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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 23.
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Chapter 23.
April1992Three years passed.
In that time, Tariq's father had a series of strokes. They lefthim with a clumsy left hand and a slight slur to his speech.
When he was agitated, which happened frequently, the slurringgot worse.
Tariq outgrew his leg again and was issued a new leg by theRed Cross, though he had to wait six months for it.
As Hasina had feared, her family took her to Lahore, whereshe was made to marry the cousin who owned the auto shop.
The morning that they took her, Laila and Giti went toHasina's house to say good-bye. Hasina told them that thecousin, her husband-to-be, had already started the process tomove them to Germany, where his brothers lived. Within theyear, she thought, they would be in Frankfurt. They cried thenin a three-way embrace. Giti was inconsolable. The last timeLaila ever saw Hasina, she was being helped by her father intothe crowded backseat of a taxi.
The Soviet union crumbled with astonishing swiftness. Everyfew weeks, it seemed to Laila, Babi was coming home withnews of the latest republic to declare independence. Lithuania.
Estonia. Ukraine. The Soviet flag was lowered over the Kremlin.
The Republic of Russia was born.
In Kabul, Najibullah changed tactics and tried to portrayhimself as a devout Muslim. "Too little and far too late," saidBabi. "You can't be the chief of KHAD one day and the nextday pray in a mosque with people whose relatives you torturedand killed" Feeling the noose tightening around Kabul,Najibullah tried to reach a settlement with the Mujahideen butthe Mujahideen balked.
From her bed, Mammy said, "Good for them." She kept hervigils for the Mujahideen and waited for her parade. Waited forher sons' enemies to fall.
* * *And, eventually, they did. In April 1992, the year Laila turnedfourteen.
Najibullah surrendered at last and was given sanctuary in theUN compound near Darulaman Palace, south of the city.
The jihad was over. The various communist regimes that hadheld power since the night Laila was born were all defeated.
Mammy's heroes, Ahmad's and Noor's brothers-in-war, hadwon. And now, after more than a decade of sacrificingeverything, of leaving behind their families to live in mountainsand fight for Afghanistan's sovereignty, the Mujahideen werecoming to Kabul, in flesh, blood, and battle-weary bone.
Mammy knew all of their names.
There was Dostum, the flamboyant Uzbek commander, leaderof the Junbish-i-Milli faction, who had a reputation for shiftingallegiances. The intense, surly Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader ofthe Hezb-e-Islami faction, a Pashtun who had studiedengineering and once killed a Maoist student. Rabbani, Tajikleader of the Jamiat-e-Islami faction, who had taught Islam atKabul University in the days of the monarchy. Sayyaf, aPashtun from Paghman with Arab connections, a stout Muslimand leader of the Ittehad-i-Islami faction. Abdul Ali Mazari,leader of the Hizb-e-Wahdat faction, known as Baba Mazariamong his fellow Hazaras, with strong Shi'a ties to Iran.
And, of course, there was Mammy's hero, Rabbani's ally, thebrooding, charismatic Tajik commander Ahmad Shah Massoud,the Lion of Panjshir. Mammy had nailed up a poster of him inher room. Massoud's handsome, thoughtful face, eyebrowcocked and trademarkpakoltilted, would become ubiquitous inKabul. His soulful black eyes would gaze back from billboards,walls, storefront windows, from little flags mounted on theantennas of taxicabs.
For Mammy, this was the day she had longed for. Thisbrought to fruition all those years of waiting.
At last, she could end her vigils, and her sons could rest inpeace.
* * *The day after Najibullah surrendered, Mammy rose from beda new woman. For the first time in the five years since Ahmadand Noor had becomeshaheed,she didn't wear black. She puton a cobalt blue linen dress with white polka dots. She washedthe windows, swept the floor, aired the house, took a longbath. Her voice was shrill with merriment.
"A party is in order," she declared-She sent Laila to inviteneighbors. "Tell them we're having a big lunch tomorrow!"In the kitchen, Mammy stood looking around, hands on herhips, and said, with friendly reproach, "What have you done tomy kitchen, Laila?Wboy. Everything is in a different place."She began moving pots and pans around, theatrically, asthough she were laying claim to them anew, restaking herterritory, now that she was back. Laila stayed out of her way.
It was best. Mammy could be as indomitable in her fits ofeuphoria as in her attacks of rage. With unsettling energy,Mammy set about cooking:aush soup with kidney beans anddried dill,kofia, steaming hotmaniu drenched with fresh yogurtand topped with mint.
"You're plucking your eyebrows," Mammy said, as she wasopening a large burlap sack of rice by the kitchen counter.
"Only a little."Mammy poured rice from the sack into a large black pot ofwater. She rolled up her sleeves and began stirring.
"How is Tariq?""His father's been ill," Laila said "How old is he nowanyway?""I don't know. Sixties, I guess.""I meant Tariq.""Oh. Sixteen.""He's a nice boy. Don't you think?"Laila shrugged.
"Not really a boy anymore, though, is he? Sixteen. Almost aman. Don't you think?""What are you getting at, Mammy?""Nothing," Mammy said, smiling innocently. "Nothing. It's justthat you…Ah, nothing. I'd better not say anyway.""I see you want to," Laila said, irritated by this circuitous,playful accusation.
"Well." Mammy folded her hands on the rim of the pot. Lailaspotted an unnatural, almost rehearsed, quality to the way shesaid "Well" and to this folding of hands. She feared a speechwas coming.
"It was one thing when you were little kids running around.
No harm in that. It was charming- But now. Now. I noticeyou're wearing a bra, Laila."Laila was caught off guard.
"And you could have told me, by the way, about the bra. Ididn't know. I'm disappointed you didn't tell me." Sensing heradvantage, Mammy pressed on.
"Anyway, this isn't about me or the bra. It's about you andTariq. He's a boy, you see, and, as such, what does he careabout reputation? But you? The reputation of a girl, especiallyone as pretty as you, is a delicate thing, Laila. Like a mynahbird in your hands. Slacken your grip and away it flies.""And what about all your wall climbing, the sneaking aroundwith Babi in the orchards?" Laila said, pleased with her quickrecovery.
"We were cousins. And we married. Has this boy asked foryour hand?""He's a friend. Arqfiq. It's not like that between us," Laila said,sounding defensive, and not very convincing. "He's like abrother to me," she added, misguidedly. And she knew, evenbefore a cloud passed over Mammy's face and her featuresdarkened, that she'd made a mistake.
"Thathe is not," Mammy said flatly. "You will not liken thatone-legged carpenter's boy to your brothers. There isno onelike your brothers.""I didn't say he…That's not how I meant it."Mammy sighed through the nose and clenched her teeth.
"Anyway," she resumed, but without the coy lightheadednessof a few moments ago, "what I'm trying to say is that if you'renot careful, people will talk."Laila opened her mouth to say something. It wasn't thatMammy didn't have a point. Laila knew that the days ofinnocent, unhindered frolicking in the streets with Tariq hadpassed. For some time now, Laila had begun to sense a newstrangeness when the two of them were out in public. Anawareness of being looked at, scrutinized, whispered about, thatLaila had never felt before. Andwouldn't have felt even now butfor one fundamental fact: She had fallen for Tariq. Hopelesslyand desperately. When he was near, she couldn't help but beconsumed with the most scandalous thoughts, of his lean, barebody entangled with hers. Lying in bed at night, she picturedhim kissing her belly, wondered at the softness of his lips, atthe feel of his hands on her neck, her chest, her back, andlower still. When she thought of him this way, she wasovertaken with guilt, but also with a peculiar, warm sensationthat spread upward from her belly until it felt as if her facewere glowing pink.
No. Mammy had a point. More than she knew, in fact. Lailasuspected that some, if not most, of the neighbors were alreadygossiping about her and Tariq. Laila had noticed the sly grins,was aware of the whispers in the neighborhood that the two ofthem were a couple. The other day, for instance, she andTariq were walking up the street together when they'd passedRasheed, the shoemaker, with his burqa-clad wife, Mariam, intow. As he'd passed by them, Rasheed had playfully said, "If itisn't Laili and Majnoon," referring to the star-crossed lovers ofNezami's popular twelfth-century romantic poem-a Farsi versionofRomeo and Juliet,Babi said, though he added thatNezami hadwritten his tale of ill-fated lovers four centuries beforeShakespeare.
Mammy had a point.
What rankled Laila was that Mammy hadn't earned the rightto make it. It would have been one thing if Babi had raisedthis issue. But Mammy? All those years of aloofness, of coopingherself up and not caring where Laila went and whom shesaw and what she thought…It was unfair. Laila felt like shewas no better than these pots and pans, something that couldgo neglected, then laid claim to, at will, whenever the moodstruck.
But this was a big day, an important day, for all of them. Itwould be petty to spoil it over this. In the spirit of things, Lailalet it pass.
"I get your point," she said.
"Good!" Mammy said. "That's resolved, then. Now, where isHakim? Where, oh where, is that sweet little husband ofmine?"* * *It was a dazzling, cloudless day, perfect for a party. The mensat on rickety folding chairs in the yard. They drank tea andsmoked and talked in loud bantering voices about theMujahideen's plan. From Babi, Laila had learned the outline ofit: Afghanistan was now called the Islamic State of Afghanistan.
An Islamic Jihad Council, formed in Peshawar by several of theMujahideen factions, would oversee things for two months, ledby Sibghatullah Mojadidi. This would be followed then by aleadership council led by Rabbani, who would take over forfour months. During those six months, aloyajirga would be held,a grand council of leaders and elders, who would form aninterim government to hold power for two years, leading up todemocratic elections.
One of the men was fanning skewers of lamb sizzling over amakeshift grill Babi and Tariq's father were playing a game ofchess in the shade of the old pear tree. Their faces werescrunched up in concentration. Tariq was sitting at the boardtoo, in turns watching the match, then listening in on thepolitical chat at the adjacent table.
The women............
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