This chapter begins with the quick burial of Nana in the corner of the cemetery of Gul Daman. After the service, Jalil walks his daughter back to the kolba where he makes a great show of tending to her. He collects what little she owns into a suitcase and sits beside her and fans her face. He keeps asking her if there is anything she needs or wants. All Mariam asks for is Mullah Faizullah. It is the sight of his stooped figure that finally brings tears to her eyes. He speaks all the words from the Koran that he can to comfort her, but all she can hear are Nana’s last words, “I’ll die if you go. I’ll just die.”
Jalil takes Mariam to his car and tells her that she can stay with him. However, “for the first time, Mariam can hear him with Nana’s ears. She can hear so clearly now the insincerity that has always lurked beneath the hollow, false assurance.” They arrive at his home and he gently leads her through the gates and up the stairs where only two days before, she had been forced to sleep on the sidewalk waiting for him. She doesn’t understand how her life has turned upside down so quickly. She never lifts her head and only sees all the things she has wondered about for so long from her downcast perspective. He gives her the guest room where his daughters sometimes play and it is a fine room. However, all Mariam can do is lie down on the bed and close her eyes.
Except for visits to the bathroom, Mariam stays in her new room where the servant who opened the door to her two days before brings her her meals. Most of it goes uneaten. Now she watches the comings and goings of her father’s life - events she had been so curious about - impassively. “She knows that Nana had spoken the truth. She does not belong here.”
On the second full day in Jalil’s home, Mariam is interrupted by the entrance of Niloufar, her half-sister. The little girl has come in for her gramophone and tells Mariam what it is as if the older girl is somewhat addled. However, Mariam calls her by name, and Niloufar is amazed that she knows it. Mariam doesn’t tell her that she had once named a pebbled after her. Niloufar plays some music for Mariam and stands on her head to show off her athletic ability. Then, like all children will do, she tells Mariam things that adults have said about her like: “My mother says you’re not really my sister,” and “My mother says a jinn made your mother hang herself.” Mariam just tells her she stop the music.
Bibi jo also comes to visit Mariam and again, the sight of a good friend makes the tears come to her eyes quickly. Later that night, after Bibi jo leaves, Mariam is awakened by the sounds of shouting and sharp, angry voices downstairs and the slamming of doors. Fortunately, the next morning, Mullah Faizullah comes to visit and when Miriam begins to voice her guilt over Nana’s death, he is quick to tell her that her mother had been troubled even as a little girl and what she did by hanging herself is not in any way Mariam’s fault. Nonetheless, even though she desperately wants to, she cannot bring herself to believe him.
One afternoon, a week later, a knock comes to the door and a tall woman
enters Mariam’s room. She is Afsoon, Niloufar’s mother, and she invites
Mariam to come downstairs. When Mariam says she would rather stay in her
room, Afsoon makes it clear that she has no choice. They all want to talk
to her about something important.
This chapter is filled irony - Jalil pretending that he cares how his
daughter feels and bringing her to the home he had denied her only two
days before. It is also a chapter in which Mariam tries to come to terms
with her mother’s suicide and her own role in it, an attempt that fails
miserably no matter how much others assure her she is not to blame.
Downstairs, Mariam find herself sitting at a long brown table with Jalil and his three wives. They are each wearing a black scarf as if they have conceded to wearing mourning colors at the last minute. Afsoon pours her some water and Nargis asks if she has been comfortable, but their smiles are merely thin and tolerant. Mariam feels an unpleasant hum begin in her head. Then, Afsoon announces that they have brought her there, because they have very good news to give her. They have found her a suitor. A man by the name of Rasheed, a Pashtun from Kabul, and an acquaintance of Jalil’s, has asked for her hand in marriage. He is a shoemaker for some of the most important people in Kabul, and he speaks both Farsi and Pashto. Mariam’s head is reeling, and she can only fix her eyes on her father and ask if this is all true. The wives go on to explain that he is older, but only forty or forty-five. Furthermore, they say, she is at a good solid marrying age, being fifteen. Of course, they don’t mention that two of Jalil’s other daughters are the same age as her, attend school, and have plans to go to the university. Fifteen, evidently, wasn’t a good solid marrying age for them. They then tell her that his first wife had died in childbirth ten years before and a son drowned in a lake three years before. All Mariam can say is that she doesn’t want this and begs them not to make her marry this man. She goes on staring at Jalil, waiting for him to speak up and say that none of this is true. She says that she can live with Mullah Faizullah, but they nix that idea, saying she will be a burden to his family after he dies. She keeps hearing them say, “You may not get another opportunity this good.” And neither would they. They had been disgraced by her birth, and this is their chance to erase, once and for all, the last trace of their husband’s scandalous mistake. She is being sent away, because she is the walking, breathing embodiment of their shame.
Mariam has horrible thoughts about life in Kabul - living in a stranger’s
house, cleaning and cooking for him, doing his wash, conceding to his
moods and his issued demands. And there would be that other, intimate
chore that Nana had told her about, what husbands did to their wives,
an act of perversity that fills her with dread and makes her break out
into a sweat. Once again, she begs Jalil to tell his wives that he won’t
allow her to do this. Afsoon immediately replies to this plea by saying
that Jalil has already given Rasheed his answer, and the man has come
to Herat. The nikka or marriage ceremony will be held the next
morning, and they will leave for Kabul at noon. Mariam continues to scream
at her father to tell them no. So, then, the room grows quiet as all the
women look to him for his answer. He finally lifts his eyes and looks
at his daughter. At first, he can only groan when his mouth opens, but
then he says, “Goddamn it, Mariam! Don’t do this to me!” He says this
as if he is the only one to whom something is being done. With those words,
the tension vanishes from the room as his wives throw out even more reassurances
to Mariam, this time in an uplifted, sprightly mood. However, Mariam can
only look down at the table where she can see her reflection and where
every time she breathes out, the surface fogs and she disappears from
her father’s table. Afsoon escorts her back to her room and locks in her
This chapter is an example of the cruelty human beings can so easily inflict
upon each other. Jalil and his wives are so concerned for their social
standing and for the perceived shame they feel that they fail to realize
how they are destroying the life of a young girl, who has already spent
an impoverished childhood with a mostly absent father and has lost her
mother only days before to suicide.
Cite this page:
Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Thousand Splendid Suns".
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