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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 18.
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Chapter 18.
A week passed, but there was still no sign of Tariq. Thenanother week came and went.
To fill the time, Laila fixed the screen door that Babi stillhadn't got around to. She took down Babi's books, dusted andalphabetized them. She went to Chicken Street with Hasina,Giti,and Giti's mother, Nila, who was a seamstress and sometimesewing partner of Mammy's. In that week, Laila came tobelieve that of all the hardships a person had to face nonewas more punishing than the simple act of waiting.
Another week passed.
Laila found herself caught in a net of terrible thoughts.
He would never come back. His parents had moved away forgood; the trip to Ghazni had been a ruse. An adult scheme tospare the two of them an upsetting farewell.
A land minehad gotten to him again. The way it did in 1981,when he was five, the last time his parents took him south toGhazni. That was shortly after Laila's third birthday. He'd beenlucky that time, losing only a leg; lucky that he'd survived atall.
Her head rang and rang with these thoughts.
Then one night Laila saw a tiny flashing light from down thestreet. A sound, something between a squeak and a gasp,escaped herlips. She quickly fished her own flashlight fromunder the bed, but it wouldn't work. Laila banged it againsther palm, cursed the dead batteries. But it didn't matter. Hewas back. Laila sat on the edge of her bed, giddy with relief,and watched that beautiful, yellow eye winking on and off.
* * *On her way to Tariq's house the next day, Laila saw Khadimand a group of his friends across the street. Khadim wassquatting, drawing something in the dirt with a stick. When hesaw her, he dropped the stick and wiggled his fingers. He saidsomething and there was a round of chuckles. Laila droppedher head and hurried past.
"What did youdo1?" she exclaimed when Tariq opened thedoor. Only then did she remember that his uncle was abarber.
Tariq ran his hand over his newly shaved scalp and smiled,showing white, slightly uneven teeth.
"Like it?""You look like you're enlisting in the army.""You want to feel?" He lowered his head.
The tiny bristles scratched Laila's palm pleasantly. Tariq wasn'tlike some of the other boys, whose hair concealedcone-shaped skulls and unsightly lumps. Tariq's head wasperfectly curved and lump-free.
When he looked up, Laila saw that his cheeks and brow hadsunburned"What took you so long?" she said"My uncle was sick. Come on. Come inside."He led her down the hallway to the family room. Laila lovedeverything about this house. The shabby old rug in the familyroom, the patchwork quilt on the couch, the ordinary clutter ofTariq's life: his mother's bolts of fabric, her sewing needlesembedded in spools, the old magazines, the accordion case inthe corner waiting to be cracked open.
"Who is it?"It was his mother calling from the kitchen.
"Laila," he answeredHe pulled her a chair. The family room was brightly lit andhad double windows that opened into the yard. On the sillwere empty jars in which Tariq's mother pickled eggplant andmade carrot marmalade.
"You mean ouraroos,our daughter-in-law,"his father announced,entering the room. He was a carpenter, a lean, white-hairedman in his early sixties. He had gaps between his front teeth,and the squinty eyes of someone who had spent most of hislife outdoors. He opened his arms and Laila went into them,greeted by his pleasant and familiar smell of sawdust. Theykissed on the cheek three times.
"You keep calling her that and she'll stop coming here,"Tariq's mother said, passing by them. She was carrying a traywith a large bowl, a serving spoon, and four smaller bowls onit. She set the tray on the table. "Don't mind the old man."She cupped Laila's face. "It's good to see you, my dear. Come,sit down. I brought back some water-soaked fruit with me."The table was bulky and made of a light, unfinishedwood-Tariq's father had built it, as well as the chairs. It wascovered with a moss green vinyl tablecloth with little magentacrescents and stars on it. Most of the living-room wall wastaken up with pictures of Tariq at various ages. In some of thevery early ones, he had two legs.
"I heard your brother was sick," Laila said to Tariq's father,dipping a spoon into her bowl of soaked raisins, pistachios, andapricots.
He was lighting a cigarette. "Yes, but he's fine now,shokr eKhoda, thanks to God.""Heart attack. His second," Tariq's mother said, giving herhusband an admonishing look.
Tariq's father blew smoke and winked at Laila. It struck heragain that Tariq's parents could easily pass for hisgrandparents. His mother hadn't had him until she'd been wellinto her forties.
"How is your father, my dear?" Tariq's mother said, lookingon over her bowl-As long as Laila had known her, Tariq'smother had worn a wig. It was turning a dull purple with age.
It was pulled low on her brow today, and Laila could see thegray hairs of her sideburns.Some days,it rode high on herforehead. But, to Laila, Tariq's mother never looked pitiable init- What Laila saw was the calm, self-assured face beneath thewig, the clever eyes, the pleasant, unhurried manners.
"He's fine," Laila said. "Still at Silo, of course. He's fine.""And your mother?""Good days. Bad ones too. The same-""Yes," Tariq's mother said thoughtfully, lowering her spoon intothe bowl "How hard it must be, how terribly hard, for amother to be away from her sons.""You're staying for lunch?" Tariq said-"You have to," said his mother. "I'm makingshorwa""I don't want to be amozahem. ""Imposing?" Tariq's mother said. "We leave for a couple ofweeks and you turn polite on us?""All right, I'll stay," Laila said, blushing and smiling.
"It's settled, then."The truth was, Laila loved eating meals at Tariq's house asmuch as she disliked eating them at hers. At Tariq's, there wasno eating alone; they always ate as a family. Laila liked theviolet plastic drinking glasses they used and the quarter lemonthat always floated in the water pitcher. She liked how theystarted each meal with a bowl of fresh yogurt, how theysqueezed sour oranges on everything, even their yogurt, andhow they made small, harmless jokes at each other's expense.
Over meals, conversation always flowed. Though Tariq and hisparents were ethnic Pashtuns, they spoke Farsi when Laila wasaround for her benefit, even though Laila more or lessunderstood their native Pashto, having learned it in school. Babisaid that there were tensions between their people-the Tajiks,who were a minority, and Tariq's people, the Pashtuns, whowere the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.Tajiks have alwaysfelt slighted, Babi had said.Pashiun kings ruled this country foralmost two hundred and'fifty years, Laila, and Tajiks for all ofnine months, back in 1929.
And you,Laila had asked,do you feel slighted, Babi?
Babi had wiped his eyeglasses clean with the hem of hisshirt.To me, it's nonsense -and very dangerous nonsense atthat-all this talk of I'm Tajik and you 're Pashiun and he'sHazara and she's Uzbek. We 're all Afghans, and that's all thatshould matter. But when one group rules over the others forso long…Theref s contempt. Rivalry. There is. There always hasbeen.
Maybe so. But Laila never felt it in Tariq's house, where thesematters never even came up. Her time with Tariq's familyalways felt natural to Laila, effortless, uncomplicated bydifferences in tribe or language, or by the personal spites andgrudges that infected the air at her own home.
"How about a game of cards?" Tariq said.
"Yes, go upstairs," his mother said, swiping disapprovingly ather husband's cloud of smoke. "I'll getthe shorwa going."They lay on their stomachs in the middle of Tariq's room andtook turns dealing forpanjpar. Pedaling air with his foot, Tariqtold her about his trip. The peach saplings he had helped hisuncle plant. A garden snake he had captured.
This room was where Laila and Tariq did their homewo............
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