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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 32.
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Chapter 32.
Laila remembered a gathering once, years before at thehouse, on one of Mammy's good days. The women had beensitting in the garden, eating from a platter of fresh mulberriesthat Wajma had picked from the tree in her yard. The plumpmulberries had been white and pink, and some the same darkpurple as the bursts of tiny veins on Wajma's nose.
"You heard how his son died?" Wajma had said, energeticallyshoveling another handful of mulberries into her sunken mouth.
"He drowned, didn't he?" Nila, Giti's mother, said. "AtGhargha Lake, wasn't it?""But did you know, did you know that Rasheed…" Wajmaraised a finger, made a show of nodding and chewing andmaking them wait for her to swallow. "Did you know that heused to drinksharab back then, that he was crying drunk thatday? It's true. Crying drunk, is what I heard. And that wasmidmorning. By noon, he had passed out on a lounge chair.
You could have fired the noon cannon next to his ear and hewouldn't have batted an eyelash."Laila remembered how Wajma had covered her mouth,burped; how her tongue had gone exploring between her fewremaining teeth.
"You can imagine the rest. The boy went into the waterunnoticed. They spotted him a while later, floating facedown.
People rushed to help, half trying to wake up the boy, theother half the father. Someone bent over the boy, did the…themouth-to-mouth thing you're supposed to do. It was pointless.
They could all see that. The boy was gone."Laila remembered Wajma raising a finger and her voicequivering with piety. "This is why the Holy Koran forbidssharab.
Because it always falls on the sober to pay for the sins of thedrunk. So it does."It was this story that was circling in Laila's head after shegave Rasheed the news about the baby. He had immediatelyhopped on his bicycle, ridden to a mosque, and prayed for aboy.
That night, all during the meal, Laila watched Mariam push acube of meat around her plate. Laila was there when Rasheedsprang the news on Mariam in a high, dramatic voice-Laila hadnever before witnessed such cheerful cruelty. Mariam's lashesfluttered when she heard. A flush spread across her face. Shesat sulking, looking desolate.
After, Rasheed went upstairs to listen to his radio, and Lailahelped Mariam clear thesojrah.
"I can't imagine what you are now," Mariam said, pickinggrains of rice and bread crumbs, "if you were a Benz before."Laila tried a more lightheaded tactic. "A train? Maybe a bigjumbo jet."Mariam straightened up. "I hope you don't think this excusesyou from chores."Laila opened her mouth, thought better of it. She remindedherself that Mariam was the only innocent party in thisarrangement. Mariam and the baby-Later, in bed, Laila burstinto tears.
What was the matter? Rasheed wanted to know, lifting herchin. Was she ill? Was it the baby, was something wrong withthe baby? No?
Was Mariam mistreating her?
"That's it, isn't it?""No.""Wallah o billah, I'll go down and teach her a lesson. Whodoes she think she is, thatharami, treating you-""No!"He was getting up already, and she had to grab him by theforearm, pull him back down. "Don't! No! She's been decent tome. I need a minute, that's all. I'll be fine."He sat beside her, stroking her neck, murmuring- His handslowly crept down to her back, then up again. He leaned in,flashed his crowded teeth.
"Let's see, then," he purred, "if I can't help you feel better."* * *First, the trees-those that hadn't been cut down forfirewood-shed their spotty yellow-and-copper leaves. Then camethe winds, cold and raw, ripping through the city. They tore offthe last of the clinging leaves, and left the trees looking ghostlyagainst the muted brown of the hills. The season's first snowfallwas light, the flakes no sooner fallen than melted. Then theroads froze, and snow gathered in heaps on the rooftops, piledhalfway up frost-caked windows. With snow came the kites,once the rulers of Kabul's winter skies, now timid trespassers interritory claimed by streaking rockets and fighter jets.
Rasheed kept bringing home news of the war, and Laila wasbaffled by the allegiances that Rasheed tried to explain to her.
Sayyaf was fighting the Hazaras, he said. The Hazaras werefighting Massoud.
"And he's fighting Hekmatyar, of course, who has the supportof the Pakistanis. Mortal enemies, those two, Massoud andHekmatyar. Sayyaf, he's siding with Massoud. And Hekmatyarsupports the Hazaras for now."As for the unpredictable Uzbek commander Dostum, Rasheedsaid no one knew where he would stand. Dostum had foughtthe Soviets in the 1980s alongside the Mujahideen but haddefected and joined Najibullah's communist puppet regime afterthe Soviets had left. He had even earned a medal, presentedby Najibullah himself, before defecting once again and returningto the Mujahideen's side. For the time being, Rasheed said,Dostum was supporting Massoud.
In Kabul, particularly in western Kabul, fires raged, and blackpalls of smoke mushroomed over snow-clad buildings.
Embassies closed down. Schools collapsed In hospital waitingrooms, Rasheed said, the wounded were bleeding to death. Inoperating rooms, limbs were being amputated withoutanesthesia.
"But don't worry," he said. "You're safe with me, my flower,mygul. Anyone tries to harm you, I'll rip out their liver andmake them eat it."That winter, everywhere Laila turned, walls blocked her way.
She thought longingly of the wide-open skies of her childhood,of her days of going tobuzkashi tournaments with Babi andshopping at Mandaii with Mammy, of her days of running freein the streets and gos............
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