Abdul Sharif is a thin, small-headed man who is just recovering from a sickness. He explains that he owns clothing stores and that he has moved his family from Afghnaistan to Peshawar, Pakistan. He moves back and forth between the two countries. However, the last time he was supposed to return to Afghanistan, he became ill with blood poisoning and had to be hospitalized in Pakistan. He was placed in a ward for extremely ill patients and in the bed next to him was a young man named Mohammad Tariq Walizai, the name that Laila had last heard when she and Tariq had been going to school as young children. She has almost forgotten what his full name actually is. Mr. Sharif goes on to say that one of the nurses had told him that Tariq had been in a truck full of refugees all headed for Peshawar. It had been hit near the border in the cross fire by a rocket. There were only six survivors and Tariq’s parents were not among them. Laila, for the moment is devastated by the image of his parents trapped in the truck, but then she is brought back to the present and Mr. Sharif’s story.
Tariq had been very badly injured, in fact had lost his other leg along with numerous internal injuries. He was drugged most of the time, but when he was awake, to help distract him from the pain, Mr. Sharif told him all about his work and his own family. Tariq would talk about his life as well, but mostly, he would talk about Laila and how glad she wasn’t there to see him that way. However, he remembers fondly that she was his very first memory. When Mr. Sharif told Tariq he was going back to Kabul, the young man had asked the older one to find Laila and tell her he was thinking of her and that he missed her. Then, Mr. Sharif told how one night there was a commotion around Tariq’s bed and then the next day it was emoty. The nurses said he had fought valiantly, but in the end hadn’t been strong enough.
Laila is dimly aware at this point in the story that she had known the
truth when this strange man had come to Mariam’s door. Mr. Sharif goes
on to say that at first, he didn’t think she actually existed, that she
was just a product of Tariq’s delirium. However, he began to ask around
the neighborhood when he came back to Kabul and the neighbors had directed
him to this house. He had left when he heard about her parents, not wanting
to burden her with even more grief, but then he was reminded that he had
promised Tariq what he would do. In the end, he comes to believe that
Tariq would have wanted Laila to know. Laila remembers the day that the
news had come to their home about Ahmad and Noor and how Mammy had come
undone. It had scared her, but she had felt no sorrow. Now she wonders
if this is her punishment for being aloof to her own mother’s suffering.
She cannot react like Mammy did. Instead, “. . .she lets her mind fly
on. She lets it fly on until it finds the place, the good and safe place,
where the barley fields are green, where the water runs clear and the
cottonweed seeds dance by the thousands in the air; where Babi is reading
a book beneath an again and Tariq is napping with his hands laced across
his chest, and where she can dip her feet in the stream and dream good
dreams beneath the watchful gaze of gods of ancient, sun-bleached rock.”
The story of Tariq’s death is a huge tragedy added to Laila’s loss of
her parents. It is overwhelmingly sad even for the reader who perhaps
can relate through his own loss of a loved one. What is hardest to relate
to, however, is the realization of how really alone Laila is now and how
horrible life in this city must have been during the war.
Rasheed becomes overly solicitous to Laila even as his impatience with Mariam continues. For years, she has looked on as he ate, bringing him what he grunts for, watching him use his fingers to eat and never passing anything but criticism or judgment. Now he eats with a spoon. He uses a napkin, and he says loftan when asking for water. And he talks incessantly, especially about politics and his so-called conversational relationship with Laila’s father who he had actually always despised for his modern ideas about women. Mariam has to look away. “It’s not so much what he says, the blatant lies, the contrived empathy, or even the fact that he has not raised a hand to her, Mariam, since he had dug the girl out from under those bricks. It is the staged delivery. Like a performance. An attempt on his part, both sly and pathetic, to impress. To charm. And suddenly, Mariam knows that her suspicions are right. She understands with a dread that is a blinding whack to the side of her head that what she is witnessing is nothing less than a courtship.”
When Mariam brings her concerns to Rasheed, he says only, “Why not?”
Mariam knows then she is defeated. She might have succeeded in shaming
him if he had reacted with outrage or denied her allegation. But now,
she knows it is too late. He even has arguments for why this is the right
thing to do. Even though he is more than sixty years old, and his coarse
hair has whitened, he feels this is the only legitimate way to keep people
for talking. When Mariam protests that she’s given him eighteen years
of her life, he says that he can send Laila away if she wants, but he
questions her about what will then happen to the girl. How far will she
get before she is raped and murdered or killed by a tray bullet? Or even
if she makes it as far as Peshawar, how will she survive? Will she keep
warm in one of Peshawar’s brothels? He sees it as a decision between himself
and Laila, not Mariam. He knew she wouldn’t take this well, but he tells
her now that he is giving her help around the house and Laila a sanctuary.
He smiles and says he is downright charitable and the way he sees it,
he deserves a medal. Later, in the dark, Mariam tells Laila what Rasheed
has offered and that he wants an answer by the next morning. Laila says
that Rasheed can have it now - her answer is yes.
The tragedy just continues to escalate for Laila and Mariam. Mariam has lived
all these years with this cruel man, and now he is courting a fourteen
year old lost girl. Laila has no idea how to help herself in a world where
women are easy targets by cruel men, and so finds herself forced to agree
to a marriage to Rasheed.
Cite this page:
Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Thousand Splendid Suns".
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