For the first few days, Mariam rarely came out of her room. Rasheed checks on her each morning before he leaves for work on his bicycle and then she spends her day in her bed, feeling adrift and forlorn. Sometimes she gets up and goes into the kitchen where she looks through the ill-fitting drawers at the mismatched spoons and knives and chipped wooden spatulas. They are the would-be instruments of her daily life, all of it reminding her of the daily havoc that had struck her, making her feel uprooted, displaced, like an intruder in someone else’s life.
Mariam also thinks longingly of her days at the kolba and the nights that she and Nana had slept on the roof to escape the heat and look at the stars. She thinks of Mullah Faizullah and winter afternoons reading with him. It makes her nauseated and homesick. However, her anxiety really ratchets up when the sun begins to go down and it’s time for Rasheed to come home. She fears that this will be the night when he does what husbands do to their wives. Instead, however, he sits in the doorway of her room and tells her about his day and people for whom he made shoes. He also talks about the superstitions people have about shoes that he thinks are ridiculous, about things he hears on the streets like the resignation of Richard Nixon, and other things he heard and saw. Only when he crosses the hallway to his own room does the metal fist gripping her belly let go.
Then one night, Rasheed becomes angry and asks if she is ever going to unpack her suitcase. He says that he knew he had to give her a little time, but it has been one week since she arrived and this is ridiculous. He orders her to unpack the next morning and start behaving like a wife. He forces her to say she will. The next day, Mariam unpacks her clothes and then begins to clean windows, sweep floors, and open the windows to air out the house. She also begins to prepare a meal, including kneading the dough to be baked in the communal tandoor. As Mariam stands in line with all the other wives, she listens to their conversations about their husbands and wonders how so many can have the same miserable luck: married to such dreadful men. However, it also occurs to her that this might be all some wifely game they play.
Then, Mariam notices that they are making sideways glances at and whispering comments. She is just thinking of how she can speak to them when a hand taps her on the shoulder. The woman standing there introduces herself as Fariba and her two sons as Noor and Ahmad. She says she is married to Hakim who is a teacher. Then, suddenly, all the women step forward and encircle her asking question after questions and commenting on the children she will have. Mariam backs away, hyperventilating. Fariba tries to get the women to back away, but Mariam pushed her way through them and begins to run away. She panics when she realizes that she has turned on the wrong street and runs back the way she came through the women once more. She finds the right street, but in the panic, Mariam cannot tell which one is Rasheed’s. Finally, she finds the right gate and falls on all fours at the well, retching.
By the time Rasheed comes home, Mariam has herself under control and
serves him daal. She waits nervously until he tells her that it
tastes good. Then, he pulls out a paper bag that she soon sees holds a
blue burqa. He tells that customers come into his store with their wives
and mentions that one of the worst of the lot is Hakim, the teacher. He
says that their wives are dressed too provocatively and that they place
their bare feet forward for him to measure. Their husbands think nothing
of it. Rasheed emphasizes that “they don’t see that they’re spoiling their
own nang and namoos, their honor and pride.” He then says
that he is a different breed of man who comes from a place where a woman’s
face is her husband’s business only. The burqa is his way of telling her
to remember that. She will no longer be allowed to go outside of the house
without it. Mariam now feels a sensation of shrinking. Her husband’s will
feels as imposing and unmovable as the mountains looming over her former
This chapter reinforces that Mariam has married a man who will be unbending
and stern. She has become a wife bound by ancient rules and controls.
Mariam has never before worn a burqa and has a terrible time adjusting to its weight and length. Rasheed helps her put it on, but she has the most trouble adjusting to the loss of her peripheral vision.Then, he takes her on a tour of Kabul. First they visit the Shar-e-Nau Park and watch the children play. Then, he takes her for lunch at Haji Yaghoub for lunch and Mariam is amazed, because she has never before visited a restaurant. Her she learns, to her surprise, that the burqa is a comfort. She is only an observer inside of it, and since no one can see her, she no longer worries that people know, at a single glance, all the shameful secrets of her past.
She is also amazed at how crowded Kabul is compared to Herat. However, she does have trouble with the dialect of the city and has to listen carefully to understand all that’s being said. Rasheed also buys her an ice cream cone, something she has never eaten and she is awestruck by its bewitching texture and sweetness of it. They walk to place called Kochech-Morgha or Chicken Street. In spite of its unusal name, it is one of Kabul’s wealthiest districts, There the couple visits a bazaar and many shops and little stalls selling all kinds of goods. Along the way, Rasheed greets shopkeepers he knows. They soon come to an embroidery shop where Rasheed makes Mariam wait outside. While she waits for him, Mariam watches the people passing by. She is most intrigued by the women who, for the most part, are “modern.” They don’t cover, wear dresses that show their legs, wear make-up and style their hair, and even smoke in public. They mystify Mariam and make her aware of her own lowliness, plain looks, lack of aspirations, and her ignorance of so many things. When Rasheed returns, he hands her a silk shawl with beaded fringes and edges embroidered with gold thread. It is a touching gesture, but he blinks and she averts her gaze. Mairiam thinks of all the gifts that Jalil had given her with such overpowering cheerfulness that she had to express meek gratitude. However, “this shawl, Mariam sees, is a true gift.” She tells him it’s beautiful.
That night, Rasheed does more than sit in the doorway talking to her.
This time, he comes to bed and sits beside her. Soon, he begins to caress
her and touching her. She grits her teeth in anticipation of the pain,
but is totally astonished by how difficult it is. Rasheed seems not to
understand what she is experiencing and sees only to his own needs. Afterwards,
as he lays there beside her, he says, “There is no shame in this, Mariam.
It’s what married people do. It’s what the prophet himself and his wives
did. There is no shame.” However, when he goes to his own room, he leaves
her to wait out the pain, to look at the frozen stars in the sky and a
cloud that draped over the face of the moon like a wedding veil.
These first days of marriage for Mariam are a mixed bag. She has been ordered
out of her room and told to act like a wife; she has been forced to cover
under a burqa; she has been taken to wondrous places and
eaten different foods than she has ever seen or eaten before; Rasheed
gives her a beautiful shawl as a touching gift from a husband to a wife;
and then he comes to her room to take what is his and for all intents
and purposes, it is rape, because Mariam even tells him she doesn’t want
to do what he demands. It reinforces how much life has changed for her.
Cite this page:
Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Thousand Splendid Suns".
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