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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 11.
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Chapter 11.
Mariam had never before worn a burqa. Rasheed had to helpher put it on. The padded headpiece felt tight and heavy onher skull, and it was strange seeing the world through a meshscreen. She practiced walking around her room in it and keptstepping on the hem and stumbling. The loss of peripheralvision was unnerving, and she did not like the suffocating waythe pleated cloth kept pressing against her mouth.
"You'll get used to it," Rasheed said. "With time, I bet you'lleven like it."They took a bus to a place Rasheed called the Shar-e-NauPark, where children pushed each other on swings and slappedvolleyballs over ragged nets tied to tree trunks. They strolledtogether and watched boys fly kites, Mariam walking besideRasheed, tripping now and then on the burqa's hem. Forlunch, Rasheed took her to eat in a small kebab house near amosque he called the Haji Yaghoub. The floor was sticky andthe air smoky. The walls smelled faintly of raw meat and themusic, which Rasheed described to her aslogari, was loud. Thecooks were thin boys who fanned skewers with one hand andswatted gnats with the other. Mariam, who had never beeninside a restaurant, found it odd at first to sit in a crowdedroom with so many strangers, to lift her burqa to put morselsof food into her mouth. A hint of the same anxiety as the dayat the tandoor stirred in her stomach, but Rasheed's presencewas of some comfort, and, after a while, she did not mind somuch the music, the smoke, even the people. And the burqa,she learned to her surprise, was also comforting. It was like aone-way window. Inside it, she was an observer, buffered fromthe scrutinizing eyes of strangers. She no longer worried thatpeople knew, with a single glance, all the shameful secrets ofher past.
On the streets, Rasheed named various buildings withauthority; this is the American Embassy, he said, that theForeign Ministry. He pointed to cars, said their names andwhere they were made: Soviet Volgas, American Chevrolets,German Opels.
"Which is your favorite?" he askedMariam hesitated, pointed to a Volga, and Rasheed laughedKabul was far more crowded than the little that Mariam hadseen of Herat. There were fewer trees and fewergaris pulled byhorses, but more cars, taller buildings, more traffic lights andmore paved roads. And everywhere Mariam heard the city'speculiar dialect: "Dear" wasjon insteadof jo, "sister"becamehamshira instead ofhamshireh, and so on.
From a street vendor, Rasheed bought her ice cream. It wasthe first time she'd eaten ice cream and Mariam had neverimagined that such tricks could be played on a palate. Shedevoured the entire bowl, the crushed-pistachio topping, the tinyrice noodles at the bottom. She marveled at the bewitchingtexture, the lapping sweetness of it.
They walked on to a place called Kocheh-Morgha, ChickenStreet. It was a narrow, crowded bazaar in a neighborhoodthat Rasheed said was one of Kabul's wealthier ones.
"Around here is where foreign diplomats live, richbusinessmen, members of the royal family-that sort of people.
Not like you and me.""I don't see any chickens," Mariam said.
"That's the one thing you can't find on Chicken Street."Rasheed laughedThe street was lined with shops and little stalls that soldlambskin hats and rainbow-coloredchapans. Rasheed stopped tolook at an engraved silver dagger in one shop, and, in another,at an old rifle that the shopkeeper assured Rasheed was a relicfrom the first war against the British.
"And I'm Moshe Dayan," Rasheed muttered. He half smiled,and it seemed to Mariam that this was a smile meant only forher. A private, married smile.
They strolled past carpet shops, handicraft shops, pastryshops, flower shops, and shops that sold suits for men anddresses for women, and, in them, behind lace curtains, Mariamsaw young girls sewing buttons and ironing collars. From timeto time, Rasheed greeted a shopkeeper he knew, sometimes inFarsi, other times in Pashto. As they shook hands and kissedon the cheek, Mariam stood a few feet away. Rasheed did notwave her over, did not introduce her.
He asked her to wait outside an embroidery shop. "I knowthe owner," he said. "I'll just go in for a minute, saymysalaam. "Mariam waited outside on the crowded sidewalk. She watchedthe cars crawling up Chicken Street, threading through thehorde of hawkers and pedestrians, honking at children anddonkeys who wouldn't move. She watched the bored-lookingmerchants inside their tiny stalls, smoking, or spitting into brassspittoons, their faces emerging from the shadows now and thento peddle textiles and fur-collaredpoosiincoats to passer............
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