Tariq has headaches now. They began in Nasir Bagh refugee camp and worsened in prison. Laila will sit with him when he’s in the grip of it, rub his neck, take his hand in hers, the metal of his wedding band cold against her palm. They had married the day they arrived in Murree. Sayeed had summoned the mullah for the nikka that day. In the mirror, beneath the green veil the mullah draped over their heads, Laila’s eyes met Tariq’s. There were no smiles, no whispers of long-lasting love. In silence, Laila had looked at their reflections and realized that they had faces that had aged beyond their years. That night, they had lain in the bed, silent, so unlike their youth when they were easy in the speech. However, that night, the enormity of it all stole any words from her. It was blessing enough to be beside him and know he was here.
Laila likes Murree with it green pines. She likes that they have an actual bathroom. When she watches Tariq and her children sleep, a great big lump of gratitude catches in her throat and makes her eyes water. They go to work each morning in Sayeed’s hotel, cleaning and disinfecting the rooms. Laila vacuums and makes beds and dusts. Tariq wahes the bathroom and mops the floors. He also stocks the shelves with clean towels, miniature shampoo bottles, and bars of almond-scented soaps. Aziza sprays and cleans the windows. The doll Mariam made her was never far from where she worked. Laila had told her little girl a few days after the nikka just who Tariq was. Soon, it became a bond that even Laila could not be a part of. Aziza’s only fear is that he will leave them, but Laila reassures her that he will never hurt her or leave her. The relief on Aziza’s face broke Laila’s heart.
Tariq buys Zalmai a rocking horse and builds him a wagon. He also makes him paper animals, but Zalmai dismisses them unceremoniously, sometimes venomously. He shouts that Tariq is not his Baba jan. At night, Laila recites the babaloo prayers to scare away the monsters in the dark, and when he asks, she tells him the lies about Rasheed. She knows these shameful lies will have to be told again and again, but she also knows that at some point, the questions will dry up, and at some point, he will know that his father’s disappearance will no longer be an open wound. Yes, Laila is happy in Murree, but it is not an easy happiness, nor is it one without cost.
On his days off, Tariq takes the family to the Mall, the great central street in the town where there are shops and street vendors. Sometimes they board a bus to Kashmir Point where Tariq shows them the valley of the Jhelum River. Whenever they go on these outings, Laila will catch their reflections in the windows of the shops - man, wife, daughter, and son. To strangers, she knows, they must appear like the most ordinary of families, free of secrets, lies, and regrets.
Aziza has nightmares from which she awakens shrieking. Laila has to
lie on her bed with her to calm her fears and soothe her back to sleep.
Then, she has dreams of her own, where she is back in the house in Kabul,
walking the halls and climbing the stairs alone. Sometimes she catches
a woman’s low-pitched humming of an old Herati song. But when she walks
toward the sound, there is no one there. These dreams leave her shaken,
devastating every time.
It is a joy to see that Laila and Tariq are able to make a happy life
in Murree as husband and wife with two young children. However, under
the happiness are the memories of the past that will take time to soften
and stop hurting so much: the refugee camp and prison for Tariq; Aziza’s
memories of beging separated from everyone she loves; Zalmai’s tears for
his Baba jan; and of course, Laila’s deep and devastating loss of Mariam.
This chapter begins with Tariq’s announcement that Massoud has been assassinated. Laila remembers how much her Mammy had loved this man, because of his graveside prayers for her sons. She always refused to blame him for anything that had gone wrong with the war. He would always be the Lion of Panjshir to her. Laila is not as forgiving. His violent end brings her no joy, but she remembers too well the people who died because of his rockets. She especially will never forget the look on Mammy’s face just before the rocket slammed into her house. Two days later, they are doing their usual cleaning when they hear a commotion in the hotel lobby. When they go in to see what has happened, there many people surrounding the television which is tuned to the BBC. On the screen is the devastating sight of the Twin Towers in New York City being attacked by terrorists. Soon, that is all that any station is broadcasting.
Later, Tariq and Aziza play chess with Aziza mimicking her father’s body language. While he is playing, Tariq tells Laila that the Taliban refuses to relinquish Osama Bin Laden, because he is a mehman, a guest, who has found sanctuary in Afghanistan and to relinquish him would be against the Pashtunwali code of ethics. Tariq chuckles bitterly at this, because he is revolted by this distortion of an honorable Pashtun custom, a misrepresentation of his people’s ways. Then, President Bush comes on the television, and when Tariq asks what he is saying, Sayeed, who speaks English, tells him that Bush has declared war on Afghanistan.
That night in bed, Tariq tells Laila that it’s not such a bad thing for America to declare war on their country. The United Stated has armed the warlords again and enlisted the help of the Northern Alliance to drive out the Taliban and bin Laden. However, Laila is furious at his comments and says he doesn’t have a clue to what it’s like to be bombarded and lose your parents to those bombs. He immediately grabs her and asks her forgiveness, saying that it’s the hope on the other end of this war that he was talking about. Laila doesn’t want to talk about it anymore, because even though she know he is probably right, it’s hard to rejoice at the losses war brings.
That night, Zalmai wakes up coughing from his cold. Before Laila can
get up to him, Tariq swings himself out of the bed and lifet Zalmai from
his own bed. He begins to rock him back and forth until the little boy
who has been holding onto Tariq, his hands a knot at Tariq’s neck, finally
falls back asleep. When he returns to bed, Laila touches Tariq’s face
and his cheeks are wet with tears.
This chapter surrounds actual historical events: the assassination of Massoud
and the September 11th in New York City. In the middle of all this upheaval,
the United States attacks Afghanistan and Tariq, Laila, and their children
must come to terms with yet another war in their country. There is hope
on the other end of this war, Tariq believes, but it is the hope symbolized
in a little boy’s hands around his neck that finally brings Tariq to tears.
Cite this page:
Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Thousand Splendid Suns".
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