The gun pointed at Laila is a water pistol and is held by Khadim, the son of butcher who is a bully. He tells Laila not to worry, that it won’t show in her yellow hair and he begins to shot at her with a water pistol filled with urine. Laila is outraged, shouts an obscenity about Kahdim’s mother, and then runs for home. Khadim shouts back that at least his mother isn’t a loony like hers.
Once she is home, she washes her body and hair vigorously, so disgusted by what the boys have done that she nearly vomits from the thought. She thinks that if Tariq had been with her, this wouldn’t have happened; also, if Mammy had picked her up, the boys would never have dared use their pistols. Now, she goes to Mammy’s room and remembers how, when she was younger, she would sit outside the room and chant, “Mammy, Mammy, Mammy.” Of course, her mother never opened the door then and she doesn’t open it now.
Sometimes, Mammy has good days when she springs out of bed bright-eyed and playful. At these times, there is a puff of contentment throughout the room and Laila catches momentary glimpses of the tenderness and romance that had once bound her parents. Sometimes, Mammy bakes and invites the neighborhood women for tea and pastries. This is when Mammy tells what a first rate teacher Babi was and how she proposed to him. Laila knows there had been a time when Mammy always spoke this way about Babi and a time when they did not sleep in separate rooms. Her stories about Babi would be followed by matchmaking schemes for her sons when they returned from the war. Laila hardly remembers anything about her two older brothers who left for war when she was two years old. She only knows that her mother is obsessed with them and refuses to even think of any of the neighborhood girls for her sultans, her sons.
This day, Laila goes into her mother’s room, opens the curtains and wakes
her mother. The walls of the room are covered with pictures of her brothers
and protruding from under Mammy’s bed is Ahmad’s shoebox, filled with
crumpled news clippings and pamphlets he had collected from insurgent
groups and resistance organizations. The photos in the pamphlets show
children injured by land mines and how the Soviets chose children as their
victims. Laila calls out to Mammy to wake her, telling her it’s 3:00PM.
Mammy slowly awakes, and they begin the same dance of questions and responses
as they do everyday. Mammy says she has been dreaming, but she can’t remember
what it was about. Laila informs her that while she was dreaming, a boy
shot piss out of a water gun on her hair. Mammy promises to have a talk
with his mother before she even knows who the boy is. Laila then reminds
her mother that she was supposed to pick her up. Mammy says, “I was,”
buut Laila is unsure if it’s a statement or a question. She has left it
up to Tariq to escort Laila home, but she’s forgotten Tariq had gone away.
Laila then says she has homework and Mammy asks her to shut the curtains,
already sinking back under the covers. As Laila goes to the window, she
sees the blue Benz finally leaving as Mammy murmurs that tomorrow she
won’t forget. Laila says that she told her that yesterday. Mammy can only
respond, “You don’t know, Laila . . . In here. What’s in here,” as she
points to her heart.
This chapter is interesting in that it constantly refers to the blue
Benz in front of the shoemaker’s home while it unfolds the problems Laila
has with a mother who can only grieve over her sons long gone to war.
There are many aspects of Laila’s life that seem to mirror Mariam’s and
that begins to prepare the reader for how those two lives will collide.
Several weeks go by and Tariq still does not come home. “In that time, Laila comes to believe that of all the hardships a person has to face none is more punishing than the simple act of waiting.” As a result, Laila find herself caught in a net of terrible thoughts. She wonders if he will ever come back, if his parents have moved away for good, if the trip to Ghazni has been a ruse to spare the two of them the pain of a farewell. Then, she worries that he may have stepped on another landmine and he won’t be as lucky this time. Then, one night she sees a tiny flashing light from down the street. Her own flashlight has dead batteries, so she can’t respond, but she’s so happy that at last he is back.
The next day, Laila walks to Tariq’s home and is taunted along the way by Khadeem. Fortunately, she makes it to Tariq’s front door without incident. When Tariq opens the door, Laila is amazed, because he has buzzed off all his hair. She is awed by his perfectly shaped head, round and even and without any bumps. He tells her he didn’t come back for so long, because his uncle had been really sick. Then, his mother calls out, asking who has come to visit. When Tariq says it is Laila, his father says, “You mean our aroos, our daughter-in-law?” Tariq replies that if his father keeps calling her that, she won’t come back. They all show much they have missed each other and Laila is invited to lunch. She loves Tariq’s mother, because she is calm, self-assured, clever, and pleasant. She shows her concern for Laila’s family and says when Laila tells her that Mammy is just the same, “How hard it must be, how terribly hard, for a mother to be away from her sons.”) Laila loves eating meals at Tariq’s house, because the conversation always flowed as they all sat together around a large table. There is never anything uncomfortable about it even though Laila is Tajik and Tariq’s family is Pashto. Later, the two children play cards, tell jokes, and Draw portraits of each other. She also helps him adjust his leg and is reminded of the first time he let her touch his stump. She had burst into tears and he had told her she was a crybaby. They spare over who is the smarter and then, Laila tells him she missed him. Being a boy, he grimaces and Laila realizes that boys don’t make a show of friendship like girls. They treat friendship the way they treat the sun: its existence is undisputed; its best enjoyed and not beheld directly. So Laila says she was just trying to annoy him. However, when he says, “It worked,“ there is a softening of his grimace and for a moment the sunburn on his cheeks deepens.
Laila doesn’t mean to tell Tariq about Khadim and the water pistol full of urine, but when they go outside and Khadim grins at defiantly, she spills the entire story. Tariq says something under his breath in Pashto, so she doesn’t understand. Then, he says, “You wait her,” in Farsi. He immediately approaches Khadim who is surrounded by his friends, so Laila fears they will gang up on him. However, he bends over as if to tie his shoes and Laila thinks this will allow him to back up and save face. But what he is really doing is unbuckling his artificial leg. He then hops forward towards Khadim, waving the leg over his head and screaming. All the other boys scatter and Tariq beats Khadim with the leg, kicks him, and punches him. Khadim never bothers Laila again.
That night Laila, as usual, sets the table for just two, she and Babi.
Then, after dinner, as is his custom, Babi helps Lalila with her homework
and gives her some of his won to keep her ahead of her class. Ironically,
he says, even though the Communists are bad, they had commanded that girls
be educated. He says it’s a good time to be a woman in Afghanistan. Equally
as ironic, the men in the tribal areas outside of the cities, are fighting
against the Communist invasion more because they don’t want outsiders
how to treat their women than because they love their country. Laila is
about to tell Babi what Tariq had doen to Khadim when a knock comes to
the door. A stranger is standing there with news.
This chapter expresses the unique relationship and bond between Laila and
Tariq. His family already accepts the fact that they will someday marry
and they provide her with parental concern to replace the lack of it from
Mammy. Tariq is very protective of Laila as well as seen in his beating
of Khadim. Even in the midst of war, in the loss of his leg to the landmine,
they are close friends and maybe someday lovers. There is also a glimpse
of the relationship between Laila and her Babi. He is a man who heartily
believes in the education of women and their success in society. He points
out that in spite of their country being invaded, that was one good thing
they did for Afghani women.
Cite this page:
Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Thousand Splendid Suns".
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