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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 28.
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Chapter 28.
Laila sat across from Abdul Sharif, who was a thin,small-headed man with a bulbous nose pocked with the samecratered scars that pitted his cheeks. His hair, short andbrown, stood on his scalp like needles in a pincushion.
"You'll have to forgive me,hamshira," he said, adjusting hisloose collar and dabbing at his brow with a handkerchief "I stillhaven't quite recovered, I fear. Five more days of these, whatare they called…sulfa pills."Laila positioned herself in her seat so that her right ear, thegood one, was closest to him. "Were you a friend of myparents?""No, no," Abdul Sharif said quickly. "Forgive me." He raised afinger, took a long sip of the water that Mariam had placed infront of him.
"I should begin at the beginning, I suppose." He dabbed athis lips, again at his brow. "I am a businessman. I ownclothing stores, mostly men's clothing.Chapans, hats,iumban%,suits, ties-you name it. Two stores here in Kabul, in Taimaniand Shar-e-Nau, though I just sold those. And two in Pakistan,in Peshawar. That's where my warehouse is as well. So I travela lot, back and forth. Which, these days"-he shook his headand chuckled tiredly-"let's just say that it's an adventure.
"I was in Peshawar recently, on business, taking orders, goingover inventory, that sort of thing. Also to visit my family. Wehave three daughters,alhamdulellah. I moved them and my wifeto Peshawar after the Mujahideen began going at each other'sthroats. I won't have their names added to theshaheedlist. Normine, to be honest. I'll be joining them there verysoon,inshallah.
"Anyway, I was supposed to be back in Kabul the Wednesdaybefore last. But, as luck would have it, I came down with anillness. I won't bother you with it,hamshira, suffice it to say thatwhen I went to do my private business, the simpler of the two,it felt like passing chunks of broken glass. I wouldn't wish it onHekmatyar himself. My wife, Nadia jan, Allah bless her, shebegged me to see a doctor. But I thought I'd beat it withaspirin and a lot of water. Nadia jan insisted and I said no,back and forth we went. You know the saying^stubborn assneeds a stubborn driver. This time, I'm afraid, the ass won.
That would be me."He drank the rest of this water and extended the glass toMariam. "If it's not too muchzahmat."Mariam took the glass and went to fill it.
"Needless to say, I should have listened to her. She's alwaysbeen the more sensible one, God give her a long life. By thetime I made it to the hospital, I was burning with a fever andshaking like abeid tree in the wind. I could barely stand. Thedoctor said I had blood poisoning. She said two or three moredays and I would have made my wife a widow.
"They put me in a special unit, reserved for really sick people,I suppose. Oh,iashakor." He took the glass from Mariam andfrom his coat pocket produced a large white pill. "Thesize ofthese things."Laila watched him swallow his pill She was aware that herbreathing had quickened Her legs felt heavy, as though weightshad been tethered to them. She told herself that he wasn'tdone, that he hadn't told her anything as yet. But he would goon in a second, and she resisted an urge to get up and leave,leave before he told her things she didn't want to hear.
Abdul Sharif set his glass on the table.
"That's where I met your friend, Mohammad Tariq Walizai."Laila's heart sped up. Tariq in a hospital? A special unit?Forreally sick people?
She swallowed dry spit. Shifted on her chair. She had to steelherself. If she didn't, she feared she would come unhinged. Shediverted her thoughts from hospitals and special units andthought instead about the fact that she hadn't heard Tariqcalled by his full name since the two of them had enrolled in aFarsi winter course years back. The teacher would call roll afterthe bell and say his name like that-Mohammad Tariq Walizai. Ithad struck her as comically officious then, hearing his full nameuttered.
"What happened to him I heard from one of the nurses,"Abdul Sharif resumed, tapping his chest with a fist as if to easethe passage of the pill. "With all the time I've spent inPeshawar, I've become pretty proficient in Urdu. Anyway, whatI gathered was that your friend was in a lorry full of refugees,twenty-three of them, all headed for Peshawar. Near theborder, they were caught in cross fire. A rocket hit the lorry.
Probably a stray, but you never know with these people, younever know. There were only six survivors, all of themadmitted to the same unit. Three died within twenty-four hours.
Two of them lived-sisters, as I understood it-and had beendischarged.
Your friend Mr. Walizai was the last. He'd been there foralmost three weeks by the time I arrived."So he was alive. But how badly had they hurt him? Lailawondered frantically. How badly? Badly enough to be put in aspecial unit, evidently. Laila was aware that she had startedsweating, that her face felt hot. She tried to think of somethingelse, something pleasant, like the trip to Bamiyan to see theBuddhas with Tariq and Babi. But instead an image of Tariq'sparents presented itself: Tariq's mother trapped in the lorry,upside down, screaming for Tariq through the smoke, her armsand chest on fire, the wig melting into her scalp…Laila had to take a series of rapid breaths.
"He was in the bed next to mine. There were no walls, onlya curtain between us. So I could see him pretty well."Abdul Sharif found a sudden need to toy with his weddingband. He spoke more slowly now.
"Your friend, he was badly-very badly-injured, you understand.
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