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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 4.
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Chapter 4.
Mariam loved having visitors at thekolba. The villagearbab andhis gifts, Bibi jo and her aching hip and endless gossiping, and,of course, Mullah Faizullah. But there was no one, no one, thatMariam longed to see more than Jalil.
The anxiety set in on Tuesday nights. Mariam would sleeppoorly, fretting that some business entanglement would preventJalil from coming on Thursday, that she would have to wait awhole other week to see him. On Wednesdays, she pacedoutside, around thekolba, tossed chicken feed absentmindedlyinto the coop. She went for aimless walks, picking petals fromflowers and batting at the mosquitoes nibbling on her arms.
Finally, on Thursdays, all she could do was sit against a wall,eyes glued to the stream, and wait. If Jalil was running late, aterrible dread filled her bit by bit. Her knees would weaken,and she would have to go somewhere and lie down.
Then Nana would call, "And there he is, your father. In allhis glory."Mariam would leap to her feet when she spotted him hoppingstones across the stream, all smiles and hearty waves. Mariamknew that Nana was watching her, gauging her reaction, and italways took effort to stay in the doorway, to wait, to watchhim slowly make his way to her, to not run to him. Sherestrained herself, patiently watched him walk through the tallgrass, his suit jacket slung over his shoulder, the breeze liftinghis red necktie.
When Jalil entered the clearing, he would throw his jacket onthe tandoor and open his arms. Mariam would walk, thenfinally run, to him, and he would catch her under the armsand toss her up high. Mariam would squeal.
Suspended in the air, Mariam would see Jalil's upturned facebelow her, his wide, crooked smile, his widow's peak, his cleftchin-a perfect pocket for the tip of her pinkie-his teeth, thewhitest in a town of rotting molars. She liked his trimmedmustache, and she liked that no matter the weather he alwayswore a suit on his visits-dark brown, his favorite color, with thewhite triangle of a handkerchief in the breast pocket-and cufflinks too, and a tie, usually red, which he left loosened Mariamcould see herself too, reflected in the brown of Jalil's eyes: herhair billowing, her face blazing with excitement, the sky behindher.
Nana said that one of these days he would miss, that she,Mariam, would slip through his fingers, hit the ground, andbreak a bone. But Mariam did not believe that Jalil would dropher. She believed that she would always land safely into herfather's clean, well-manicured hands.
They sat outside thekolba, in the shade, and Nana servedthem tea. Jalil and she acknowledged each other with anuneasy smile and a nod. Jalil never brought up Nana's rockthrowing or her cursing.
Despite her rants against him when he wasn't around, Nanawas subdued and mannerly when Jalil visited. Her hair wasalways washed. She brushed her teeth, wore her besthijab forhim. She sat quietly on a chair across from him, hands foldedon her lap. She did not look at him directly and never usedcoarse language around him. When she laughed, she coveredher mouth with a fist to hide the bad tooth.
Nana asked about his businesses. And his wives too. Whenshe told him that she had heard, through Bibi jo, that hisyoungest wife, Nargis, was expecting her third child, Jalil smiledcourteously and nodded.
"Well. You must be happy," Nana said. "How many is thatfor you, now? Ten, is it,mashallah1? Ten?"Jalil said yes, ten.
"Eleven, if you count Mariam, of course."Later, after Jalil went home, Mariam and Nana had a smallfight about this. Mariam said she had tricked him.
After tea with Nana, Mariam and Jalil always went fishing inthe stream. He showed her how to cast her line, how to reelin the trout. He taught her the proper way to gut a trout, toclean it, to lift the meat off the bone in one motion. He drewpictures for her as they waited for a strike, showed her howto draw an elephant in one stroke without ever lifting the penoff the paper. He taught her rhymes. Together they sang:
Lili Mi birdbath, Sitting on a dirt path, Minnow sat on the rimand drank, Slipped, and in the water she sankJalil brought clippings from Herat's newspaper,Iiiifaq-i Islam,and read from them to her. He was Mariam's link, her proofthat there existed a world at large, beyond thekolba, beyondGul Daman and Herat too, a world of presidents withunpronounceable names, and trains and museums and soccer,and rockets that orbited the earth and landed on the moon,and, every Thursday, Jalil brought a piece of that world withhim to thekolba.
He was the one who told her in the summer of 1973, whenMariam was fourteen, that King Zahir Shah, who had ruledfrom Kabul for forty years, had been overthrown in a bloodlesscoup.
"His cousin Daoud Khan did it while the king was in Italygetting medical treatment- You remember Daoud Khan, right? Itold you about him. He was prime minister in Kabul when youwere bom. Anyway, Afghanistan is no longer a monarchy,Mariam. You see, it's a republic now, and Daoud Khan is thepresident. There are rumors that the socialists in Kabul helpedhim take power. Not that he's a socialist himself, mind you, butthat they helped him. That's the rumor anyway."Mariam asked him what a socialist was and Jalil begantoexplain, but Mariam barely heard him.
"Are you listening?""I am."He saw her looking at the bulge in his coat's side pocket.
"Ah. Of course. Well. Here, then. Without further ado…"He fished a small box from his pocket and gave it to her. Hedid this from time to time, bring her small presents. Acarnelian bracelet cuff one time, a choker with lapis lazuli beadsanother. That day, Mariam opened the box and found aleaf-shaped pendant, tiny coins etched with moons and starshanging from it.
"Try it on, Mariam jo."She did. "What do you think?"Jalil beamed "I think you look like a queen."After he left, Nana saw the pendant around Mariam's neck.
"Nomad jewelry," she said. "I've seen them make it. Theymelt the coins people throw at them and make jewelry. Let'ssee him bring you gold next time, your precious father. Let'ssee him."When it was time for Jalil to leave, Mariam always stood inthe doorway and watched him exit the clearing, deflated at thethought of the week that stood, like an immense, immovableobject, between her and his next visit. Mariam always held herbreath as she watched him go. She held her breath and, inher head, counted seconds. She pretended that for each secondthat she didn't breathe, God would grant her another day withJalil.
At night, Mariam lay in her cot and wondered what his housein Herat was like. She wondered what it would be like to livewith him, to see him every day. She pictured herself handinghim a towel as he shaved, telling him when he nicked himself.
She would brew tea for him. She would sew on his missingbuttons. They would take walks in Herat together, in thevaulted bazaar where Jalil said you could find anything youwanted. They would ride in his car, and people would pointand say, "There goes Jalil Khan with his daughter." He wouldshow her the famed tree that had a poet buried beneath it.
One day soon, Mariam decided, she would tell Jalil thesethings. And when he heard, when he saw how much shemissed him when he was gone, he would surely take her withhim. He would bring her to Herat, to live in his house, justlike his other children.
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