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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 10.
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Chapter 10.
The first few days, Mariam hardly left her room. She wasawakened every dawn for prayer by the distant cry ofazan,after which she crawled back into bed. She was still in bedwhen she heard Rasheed in the bathroom, washing up, whenhe came into her room to check on her before he went to hisshop. From her window, she watched him in the yard, securinghis lunch in the rear carrier pack of his bicycle, then walkinghis bicycle across the yard and into the street. She watchedhim pedal away, saw his broad, thick-shouldered figuredisappear around the turn at the end of the street.
For most of the days, Mariam stayed in bed, feeling adrift andforlorn. Sometimes she went downstairs to the kitchen, ran herhands over the sticky, grease-stained counter, the vinyl, floweredcurtains that smelled like burned meals. She looked through theill-fitting drawers, at the mismatched spoons and knives, thecolander and chipped, wooden spatulas, these would-beinstruments of her new daily life, all of it reminding her of thehavoc that had struck her life, making her feel uprooted,displaced, like an intruder on someone else's life.
At thekolba, her appetite had been predictable. Here, herstomach rarely growled for food. Sometimes she took a plate ofleftover white rice and a scrap of bread to the living room, bythe window. From there, she could see the roofs of theone-story houses on their street. She could see into their yardstoo, the women working laundry lines and shooing theirchildren, chickens pecking at dirt, the shovels and spades, thecows tethered to trees.
She thought longingly of all the summer nights that she andNana had slept on the flat roof of thekolba, looking at themoon glowing over Gul Daman, the night so hot their shirtswould cling to their chests like a wet leaf to a window. Shemissed the winter afternoons of reading in thekolba with MullahFaizullah, the clink of icicles falling on her roof from the trees,the crows cawing outside from snow-burdened branches.
Alone in the house, Mariam paced restlessly, from the kitchento the living room, up the steps to her room and down again.
She ended up back in her room, doing her prayers or sittingon the bed, missing her mother, feeling nauseated andhomesick.
It was with the sun's westward crawl that Mariam's anxietyreally ratcheted up. Her teeth rattled when she thought of thenight, the time when Rasheed might at last decide to do to herwhat husbands did to their wives. She lay in bed, wracked withnerves, as he ate alone downstairs.
He always stopped by her room and poked his head in.
"You can't be sleeping already. It's only seven. Are youawake? Answer me. Come, now."He pressed on until, from the dark, Mariam said, "I'm here."He slid down and sat in her doorway. From her bed, shecould see his large-framed body, his long legs, the smokeswirling around his hook-nosed profile, the amber tip of hiscigarette brightening and dimming.
He told her about his day. A pair of loafers he hadcustom-made for the deputy foreign minister-who, Rasheed said,bought shoes only from him. An order for sandals from aPolish diplomat and his wife. He told her of the superstitionspeople had about shoes: that putting them on a bed inviteddeath into the family, that a quarrel would follow if one put onthe left shoe first.
"Unless it was done unintentionally on a Friday," he said.
"And did you know it's supposed to be a bad omen to tieshoes together and hang them from a nail?"Rasheed himself believed none of this. In his opinion,superstitions were largely a female preoccupation.
He passed on to her things he had heard on the streets, likehow the American president Richard Nixon had resigned overa scandal.
Mariam, who had never heard of Nixon, or the scandal thathad forced him to resign, did not say anything back. Shewaited anxiously for Rasheed to finish talking, to crush hiscigarette, and take his leave. Only when she'd heard him crossthe hallway, heard his door open and close, only then wouldthe metal fist gripping her belly let go-Then one night hecrushed his cigarette and instead of saying good night leanedagainst the doorway.
"Are you ever going to unpack that thing?" he said, motioningwith his head toward her suitcase. He crossed his arms. "Ifigured you might need some time. But this is absurd. Aweek's gone and…Well, then, as of tomorrow morning I expectyou to start behaving like a wife.Fahmidi? Is that understood?"Mariam's teeth began to chatter.
"I need an answer.""Yes.""Good," he said. "What did you think? That this is a hotel?
That I'm some kind of hotelkeeper? Well, it…Oh. Oh.
La illah u ilillah.What did I say about the crying? Mariam.
What did I say to you about the crying?"* * *The next morning, after Rasheed left for work, Mariamunpacked her clothes and put them in the dresser. She drew apail of water from the well and, with a rag, washed thewindows of her room and the windows to the living roomdownstairs- She swept the floors, beat the cobwebs fluttering inthe corners of the ceiling. She opened the windows to air thehouse.
She set three cups of lentils to soak in a pot, found a knifeand cut some carrots and a pair of potatoes, left them too tosoak. She searched for flour, found it in the back of one ofthe cabinets behind a row of dirty spice jars, and made freshdough, kneading it the way Nana had shown her, pushing thedough with the heel of her hand, folding the outer edge,turning it, and pushing it away again. Once she had flouredthe dough, she wrapped it in a moist cloth, put on ahijab, andset out for the communal tandoor.
Rasheed had told her where it was, down the street, a leftthen a quick right, but all Mariam had to do was follow theflock of women and children who were headed the same way.
The children Mariam saw, chasing after their mothers orrunning ahead of them, wore shirts patched and patched again.
They wore trousers that looked too bigor too small, sandals with ragged straps that flapped back andforth. They rolled discarded old bicycle tires with sticks.
Their mothers walked in groups of three or four, some inburqas, others not. Mariam could hear their high-pitchedchatter, their spiraling laughs. As she walked with her headdown, she caught bits of their banter, which seemingly alwayshad to do with sick children or lazy, ungrateful husbands.
As if the meals cook themselves.
Wallah o billah,never a moment's rest!
And he says to me, I swear it, it's true, he actually saystome…This endless conversation, the tone plaintive but oddly cheerful,flew around and around in a circle. On it went, down thestreet, around the corner, in line at the tandoor. Husbandswho gambled. Husbands who doted on their mothers andwouldn't spend a rupiah on them, the wives. Mariam wonderedhow so many women could suffer the same miserable luck, tohave married, all of them, such dreadful men. Or was this awifely game that she did not know about, a daily ritual, likesoaking rice or making dough? Would they expect her soon tojoin in?
In the tandoor line, Mariam caught sideways glances shot ather, heard whispers. Her hands began to sweat. She imaginedthey all knew that she'd been born aharami, a source ofshame to her father and his family. They all knew that she'dbetrayed her mother and disgraced herself.
With a corner of herh............
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