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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 31.
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Chapter 31.
MadamIn the daytime, the girl was no more than a creakingbedspring, a patter of footsteps overhead. She was watersplashing in the bathroom, or a teaspoon clinking against glassin the bedroom upstairs. Occasionally, there were sightings: ablur of billowing dress in the periphery of Madam's vision,scurrying up the steps, arms folded across the chest, sandalsslapping the heels.
But it was inevitable that they would run into each other.
Madam passed the girl on the stairs, in the narrow hallway, inthe kitchen, or by the door as she was coming in from theyard. When they met like this, an awkward tension rushed intothe space between them. The girl gathered her skirt andbreathed out a word or two of apology, and, as she hurriedpast, Madam would chance a sidelong glance and catch ablush. Sometimes she could smell Rasheed on her. She couldsmell his sweat on the girl's skin, his tobacco, his appetite. Sex,mercifully, was a closed chapter in her own life. It had beenfor some time, and now even the thought of those laborioussessions of lying beneath Rasheed made Madam queasy in thegut.
At night, however, this mutually orchestrated dance ofavoidance between her and the girl was not possible. Rasheedsaid they were a family. He insisted they were, and familieshad to eat together, he said.
"What is this?" he said, his fingers working the meat off abone-the spoon-and-fork charade was abandoned a week afterhe married the girl. "Have I married a pair of statues? Go on,Madam,gap bezan, say something to her. Where are yourmanners?"Sucking marrow from a bone, he said to the girl, "But youmustn't blame her. She is quiet. A blessing, really,because,wallah, if a person hasn't got much to say she mightas well be stingy with words. We are city people, you and I,but she isdehati. A village girl. Not even a village girl. No. Shegrew up in akolba made of mudoutside the village. Her fatherput her there. Have you told her, Mariam, have you told herthat you are aharami1? Well, she is. But she is not withoutqualities, all things considered. You will see for yourself, Lailajan. She is sturdy, for one thing, a good worker, and withoutpretensions. I'll say it this way: If she were a car, she wouldbe a Volga."Mariam was a thirty-three-year-old woman now, but thatword,harami, still had sting. Hearing it still made her feel likeshe was a pest, a cockroach. She remembered Nana pullingher wrists.You are a clumsy Utile harami.This is my reward foreverything I've endured. An heirloom-breaking clumsy Utileharami.
"You," Rasheed said to the girl, "you, on the other hand,would be a Benz. A brand-new, first-class, shiny Benz.Wahwah. But. But." He raised one greasy index finger. "One musttake certain…cares…with a Benz. As a matter of respect for itsbeauty and craftsmanship, you see. Oh, you must be thinkingthat I am crazy,diwana, with all this talk of automobiles. I amnot saying you are cars. I am merely making a point."For what came next, Rasheed put down the ball of rice he'dmade back on the plate. His hands dangled idly over his meal,as he looked down with a sober, thoughtful expression.
"One mustn't speak ill of the dead much less the,shaheed.AndI intend no disrespect when I say this, I want you to know,but I have certain… reservations…about the way yourparents-Allah, forgive them and grant them a place inparadise-about their, well, their leniency with you. I'm sorry."The cold, hateful look the girl flashed Rasheed at this did notescape Mariam, but he was looking down and did not notice.
"No matter. The point is, I am your husband now, and it fallson me to guard not onlyyour honor butours, yes, ournangandnamoos. That is the husband's burden. You let me worryabout that. Please. As for you, you are the queen, themalika,and this house is your palace. Anything you need done youask Mariam and she will do it for you. Won't you, Mariam?
And if you fancy something, I will get itforyou. You see, that isthe sort of husband I am.
"All I ask in return, well, it is a simple thing. I ask that youavoid leaving this house without my company. That's all. Simple,no? If I am away and you need something urgently, Imeanabsolutely need it and it cannot wait for me, then youcan send Mariam and she will go out and get it for you.
You've noticed a discrepancy, surely. Well, one does not drive aVolga and a Benz in the same manner. That would be foolish,wouldn't it? Oh, I also ask that when we are out together, thatyou wear a burqa. For your own protection, naturally. It isbest. So many lewd men in this town now. Such vile ............
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