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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 25.
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Chapter 25.
Laila could hardly move, as though cement had solidified inevery one of her joints. There was a conversation going on,and Laila knew that she was at one end of it, but she feltremoved from it, as though she were merely eavesdropping. AsTariq talked, Laila pictured her life as a rotted rope, snapping,unraveling, the fibers detaching, falling away.
It was a hot, muggy afternoon that August of 1992, and theywere in the living room of Laila's house. Mammy had had astomachache all day, and, minutes before, despite the rocketsthat Hekmatyar was launching from the south, Babi had takenher to see a doctor. And here was Tariq now, seated besideLaila on the couch, looking at the ground, hands between hisknees.
Saying that he was leaving.
Not the neighborhood. Not Kabul. But Afghanistan altogether.
Laila was struck blind.
"Where? Where will you go?""Pakistan first. Peshawar. Then I don't know. MaybeHindustan. Iran.""How long?""I don't know.""I mean, how long have you known?""A few days. I was going to tell you, Laila, I swear, but Icouldn't bring myself to. I knewhow upset you'd be.""When?""Tomorrow.""Tomorrow?""Laila, look at me.""Tomorrow.""It'smy father. His heartcan't take it anymore, all this fightingand killing."Laila buried her face in her hands, a bubble of dread fillingher chest.
She should have seen this coming, she thought. Almosteveryone she knew had packed their things and left. Theneighborhood had been all but drained of familiar faces, andnow, only four months after fighting had broken out betweenthe Mujahideen factions, Laila hardly recognized anybody onthe streets anymore. Hasina's family had fled in May, off toTehran. Wajma and her clan had gone to Islamabad that samemonth. Giti's parents and her siblings left in June, shortly afterGiti was killed. Laila didn't know where they had gone-sheheard a rumor that they had headed for Mashad, in Iran.
After people left, their homes sat unoccupied for a few days,then either militiamen took them or strangers moved in.
Everyone was leaving. And now Tariq too.
"And my mother is not a young woman anymore," he wassaying. "They're so afraid all the time. Laila, look at me.""You should have told me.""Please look at me."A groan came out of Laila. Then a wail. And then she wascrying, and when he went to wipe her cheek with the pad ofhis thumb she swiped his hand away. It was selfish andirrational, but she was furious with him for abandoning her,Tariq, who was like an extension of her, whose shadow sprungbeside hers in every memory. How could he leave her? Sheslapped him. Then she slapped him again and pulled at hishair, and he had to take her by the wrists, and he was sayingsomething she couldn't make out, he was saying it softly,reasonably, and, somehow, they ended up brow to brow, noseto nose, and she could feel the heat of his breath on her lipsagain.
And when, suddenly, he leaned in, she did too.
* * *In the coming days and weeks, Laila would scramble franticallyto commit it all to memory, what happened next-Like an artlover running out of a burning museum, she would grabwhatever she could-a look, a whisper, a moan-to salvage fromperishing, to preserve. But time is the most unforgiving of fires,and she couldn't, in the end, save it all Still, she had these:
that first, tremendous pang of pain down below. The slant ofsunlight on the rug. Her heel grazing the cold hardness of hisleg, lying beside them, hastily unstrapped. Her hands cuppinghis elbows. The upside-down, mandolin-shaped birthmarkbeneath his collarbone, glowing red. His face hovering overhers. H............
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