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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 7.
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Chapter 7.
They sat across from her, Jalil and his wives, at a long, darkbrown table. Between them, in the center of the table, was acrystal vase of fresh marigolds and a sweating pitcher of water.
The red-haired woman who had introduced herself as Niloufar'smother, Afsoon, was sitting on Jalil's right. The other two,Khadija and Nargis, were on his left. The wives each had on aflimsy black scarf, which they wore not on their heads but tiedloosely around the neck like an afterthought. Mariam, whocould not imagine that they would wear black for Nana,pictured one of them suggesting it, or maybe Jalil, just beforeshe'd been summoned.
Afsoon poured water from the pitcher and put the glassbefore Mariam on a checkered cloth coaster. "Only spring andit's warm already," she said. She made a fanning motion withher hand.
"Have you been comfortable?" Nargis, who had a small chinand curly black hair, asked. "We hope you've been comfortable.
This… ordeal…must be very hard for you. So difficult."The other two nodded. Mariam took in their pluckedeyebrows, the thin, tolerant smiles they were giving her. Therewas an unpleasant hum in Mariam's head. Her throat burned.
She drank some of the water.
Through the wide window behind Jalil, Mariam could see arow of flowering apple trees. On the wall beside the windowstood a dark wooden cabinet. In it was a clock, and a framedphotograph of Jalil and three young boys holding a fish. Thesun caught the sparkle in the fish's scales. Jalil and the boyswere grinning.
"Well," Afsoon began. "I-that is, we-have brought you herebecause we have some very good news to give you."Mariam looked up.
She caught a quick exchange of glances between the womenover Jalil, who slouched in his chair looking unseeingly at thepitcher on the table. It was Khadija, the oldest-looking of thethree, who turned her gaze to Mariam, and Mariam had theimpression that this duty too had been discussed, agreed upon,before they had called for her.
"You have a suitor," Khadija said.
Mariam's stomach fell. "A what?" she said through suddenlynumb lips.
"Akhasiegar. A suitor. His name is Rasheed," Khadija went on.
"He is a friend of a business acquaintance of your father's.
He's a Pashtun, from Kandahar originally, but he lives in Kabul,in the Deh-Mazang district, in a two-story house that he owns."Afsoon was nodding. "And he does speak Farsi, like us, likeyou. So you won't have to learn Pashto."Mariam's chest was tightening. The room was reeling up anddown, the ground shifting beneath her feet.
"He's a shoemaker," Khadija was saying now. "But not somekind of ordinary street-sidemoochi, no, no. He has his ownshop, and he is one of the most sought-after shoemakers inKabul He makes them for diplomats, members of thepresidential family-that class of people. So you see, he will haveno trouble providing for you."Mariam fixed her eyes on Jalil, her heart somersaulting in herchest. "Is this true? What she's saying, is it true?"But Jalil wouldn't look at her. He went on chewing the cornerof his lower lip and staring at the pitcher.
"Now heis a little older than you," Afsoon chimed in. "But hecan't be more than…forty. Forty-five at the most. Wouldn't yousay,Nargis?""Yes. But I've seen nine-year-old girls given to men twentyyears older than your suitor, Mariam. We all have. What areyou, fifteen? That's a good, solid marrying age for a girl."There was enthusiastic nodding at this. It did not escapeMariam that no mention was made of her half sisters Saidehor Naheed, both her own age, both students in the MehriSchool in Herat, both with plans to enroll in Kabul University.
Fifteen, evidently, was not a good, solid marrying age for them.
"What's more," Nargis went on, "he too has had a great lossin his life. His wife, we hear, died during childbirth ten yearsago. And then, three years ago, his son drowned in a lake.""It's very sad, yes. He's been looking for a bride the last fewyears but hasn't found anyone suitable.""I don't want to," Mariam said. She looked at Jalil. "I don'twant this. Don't make me." She hated the sniffling, pleadingtone of her voice but could not help it.
"Now, be reasonable, Mariam," one of the wives said.
Mariam was no longer keeping track of who was saying what.
She went on staring at Jalil, waiting for him to speak up, tosay that none of this was true.
"You can't spend the rest of your life here.""Don't you want a family of your own?""Yes. A home, children of your own?""You have to move on.""True that it would be preferable that you marry a local, aTajik, but Rasheed is healthy, and interested in you. He has ahome and a job. That's all that really matters, isn't it? AndKabul is a beautiful and exciting city. You may not get anotheropportunity this good."Mariam turned her attention to the wives.
"I'll live with Mullah Faizullah," she said. "He'll take me in. Iknow he will.""That's no good," Khadija said. "He's old and so…" Shesearched for the right word, and Mariam knew then that whatshe really wanted to say wasHef s so close. She understoodwhat they meant to do.You may not get another opportunitythis good And neither would they. They had been disgraced byher birth, and this was their chance to erase, once and for all,the last trace of their husband's scandalous mistake. She wasbeing sent away because she was the walking, breathingembodiment of their shame.
"He's so old and weak," Khadija eventually said. "And whatwill you do when he's gone? You'd be a burden to his family."As you are now to us.Mariam almostsaw the unspoken wordsexit Khadija's mouth, like foggy breath on a cold day.
Mariam pictured herself in Kabul, a big, strange, crowded citythat, Jalil had once told her, was some six hundred and fiftykilometers to the east of Herat.Six hundred and fifty kilometers.
The farthest she'd ever been from thekolba was thetwo-kilometer walk she'd made to Jalil's house. She picturedherself living there, in Kabul, at the other end of thatunimaginable distance, living in a stranger's house where shewould have to concede to his moods and his issued demands.
She would have to clean after this man, Rasheed, cook forhim, wash his clothes. And there would be other chores aswell-Nana had told her what husbands did to their wives. Itwas the thought of these intimacies in particular, which sheimagined as painful acts of perversity, that filled her with dreadand made her break out in a sweat.
She turned to Jalil again. "Tell them. Tell them you won't letthem do this.""Actually, your father has already given Rasheed his answer,"Afsoon said. "Rasheed is here, in Herat; he has come all theway from Kabul. Thenikka will be tomorrow morning, and thenthere is a bus leaving for Kabul at noon.""Tell them!" Mariam criedThe women grew quiet now. Mariam sensed that they werewatching him too. Waiting. A silence fell over the room. Jalilkept twirling his wedding band, with a bruised, helpless look onhis face. From inside the cabinet, the clock ticked on and on.
"Jalil jo?" one of the women said at last.
Mil's eyes lifted slowly, met Mariam's, lingered for a moment,then dropped. He opened his mouth, but all that came forthwas a single, pained groan.
"Say something," Mariam said.
Then Jalil did, in a thin, threadbare voice. "Goddamn it,Mariam, don't do this to me," he said as though he was theone to whom something was being done.
And, with that, Mariam felt the tension vanish from the room.
As JaliPs wives began a new-and more sprightly-round ofreassuring, Mariam looked down at the table. Her eyes tracedthe sleek shape of the table's legs, the sinuous curves of itscorners, the gleam of its reflective, dark brown surface. Shenoticed that every time she breathed out, the surface fogged,and she disappeared from her father's table.
Afsoon escorted her back to the room upstairs. When Afsoonclosed the door, Mariam heard the rattling of a key as itturned in the lock.
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