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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 6.
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Chapter 6.
1 hey buried Nana in a corner of the cemetery in GulDaman. Mariam stood beside Bibi jo, with the women, asMullah Faizullah recited prayers at the graveside and the menlowered Nana's shrouded body into the ground-Afterward, Jalilwalked Mariam to thekolba, where, in front of the villagers whoaccompanied them, he made a great show of tending toMariam. He collected a few of her things, put them in asuitcase. He sat beside her cot, where she lay down, andfanned her face. He stroked her forehead, and, with awoebegone expression on his face, asked if sheneededanything? anything? - he said it like that, twice.
"I want Mullah Faizullah," Mariam said.
"Of course. He's outside. I'll get him for you."It was when Mullah Faizullah's slight, stooping figure appearedin thekolba's doorway that Mariam cried for the first time thatday.
"Oh, Mariam jo."He sat next to her and cupped her face in his hands. "Yougo on and cry, Mariam jo. Go on. There is no shame in it.
But remember, my girl, what the Koran says, 'Blessed is He inWhose hand is the kingdom, and He Who has power over allthings, Who created death and life that He may try you.' TheKoran speaks the truth, my girl.
Behind every trial and every sorrow that He makes usshoulder, God has a reason."But Mariam could not hear comfort in God's words. Not thatday. Not then. All she could hear was Nana saying,I'll die ifyou go. I'll just die. All she could do was cry and cry and lether tears fall on the spotted, paper-thin skin of MullahFaizullah's hands.
* * *On the ride to his house, Jalil sat in the backseat of his carwith Mariam, his arm draped over her shoulder.
"You can stay with me, Mariam jo," he said. "I've asked themalready to clean a room for you. It's upstairs. You'll like it, Ithink. You'll have a view of the garden."For the first time, Mariam could hear him with Nana's ears.
She could hear so clearly now the insincerity that had alwayslurked beneath, the hollow, false assurances. She could notbring herself to look at him.
When the car stopped before Jalil's house, the driver openedthe door for them and carried Mariam's suitcase. Jalil guidedher, one palm cupped around each of her shoulders, throughthe same gates outside of which, two days before, Mariam hadslept on the sidewalk waiting for him. Two days before-whenMariam could think of nothing in the world she wanted morethan to walk in this garden with Jalil-felt like another lifetime.
How could her life have turned upside down so quickly,Mariam asked herself. She kept her gaze to the ground, onher feet, stepping on the gray stone path. She was aware ofthe presence of people in the garden, murmuring, steppingaside, as she and Jalil walked past. She sensed the weight ofeyes on her, looking down from the windows upstairs.
Inside the house too, Mariam kept her head down. Shewalked on a maroon carpet with a repeating blue-and-yellowoctagonal pattern, saw out of the corner of her eye the marblebases of statues, the lower halves of vases, the frayed ends ofrichly colored tapestries hanging from walls. The stairs she andJalil took were wide and covered with asimilar carpet, naileddown at the base of each step. At the top of the stairs, Jalilled her to the left, down another long, carpeted hallway. Hestopped by one of the doors, opened it, and let her in.
"Your sisters Niloufar and Atieh play here sometimes," Jalilsaid, "but mostly we use this as a guest room. You'll becomfortable here, I think. It's nice, isn't it?"The room had a bed with a green-flowered blanket knit in atightly woven, honeycomb design. The curtains, pulled back toreveal the garden below, matched the blanket. Beside the bedwas a three-drawer chest with a flower vase on it. There wereshelves along the walls, with framed pictures of people Mariamdid not recognize. On one of the shelves, Mariam saw acollection of identical wooden dolls, arranged in a line in orderof decreasing size.
Jalil saw her looking."Matryoshka dolls. I got them in Moscow.
You can play with them, if you want. No one will mind."Mariam sat down on the bed.
"Is there anything you want?" Jalil said.
Mariam lay down. Closed her eyes. After a while, she heardhim softly shut the door.
* * *Except for "when she had to use the bathroom down thehall, Mariam stayed in the room. The girl with the tattoo, theone who had opened the gates to her, brought her meals ona tray: lamb kebab,sabzi, aush soup. Most of it went uneaten.
Jalil came by several times a day, sat on the bed beside her,asked her if she was all right.
"You could eat downstairs with the rest of us," he said, butwithout much conviction. He understood a little too readilywhen Mariam said she preferred to eat alone.
From the window, Mariam watched impassively what she hadwondered about and longed to see for most of her life: thecomings and goings of Jalil's daily life. Servants rushed in andout of the front gates. A gardener was always trimming bushes,watering plants in the greenhouse. Cars with long, sleek hoodspulled up on the street. From them emerged men in suits,inchapcms and caracul hats, women inhijabs, children withneatly combed hair. And as Mariam watched Jalil shake thesestrangers' hands, as she saw him cross his palms on his chestand nod to their wives, she knew that Nana had spoken thetruth. She did not belong here.
But where do I belong? What am I going to do now?
I'm all you have in this world, Mariam, and when I'm goneyou'll have nothing. You'll have nothing. Youarenothing!
Like the wind through the willows around thekolba, gusts ofan inexpressible blackness kept passing through Mariam.
On Mariam's second full day at Jalil's house, a little girl cameinto the room.
"I have to get something," she said.
Mariam sat up on the bed and crossed her legs, pulled theblanket on her lap.
The girl hurried across the room and opened the closet door.
She fetched a square-shaped gray box.
"You know what this is?" she said. She opened the box. "It'scalled a gramophone.Gramo. Phone. It plays records. You know,music. A gramophone.""You're Niloufar. You're eight."The little girl smiled. She had Jalil's smile and his dimpledchin. "How did you know?"Mariam shrugged. She didn't say to this girl that she'd oncenamed a pebble after her.
"Do you want to hear a song?"Mariam shrugged again.
Niloufar plugged in the gramophone. She fished a small recordfrom a pouch beneath the box's lid. She put it on, lowered theneedle. Music began to play.
1 will use a flower petal for paper, And write you the sweetestletter, You are the sultan of my heart, the sultan of my heart"Do you know it?""No.""It's from an Iranian film. I saw it at my father's cinema. Hey,do you want to see something?"Before Mariam could answer, Niloufar had put her palms andforehead to the ground She pushed with her soles and thenshe was standing upside down, on her head, in a three-pointstance.
"Can you do that?" she said thickly.
"No."Niloufar dropped her legs and pulled her blouse back down.
"I could teach you," she said, pushing hair from her flushedbrow. "So how long will you stay here?""I don't know.""My mother says you're not really my sister like you say youare.""I never said I was," Mariam lied.
"She says you did. I don't care. What I mean is, I don't mindif you did say it, or if you are my sister. I don't mind."Mariam lay down. "I'm tired now.""My mother saysa jinn made your mother hang herself.""You can stop that now," Mariam said, turning to her side.
"The music, I mean."Bibi jo came to see her that day too. It was raining by thetime she came. She lowered her large body onto the chairbeside the bed, grimacing.
"This rain, Mariam jo, it's murder on my hips. Just murder, Itell you. I hope…Oh, now, come here, child. Come here to Bibijo. Don't cry. There, now. You poor thing.Ask You poor, poorthing."That night, Mariam couldn't sleep for a long time. She lay inbed looking at the sky, listening to the footsteps below, thevoices muffled by walls and the sheets of rain punishing thewindow. When she did doze off, she was startled awake byshouting. Voices downstairs, sharp and angry. Mariam couldn'tmake out the words. Someone slammed a door.
The next morning, Mullah Faizullah came to visit her. Whenshe saw her friend at the door, his white beard and hisamiable, toothless smile, Mariam felt tears stinging the cornersof her eyes again. She swung her feet over the side of the bedand hurried over. She kissed his hand as always and he herbrow. She pulled him up a chair-He showed her the Koran hehad brought with him and opened it. "I figured no sense inskipping our routine, eh?""You know I don't need lessons anymore, Mullah sahib. Youtaught me everysurrah andayat in the Koran years ago."He smiled, and raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. "Iconfess, then. I've been found out. But I can think of worseexcuses to visit you.""You don't need excuses. Not you.""You're kind to say that, Mariam jo."He passed her his Koran. As he'd taught her, she kissed itthree times-touching it to her brow between each kiss-and gaveit back to him.
"How are you, my girl?""I keep," Mariam began. She had to stop, feeling like a rockhad lodged itself in her throat. "I keep thinking of what shesaid to me before I left. She-""Nay, nay, nay."Mullah Faizullah put his hand on her knee.
"Your mother, may Allah forgive her, was a troubled andunhappy woman, Mariam jo. She did a terrible thing to herself.
To herself, to you, and also to Allah. He will forgive her, forHe is all-forgiving, but Allah is saddened by what she did. Hedoes not approve of the taking of life, be it another's or one'sown, for He says that life is sacred You see-" He pulled hischair closer, took Mariam's hand in both of his own. "You see,I knew your mother before you were born, when she was alittle girl, and I tell you that she was unhappy then. The seedfor what she did was planted long ago, I'm afraid. What Imean to say is that this was not your fault. It wasn't yourfault, my girl.""I shouldn't have left her. I should have-""You stop that. These thoughts are no good, Mariam jo. Youhear me, child? No good. They will destroy you. It wasn't yourfault. It wasn't your fault. No."Mariam nodded, but as desperately as she wanted to shecould not bring herself to believe him.
* * *One apternoon, a week later, there was a knock on the door,and a tall woman walked in. She was fair-skinned, had reddishhair and long fingers.
"I'm Afsoon," she said. "Niloufar's mother. Why don't youwash up, Mariam, and come downstairs?"Mariam said she would rather stay in her room.
"No,nafahmidi, you don't understand. Youmedio come down.
We have to talk to you. It's important."
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