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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 24.
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Chapter 24.
It's the whistling," Laila said to Tariq, "the damn whistling, Ihate more than anything" Tariq nodded knowingly.
It wasn't so much the whistling itself, Laila thought later, butthe seconds between the start of it and impact. The brief andinterminable time of feeling suspended. The not knowing. Thewaiting. Like a defendant about to hear the verdict.
Often it happened at dinner, when she and Babi were at thetable. When it started, their heads snapped up. They listened tothe whistling, forks in midair, unchewed food in their mouths.
Laila saw the reflection of their half-lit faces in the pitch-blackwindow, their shadows unmoving on the wall. The whistling.
Then the blast, blissfully elsewhere, followed by an expulsion ofbreath and the knowledge that they had been spared for nowwhile somewhere else, amid cries and choking clouds of smoke,there was a scrambling, a barehanded frenzy of digging, ofpulling from the debris, what remained of a sister, a brother, agrandchild.
But the flip side of being spared was the agony of wonderingwho hadn't. After every rocket blast, Laila raced to the street,stammering a prayer, certain that, this time, surely this time, itwas Tariq they would find buried beneath the rubble andsmoke.
At night, Laila lay in bed and watched the sudden whiteflashes reflected in her window. She listened to the rattling ofautomatic gunfire and counted the rockets whining overhead asthe house shook and flakes of plaster rained down on herfrom the ceiling. Some nights, when the light of rocket fire wasso bright a person could read a book by it, sleep never came.
And, if it did, Laila's dreams were suffused with fire anddetached limbs and the moaning of the wounded.
Morning brought no relief. The muezzin's call fornamaz rangout, and the Mujahideen set down their guns, faced west, andprayed. Then the rugs were folded, the guns loaded, and themountains fired on Kabul, and Kabul fired back at themountains, as Laila and the rest of the city watched as helplessas old Santiago watching the sharks take bites out of his prizefish.
* * *Everywhere Laila "went, she saw Massoud's men. She sawthem roam the streets and every few hundred yards stop carsfor questioning. They sat and smoked atop tanks, dressed intheir fatigues and ubiquitouspakols.They peeked at passersbyfrom behind stacked sandbags at intersections.
Not that Laila went out much anymore. And, when she did,she was always accompanied by Tariq, who seemed to relishthis chivalric duty.
"I bought a gun," he said one day. They were sitting outside,on the ground beneath the pear tree in Laila's yard. Heshowed her. He said it was a semiautomatic, a Beretta. ToLaila, it merely looked black and deadly.
"I don't like it," she said. "Guns scare me."Tariq turned the magazine over in his hand"They found three bodies in a house in Karteh-Seh last week,"he said. "Did you hear? Sisters. All three raped Their throatsslashed. Someone had bitten the rings off their fingers. Youcould tell, they had teeth marks-""I don't want to hear this.""I don't mean to upset you," Tariq said "But I just…Ifeelbetter carrying this."He was her lifeline to the streets now. He heard the word ofmouth and passed it on to her. Tariq was the one who toldher, for instance, that militiamen stationed in the mountainssharpened their marksmanship-and settled wagers over saidmarksmanship-by shooting civilians down below, men, women,children, chosen at random. He told her that they fired rocketsat cars but, for some reason, left taxis alone-which explained toLaila the recent rash of people spraying their cars yellow.
Tariq explained to her the treacherous, shifting boundarieswithin Kabul. Laila learned from him, for instance, that thisroad, up to the second acacia tree on the left, belonged to onewarlord; that the next four blocks, ending with the bakery shopnext to the demolished pharmacy, was another warlord's sector;and that if she crossed that street and walked half a mile west,she would find herself in the territory of yet another warlordand, therefore, fair game for sniper fire. And this was whatMammy's heroes were called now. Warlords. Laila heard themcallediofangdar too. Riflemen. Others still called themMujahideen, but, when they did, they made a face-a sneering,distasteful face-the word reeking of deep aversion and deepscorn. Like an insult.
Tariq snapped the magazine back into his handgun. "Doyouhave it in you?" Laila said."To what?""To use this thing. To kill with it."Tariq tucked the gun into the waist of his denims. Then hesaid a thing both lovely and terrible. "For you," he said. "I'dkill with it for you, Laila."He slid closer to her and their hands brushed, once, thenagain. When Tariq's fingers tentatively began to s............
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