This chapter begins with a day trip that Babi plans for Laila and Tariq. Even though they cannot afford it, he hires a driver, and they leave the city for a destination which is meant to be a surprise to the children. He says he has money enough to contribute to her education. They pass a convoy of Soviet troops along the way and Tariq mocks them for losing the war in spite of their lovely guns. As they drive through the bombed out countryside where the war has been fought all along, Laila thinks to herself that this is Ahmed and Noor’s Afghanistan.
Soon they enter a valley and Babi points out Shahr-e-Zohak, also known as the Red City. It used to be a fortress, built some 900 years before, and conquered by Genghis Khan. The driver points out that he was the first of a long line of invaders to Afghanistan, with the Soviets only the most recent. He says, “We’re like those walls up there. Battered, and nothing pretty to look, but still standing.”
A half hour later, the car pulled over and Babi led the two children forward with the words, “There they are!” “And Laila knew if she lived to be 100, she would never see anything as magnificent as what stands before her. There are the two Buddhas of the Bamiyan Valley, carved out of the rock 2000 years before. Tariq says that they make him feel so small. Then, Babi takes them to the winding, narrow, dimly lit staircase also carved by the monks in and around the huge statues. He teaches them as they walk that Bamiyan had once been a thriving Buddhist center until it had fallen under Islamic rule in the ninth century. The monks had carved caves into the rock as well to use as living quarters and then had painted beautiful frescos along the walls and the roofs of their caves. At one point, 5000 monks had lived as hermits in these caves. When they arrive at the top of one of the statue’s head, they stop and look out over the valley. They can see all the fields planted below and people working in the fields and animals grazing in pastures. Laila is awed by the silence from the top of the statue, and Babi agrees that the silence is what he always remembers. He points out that some things he can teach the children, some they can learn from books, but there are some things that they just have to see and feel. He tells Laila that he had brought Mammy here many times when she was still alive and adventurous. As he reminisces about his wife, Laila believes she will always remember him this way. Tariq, then, wanders away to look through the caves. Alone with his daughter, Babi becomes emotional with his daughter, expressing his feelings over the loss of his sons. He says that their deaths broke him, too, but everyday, he is glad that he has her and when Mammy is having one of her dark days, he believes that Laila is all he has.
Babi also expresses his feelings about leaving Afghanistan. He dreams of first going to Pakistan and then saving enough money to travel to America, specifically California. He dreams of opening of a little Afghani restaurant by the sea and then sending Laila to school. It would be a gathering place for other Afghans. However, both he and Laila know that Mammy will never leave the country where the blood of her sons soaks into the ground. It would be a betrayal of their memories. Of course, even though their marriage is all but ended, Babi would never leave Mammy. Laila remembers that once Mammy had told Babi that he was a man without convictions, but she thinks Mammy need only look in a mirror to see the one unfailing conviction of his life looking back at her.
They eat a small lunch at the Buddhas and then Tariq takes a nap. Babi sits down to read a book about an old man named Santiago who caught a huge fish which was eaten by sharks as he rowed it home. This is obviously Heminway’s Old Man and the Sea. Laila sits by the stream and dips her feet in the water. She thinks a long time about Babi’s dream of leaving Afghanistan and knows that she could never leave either. That is because she could never cope with Tariq’s permanent absence. “Maybe it is senseless to want to be near a person so badly in a country where bullets had shredded her own brothers to pieces. But all Laila has to do is picture Tariq going at Khadim with his leg and then nothing in the world seems more sensible to her.”
Six months later, in April of 1988, Babi comes home with the news that
the Soviets and the government of Najibullah have signed a treaty and
the Soviets are leaving. Mammy says it is not enough, because Najibullah
is still a Communist, but Babi is convinced that he won’t last. Mammy
still says that they can celebrate if they want, but she won’t rest until
the Mujahideen hold a victory parade in Kabul.
The trip to the Bamiyan Valley reflects the deep love Babi feels for
Laila and even Mammy who hasn’t been a real wife to him since their sons
left for the war. Nonetheless, he still dreams about taking her and Laila
away to America and beginning again by the sea. However, Laila’s deep
love is for Tariq, and she knows that she could never leave him behind.
In January, 1989, three months after Lalila turns eleven, she and her parents watch with crowds along the street as the last Soviet convoys exit the city. There are heckles and jeers from the crowd and Mammy holds high pictures of Ahmed and Noor just like many other mothers whose sons are shaheed. Tariq shows up wearing a huge Russian fur hat complete with earflaps that he has pulled down. He wants to look ridiculous as a way to make fun of the Russians. Tariq has come there alone, because his family stays at home now. His uncle from Ghazni has died the year before from a heart attack and his father has had one of his own which leaves him anxious and depressed.
Laila and Tariq steal away to buy some food from a street vendor. Then, they sit behind Laila’s parents on the bus home. Mammy stares silently out the window, clutching the picture of her sons to her chest. Babi listens impassively to a man who is convinced that Najibullah will continue to be a puppet of the Soviets and the war will go on. Mammy begins muttering to herself, long-winded prayers until she has no breath left.
Later that day, Laila and Tariq go to the cinema and watch a Soviet
film that is ridiculously dubbed into Farsi and makes them laugh together
hysterically. When the main characters of the story get married in the
end, Tariq declares he will never marry and Laila says she won’t either.
However, she’s a little disappointed in his declaration, because of her
feelings for him. Then, the married couple kiss passionately as the movie
ends, and Laila and Tariq glance sideways at each other to each other’s
reaction. Laila wonders what it would be like to kiss him and feel the
fuzzy hair above his lip tickling her own lips. The tension between them
is thick enough to cut with a knife, but Tariq breaks it by telling a
gross joke. Outside, Laila is relieved that the sky has dimmed so she
won’t have to meet Tariq’s eyes in the bright daylight.
This chapter reinforces Mammy’s continuing inability to break through her
grief and live a normal life. It is also a chapter that reinforces the
growing love between Tariq and Laila.
Cite this page:
Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Thousand Splendid Suns".
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