For Laila, life in Murree is one of comfort and tranquility. It is a good life, a life to thankful for. Then, one night in July 2002, she and Tariq are talking, as they lay in bed, about all the changes back home. The Taliban has been driven out of every major city and across the border into Pakistan. An international peacekeeping force has been sent into Afghanistan and the country has a new interim president, Hamid Karzai. Laila decides it’s time to tell Tariq. She has become restless to return to Kabul where she hears about all the new building being done and the women returning to work. She remembers Babi saying, “When this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you.” There is now a part of her that wants to return to the city of her birth for Mammy and Babi, for them to see it through her eyes. She also asks herself if Mariam had died so she could be a maid in a foreign land. “Maybe it wouldn’t matter to Mariam what Laila did as long as she and the children were safe and happy. But it matters to Laila. Suddenly, it matters very much.” She tells her husband she wants to go back. For a moment Tariq smiles and his brow clears and he looks the old Tariq once again. It may be her imagination, but Laila believes there are more frequent sightings of this old Tariq. He says, “Let’s go home.” She kisses him with both relief and deep love. Then, she tells him that she wants to go to Herat first.
The children need reassuring first. Aziza trembles at the thought, and her agitation must be calmed. She tells Aziza the Taliban won’t be there anymore and that helps her come to terms with returning home. Zalmai is upset at leaving the goat, Alyona. Until he is promised a new goat when they find a place to live, he won’t let go of the little animal. Laila also hears doubt in her own ears when she sees Sayeed receding through the back window of the bus, but then she remembers her father reciting poetry about Kabul: “One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, / Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.” Then, she settles back in her seat and knows that journey is the right thing to do. But there is one last farewell to be said.
Two sights along the way to Herat impact both Tariq and Laila: one is the beauty and immaculate care given to the shrine of Imam Reza. Its golden dome reminds her of the two Buddhas, now dust blowing about the Bamiyan Valley; the second is the sight of an Afghan refugee camp. She takes Tariq’s hand as they pass by it.
Herat is in the process of rebuilding under its feudal warlord, Ismail Khan, who uses money Kabul says belongs to it. Tariq finds Laila a taxi to take her to Gul Daman, and Laila sets off to make her peace with Mariam. The taxi driver realizes she is not from the area, and during the drive, tells her the story of the uprising of Herat during the Soviet invasion. She marvels at how every Afghan story is marked by death, loss, and unimaginable grief. And yet, she sees, people always find a way to go, to survive. The first place he takes her is Mullah Faizullah’s house. She meets a man named Hamza, who is the Mullah’s son. He is excited to hear that Laila is looking for Mariam, but he says his father has died. He invites her in, and they sit on sparsely furnished floor. She tells him everything that happened to Mariam, struggling to maintain her composure. Hamza tells her it nearly broke his father when Jalil Khan gave Mariam away. Then, she asks him if he can show her where Mariam lived.
The stream is long dried up, but the weeping willows are still there, and Mariam’s kolba is still there. She walks all around the small room and can’t believe that Mariam spent fifteen years there. Being there immediately brings back the details of Mariam’s face that she had begun to forget. The way Mariam had described the kolba makes it seem as if everything now missing magically reappears. She imagines she sees little Mariam there in the hut as a “little girl who will be a woman who will make small demands on life, who will never burden others, who will never let on that she, too, has had sorrows, disappointments, dreams that have been ridiculed. A woman who will be like a rock in a riverbed, enduring without complaint, her grace not sullied but shaped by by the turbulence that washes over her. Already, Laila sees something behind this young girl’s eyes, something deep in her core, that neither Rasheed nor the Taliban will be able to break. Something as hard and unyielding as a block of limestone. Something that, in the end, will be her undoing and Laila’s salvation.” The little girl Laila imagines looks up and smiles, and Laila is sure that she hears someone say, “Laila jo?” Then, Laila snaps out of her reverie and says, “Goodbye, Mariam,“ and begins to run, not aware that she is crying. Hamza tells her to come back to his house, because he has something for her.
At his house, Hamza gives Laila a box that Jalil Khan had delivered to Mullah Faizullah asking that he give it to Mariam when she returned. When the Mullah died, he told Hamza to make sure he saved it for Mariam, because he believed she would return. He says that his father had never unlocked it, and neither had he. He says that it is God’s will that it be Laila’s.
Part of Laila wants to leave the box unopened, let what Jalil had intended remain secret. But, in the end, her curiosity proves too much. In it, she finds three things: an envelope, a burlap sack, and a videocassette. First, Laila goes down to the desk of their hotel and asks to use the VCR in the biggest suite in the hotel, presently unoccupied. She is puzzled by what appears on the screen: Walt Disney’s Pinocchio. She doesn’t understand why it would be in there, but the reader, of course, knows its significance. It is the movie Mariam asked to see for her fifteenth birthday, and the one that led to the crisis of her going to her father’s home, her mother’s suicide because she left, and her marriage to Rasheed. It is, however, Jalil’s attempt to say he’s sorry for never taking her to see it in the first place.
Later, before Tariq and the children return from their day in the town, Laila reads the letter. It is dated May 13, 1987, a month after Jalil had come to Kabul looking for Mariam. He tells Mariam all the sorrows he had endured since she left. He lost his wife, Afsoon, and his little girl, Niloufar, to the uprising and a stray bullet. His son, Farhad, was killed by the Soviets. He hoped that Allah will spare her the grief he had known. He said he dreamed of her and missed the sound of her voice and her laughter. He missed reading to her and all the fishing they did together. However, he could not think of her without feeling shame and regret that he never acknowledged her as his daughter. He wondered why he didn’t. Was it fear of losing face, of staining his so-called good name? He said that those things mattered so little now. He said she was a good daughter and that he never deserved her. He went on to say that the Soviets had confiscated most of his land and all of his stores. Nonetheless, he still had much more money than most people had. He had managed to sell what little remained of his land, and he had enclosed Mariam’s share of the inheritance. He had exchanged it into American money which was safer. He realized Mariam would let him know that forgiveness was not for sale. He was merely giving her what had belonged to her all along. Death was in sight for him. He had a weak heart, and he thought it was fitting for a weak man. He asked her at the end of the letter that if he were still alive, she might come to see him. He wanted to take her into his arms, and he would be waiting for her knock. Then, he, ironically, wished her a long and prosperous life.
That night, after he returns, Lalila tells Tariq about the letter and
shows him all the money in the burlap sack. When she begins to cry, he
kisses her face and holds her in his arms, just as Jalil wanted to do
This chapter is all about self-recrimination and regret. Laila feels she must
return home or the deaths of her parents and Mariam will have been for
nothing. She must be there as it grows again. She regrets much, but knows
that her return will mean something. The letter is filled with Jalil’s
self-recrimination for not acknowledging his daughter and his hopes that
she is living a healthy life. However, all he can do is leave behind the
tape, the money, and his loving farewells. All of this now becomes Laila’s
inheritance and is the key to the loving life she can now live.
Cite this page:
Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on A Thousand Splendid Suns".
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