This chapter begins in Kabul in the spring of 1987 and is told from the perspective of Laila, who is now nine years old. She awakens hungry for the sight of her friend Tariq who has gone south to Ghazni to visit his uncle. He will be gone for thirteen days and only five of them have gone by. She has learned a fundamental truth about time: Like the accordion on which Tariq’s father sometimes plays old Pashto songs, time stretches and contracts depending on Tariq’s absence or presence. Now she can hear her parents arguing downstairs again. She imagines her mother, strident, loud, pacing while her father sits sheepishly and obedient, waiting for the storm to pass.
Laila dresses and brushes her hair and is reminded of how her mother calls her a pari, a stunner, because she is so beautiful. She believes Laila is the talk of the valley, because of her long, blond curls and thick-lashed turquoise green eyes. Downstairs, Babi is shaken after his fight with Mammy and Laila’s heart goes out to him. He has not fixed a torn screen and it has been letting in bees. As usual, Mammy is furious. However, the fury does not come from Babi’s inability to make proper repairs, but from the fact that he did not keep their two sons, Ahmad and Noor, from going to war against the Soviets. Before this happened, Mammy thought Babi’s bookishness endearing, but now she hates it.
Now Babi asks Laila how many more days there are to go before Tariq returns, but she responds that she doesn’t care and she doesn’t keep count. Babi comforts her anyway by telling her the flashlight will be going off soon enough, referring to the nightly signaling game the two children play. Then, he packs her up to take her to school. As they go out the door, they see a blue Benz parked up the street in front of the shoemaker’s house with two men sitting inside. Laila asks who they are, but Babi says it’s none of their business. It reminds her of her mother saying, “That’s your business, isn’t it, cousin? To make nothing your business. Even your own sons going to war. How I pleaded with you. But you buried your nose in those cursed books and let our sons go like they were a pair of haramis.” As Laila rides by the car on her bicycle, she sees a fleeting glimpse of the man in the back seat: thin, white-haired, and dressed well. The license plate on the car indicates it’s from Herat.
In class that day, Laila finds it hard to pay attention to the teacher nicknamed Khala Rangmaal, Auntie Painter, because of the motion she favored when slapping students. She teaches that the Soviet Union is the best nation in the world along with Afghanistan and that they had come to their country in 1979 to lend them a hand. She also teaches the students that they must report anyone who knows anything about the rebels. There is a map of the Soviet Union, a map of Afghanistan, and a framed photo of Najibullah, their communist president on the wall behind the teacher. He had once been the head of the dreaded KHAD, the Afghan secret police. This teacher doesn’t like Laila and calls her Inqilabi Girl or Revolutionary Girl, because she had been born the night of the April coup of 1978. She allows the class to call that night a revolution but they are not allowed to call it a jihad or holy war. She pretends that there is no war out there, perhaps because, as rumor has it, the war is going badly for the Soviets since the US president, Reagan, has been shipping arms to the Mujahideen, and Muslims all over the world are joining the cause.
Laila ends up walking home after school when Mammy fails to pick her up. She walks with her friends, Giti and Hasina. Giti is the same age as Laila, wears her hair in two pony tails and holds her books against her chest like a shield, while Hasina is not very smart, but she makes up for it in mischief and a mouth that runs like a sewing machine. Today, Hasina has a foolproof way to drive away a suitor: beans! However, she says, timing is everything. They have to suppress the fireworks until it’s time to serve him his tea! Laila feels she doesn’t need this advice, because Babi has no intention of giving her away anytime soon. He now works at the Silo, Kabul’s gigantic bread factory, having been fired by the Soviets from his job as a high school teacher. Because he had been university educated, her education is now the most important thing in his life after her safety. He tells her that education of women is important, because, “society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated, Laila. No chance.”
Hasina also teases Laila about Tariq, calling him Laila’s one-legged
suitor. Giti admonishes Hasina not to talk that way about people who have
been injured in war. Hasina then teases Giti that she has a crush on Tariq,
too, which allows Laila the opportunity to turn down her street and head
for home. When she arrives, she sees that the blue Benz is still parked
in front of the shoemaker’s house and the elderly white-haired man is
now standing in front of the hood of the car. Just as she is wondering
who he is, she hears a voice behind her saying, “Hey, Yellow Hair. Look
here.” She turns around and is greeted by the barrel of a gun.
This chapter on Laila introduces us to a character who will become important
as the story unfolds. She is a child of the revolution and the Soviet
invasion. Her brothers have been lost to the war and she is in the middle
of the grief of her parents who argue constantly about allowing the boys
to become mujahideen. However, we also see that they are modern Afghanis
who want to see their daughter educated. There is also foreshadowing about
Mariam who is being visited by an elderly man from Herat, obviously her
Cite this page:
Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Thousand Splendid Suns".
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