, murder, and increasingly, rape, which is used to intimidate civilians and reward militiamen. Mariam hears of women killing themselves before they can be raped, and men who, in the name of honor, kill their wives or daughters if they have been raped by militia.
To distract Aziza from crying when the rockets hit, Mariam lays grains of rice on the floor in many different shapes and allows her to scatter them. She also draws her elephants in one stroke just as Jalil had done all those years before. For a week, the fighting becomes too bad for even Rasheed to leave the house. He locks the doors and windows and barricades everything to protect them. He tells the women how they’re forcing very young boys to fight in the war, and if they are captured, they are tortured and executed. He walks around the house waving his rifle around Aziza who only waves her little arms to be picked up. He just screams at her and makes her cry. She looks at him only in hope of some reassurance, but when it comes to fathers, Mariam has no reassurances to give.
One winter day, Laila asks to braid Mariam’s hair. Mariam sits and watches
in the mirror as Laila’s slim fingers do their work. Then, Aziza passes
gas in her sleep, and they both laugh together merrily. The moment is
so natural that suddenly Mariam begins to tell Laila everything about
her life. Laila falls to the floor at the older woman’s feet when she
is finished and says, “I have something to tell you, too.” Mariam does
not sleep that night. She thinks about all the seasons that have come
and gone. She has passed those years in a distant corner of her mind.
A dry, barren field, out beyond wish and lament, beyond dream and disillusionment.
There the future had never mattered. However, somehow over these last
few months, Laila and Aziza - a harami like herself - have become
extensions of her, and now, without them, the life Mariam has tolerated
for so long suddenly seems intolerable. Laila has asked her to come with
them when she and Aziza leave, and Mariam wonders if perhaps there are
kinder years still waiting. She can picture Mullah Faizullah saying in
her ear that it is God who has planted these thoughts in her mind.
This chapter shows how deeply the relationship between Laila and Mariam grows.
Together, they plan to leave this hateful house and Mariam can finally
see the possibility of kinder years ahead. Meanwhile, the world outside
the house becomes even more dangerous and makes the reader fearful that
the two women could ever find a way to safety.
Cite this page:
Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Thousand Splendid Suns".
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