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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 29.
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Chapter 29.
MadamI'm so sorry," Rasheed said to the girl, taking his bowlofmasiawa and meatballs from Mariam without looking at her.
"I know you were very close….friends. ..the two of you. Alwaystogether, since you were kids. It's a terrible thing, what'shappened. Too many young Afghan men are dying this way."He motioned impatiently with his hand, still looking at the girl,and Mariam passed him a napkin.
For years, Mariam had looked on as he ate, the muscles ofhis temples churning, one hand making compact little rice balls,the back of the other wiping grease, swiping stray grains, fromthe corners of his mouth. For years, he had eaten withoutlooking up, without speaking, his silence condemning, as thoughsome judgment were being passed, then broken only by anaccusatory grunt, a disapproving cluck of his tongue, aone-word command for more bread, more water.
Now he ate with a spoon. Used a napkin. Saidlot/an whenasking for water. And talked. Spiritedly and incessantly.
"If you ask me, the Americans armed the wrong man inHekmatyar. All the guns the CIA handed him in the eighties tofight the Soviets. The Soviets are gone, but he still has theguns, and now he's turning them on innocent people like yourparents. And he calls this jihad. What a farce! What does jihadhave to do with killing women and children? Better the CIAhad armed Commander Massoud."Mariam's eyebrows shot up of their own will.CommanderMassoud? In her head, she could hear Rasheed's rants againstMassoud, how he was a traitor and a communist- But, then,Massoud was a Tajik, of course. Like Laila.
"Now,there is a reasonable fellow. An honorable Afghan. Aman genuinely interested in a peaceful resolution."Rasheed shrugged and sighed.
"Not that they give a damn in America, mind you. What dothey care that Pashtuns and Hazaras and Tajiks and Uzbeksare killing each other? How many Americans can even tell onefrom the other? Don't expect help from them, I say. Now thatthe Soviets have collapsed, we're no use to them. We servedour purpose. To them, Afghanistan is akenarab, a shit hole.
Excuse my language, but it's true. What do you think, Lailajan?"The girl mumbled something unintelligible and pushed ameatball around in her bowl.
Rasheed nodded thoughtfully, as though she'd said the mostclever thing he'd ever heard. Mariam had to look away.
"You know, your father, God give him peace, your father andI used to have discussions like this. This was before you wereborn, of course. On and on we'd go about politics. Aboutbooks too. Didn't we, Mariam? You remember."Mariam busied herself taking a sip of water.
"Anyway, I hope I am not boring you with all this talk ofpolitics."Later, Mariam was in the kitchen, soaking dishes in soapywater, a tightly wound knot in her belly-It wasn't so muchwhathe said, the blatant lies, the contrived empathy, or even thefact that he had not raised a hand to her, Mariam, since hehad dug the girl out from under those bricks.
It was thestaged delivery. Like a performance. An attempt onhis part, both sly and pathetic, to impress. To charm.
And suddenly Mariam knew that her suspicions were right.
She understood with a dread that was like a blinding whack tothe side of her head that what she was witnessing was nothingless than a courtship.
* * *When shed at last worked up the nerve, Mariam went to hisroom.
Rasheed lit a cigarette, and said, "Why not?"Mariam knew right then that she was defeated. She'd halfexpected, half hoped, that he would deny everything, feignsurprise, maybe even outrage, at what she was implying. Shemight have had the upper hand then. She might havesucceeded in shaming him. But it stole her grit, his calmacknowledgment, his matter-of-fact tone.
"Sit down," he said. He was lying on his bed, back to thewall, his thick, long legs splayed on the mattress. "Sit downbefore you faint and cut your head open."Mariam felt herself drop onto the folding chair beside his bed.
"Hand me that ashtray, would you?" he said.
Obediently, she did.
Rasheed had to be sixty or more now-though Mariam, and infac............
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