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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 26.
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Chapter 26.
It was, by far, the hottest day of the year. The mountainstrapped the bone-scorching heat, stifled the city like smoke.
Power had been out for days. All over Kabul, electric fans satidle, almost mockingly so.
Laila was lying still on the living-room couch, sweating throughher blouse. Every exhaled breath burned the tip of her nose.
She was aware of her parents talking in Mammy's room. Twonights ago, and again last night, she had awakened andthought she heard their voices downstairs. They were talkingevery day now, ever since the bullet, ever since the new holein the gate.
Outside, the far-offboom of artillery, then, more closely, thestammering of a long string of gunfire, followed by another.
Inside Laila too a battle was being waged: guilt on one side,partnered with shame, and, on the other, the conviction thatwhat she and Tariq had done was not sinful; that it had beennatural, good, beautiful, even inevitable, spurred by theknowledge that they might never see each other again.
Laila rolled to her side on the couch now and tried toremember something: At one point, when they were on thefloor, Tariq had lowered his forehead on hers. Then he hadpanted something, eitherAm I hurting you? orIs this hurtingyou?
Laila couldn't decide which he had said.
Am Ihurting you?
Is this hurting you?
Only two weeks since he had left, and it was alreadyhappening- Time, blunting the edges of those sharp memories.
Laila bore down mentally. What had he said? It seemed vital,suddenly, that she know.
Laila closed hereyes. Concentrated.
With the passing of time, she would slowly tire of this exercise.
She would find it increasingly exhausting to conjure up, to dustoff, to resuscitate once again what was long dead. There wouldcome a day, in fact, years later, when Laila would no longerbewail his loss. Or not as relentlessly; not nearly. There wouldcome a day when the details of his face would begin to slipfrom memory's grip, when overhearing a mother on the streetcall after her child by Tariq's name would no longer cut heradrift. She would not miss him as she did now, when the acheof his absence was her unremitting companion-like the phantompain of an amputee.
Except every once in a long while, when Laila was a grownwoman, ironing a shirt or pushing her children on a swing set,something trivial, maybe the warmth of a carpet beneath herfeet on a hot day or the curve of a stranger's forehead, wouldset off a memory of that afternoon together. And it would allcome rushing back. The spontaneity of it. Their astonishingimprudence. Their clumsiness. The pain of the act, the pleasureof it, the sadness of it. The heat of their entangled bodies.
It would flood her, steal her breath.
But then it would pass. The moment would pass. Leave herdeflated, feeling nothing but a vague restlessness.
She decided that he had saidAmi hurting you? Yes. Thatwasit. Laila was happy that she'd rememberedThen Babi was in the hallway, calling her name from the topof the stairs, asking her to come up quickly.
"She's agreed!"he said, his voice tremulous with suppressedexcitement- "We're leaving, Laila. All three of us. We'releavingKabul."* * *InMammy's room, the three of them sat on the bed.Outside,rockets were zipping acrossthe sky as Hekmatyar's andMassoud'sforces fought and fought. Laila knew that somewherein the city someone had justdied, and that a pall of blacksmoke was hovering over some building that had collapsed in apuffing mass of dust. There would be bodies to step around inthe morning. Some would be collected. Others not. ThenKabul's dogs, who had developed a taste for human meat,would feast.
All the same, Laila had an urge to run through thosestreets.She could barely contain her own happiness. It tookeffortto sit, to not shriek withjoy. Babi said they would go toPakistan first, to apply forvisas. Pakistan, where Tariq was!
Tariq was only gone seventeen days, Laila calculated excitedly.
If only Mammy had made up her mindseventeen days earlier,they could have left together. She would have been with Tariqright now! But that didn'tmatter now. They were goingtoPeshawar-she,Mammy, and Babi-and they would find Tariq andhis parents there. Surely they would. They would process theirpaperwork together. Then, who knew? Who knew? Europe?
America? Maybe, as Babi was always saying, somewhere nearthe sea…Mammy was half lying, half sitting against the headboard. Hereyes were puffy. She was picking at her hair.
Three days before, Laila had gone outside for a breath of air.
She'd stood by the front gates, leaning against them, whenshe'd heard a loud crack and something had zipped by herright ear, sending tiny splinters of wood flying before her eyes.
After Giti's death, and the thousands of rounds fired andmyriad rockets that had fallen on Kabul, it was the sight ofthat single round hole in the gate, less than three fingers awayfrom where Laila's head had been, that shook Mammy awake.
Made her see that one war had cost her two children already;this latest could cost her her remaining one.
From the walls of the room, Ahmad and Noor smiled down.
Laila watched Mammy's eyes bouncing now, guiltily, from onephoto to the other. As if looking for their consent. Theirblessing. As if asking for forgiveness.
"There's nothing left for us here," Babi said. "Our sons aregone, but we still have Laila. We still have each other, Fariba.
We can make a new life."Babi reached across the bed. When he leaned to take herhands, Mammy let him. On her face, a look of concession. Ofresignation. They held each other's hands, lightly, and then theywere swaying quietly in an embrace. Mammy buried her facein his neck. She grabbed a handful of his shirt.
For hours that night, the excitement robbed Laila of sleep. Shelay in bed and watched the horizon light up in garish shadesof orange and yellow. At some point, though, despite theexhilaration inside and the crack ofartillery fire outside, she fell asleep.
And dreamedThey are on a ribbon of beach, sitting on aquilt. It's a chilly,overcast day,but it's warm next to Tariq under the blanketdraped over their shoulders. She can see cars parked behind alow fence of chipped white paint beneath a row of windsweptpalm trees. The wind makes her eyes water and buries theirshoes in sand, hurls knots of dead grass from the curvedridgesof one dune to another. They're watching sailboats bob inthe distance. Around them, seagulls squawk and shiver in thewind. The wind whips up another spray of sand off theshallow, windwardslopes. There is a noise then likea chant, andshe tells him something Babi had taught her years before aboutsinging sand.
He rubs at her eyebrow, wipesgrains of sand from it. Shecatches a flicker of the band on his finger. It's identicalto hers-gold with a sort of maze patternetched all the way around.
It's true,she tellshim.It's the friction, of grain against grain.
Listen. Hedoes. He frowns. They wait. They hear it again. Agroaning soun............
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