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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 33.
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Chapter 33.
MadamJbarly one morning the next spring, of 1993, Mariam stood bythe living-room window and watched Rasheed escort the girlout of the house. The girl was tottering forward, bent at thewaist, one arm draped protectively across the taut drum of herbelly, the shape of which was visible through her burqa.
Rasheed, anxious and overly attentive, was holding her elbow,directing her across the yard like a traffic policeman. He madeaWait here gesture, rushed to the front gate, then motioned forthe girl to come forward, one foot propping the gate open.
When she reached him, he took her by the hand, helped herthrough the gate. Mariam could almost hear him say,"Watchyour step, now, my flower, my gul."They came back early the next evening.
Mariam saw Rasheed enter the yard first. He let the gate goprematurely, and it almost hit the girl on the face. He crossedthe yard in a few, quick steps. Mariam detected a shadow onhis face, a darkness underlying the coppery light of dusk. Inthe house, he took off his coat, threw it on the couch.
Brushing past Mariam, he said in a brusque voice, "I'm hungry.
Get supper ready."The front door to the house opened. From the hallway,Mariam saw the girl, a swaddled bundle in the hook of her leftarm. She had one foot outside, the other inside, against thedoor, to prevent it from springing shut. She was stooped overand was grunting, trying to reach for the paper bag ofbelongings that she had put down in order to open the door.
Herface was grimacing with effort. She looked up and sawMariam.
Mariam turned around and went to the kitchen to warmRasheed'smeal.
* * *"Irs like someone is ramming a screwdriver into my ear,"Rasheed said, rubbing his eyes.He was standing in Mariam'sdoor, puffy-eyed, wearing only aiumban tied with a floppyknot.His white hair was straggly, pointing every which way.
"This crying. I can't stand it."Downstairs, the girl was walking the baby across the floor,trying to sing to her.
"I haven't had adecent night's sleep in twomonths," Rasheedsaid. "And the room smells like a sewer. There'sshit cloths lyingall over the place. I stepped on onejust the other night."Mariam smirked inwardly with perverse pleasure.
"Take her outside!" Rasheed yelled over his shoulder. "Can'tyou take her outside?"The singing was suspended briefly."She'll catch pneumonia!""It's summertime!"'What?
Rasheed clenched his teeth and raised his voice. "I said, It'swarm out!""I'm not taking her outside!"The singing resumed"Sometimes, I swear, sometimes I want to put that thing in abox and let her float down Kabul River. Like baby Moses."Mariam never heard him call his daughter by the name thegirl had given her, Aziza, the Cherished One. It was alwaysthebaby, or, when he was really exasperated,thai thing.
Some nights, Mariam overheard them arguing. She tiptoed totheir door, listened to him complain about the baby-always thebaby-the insistent crying, the smells, the toys that made himtrip, the way the baby had hijacked Laila's attentions from himwith constant demands to be fed, burped, changed, walked,held. The girl, in turn, scolded him for smoking in the room,for not letting the baby sleep with them.
There were other arguments waged in voices pitched low.
"The doctor said six weeks.""Not yet, Rasheed. No. Let go. Come on. Don't do that.""It's been two months.""Sshi.There. You woke up the baby." Then moresharply,"Khosh shodi? Happy now?"Mariam would sneak back to her room.
"Can't you help?" Rasheed said now. "There must besomething you can do.""What do I know about babies?" Mariam said.
"Rasheed! Can you bring the bottle? It's sitting on thealmari.
She won't feed. I want to try the bottle again."The baby's screeching rose and fell like a cleaver on meat.
Rasheed closed his eyes. "That thing is a warlord. Hekmatyar.
I'm telling you, Laila's given birth to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar."* * *Mariam watched as the girl's days became consumed withcycles of feeding, rocking, bouncing, walking. Even when thebaby napped, there were soiled diapers to scrub and leave tosoak in a pail of the disinfectant that the girl had insistedRasheed buy for her. There were fingernails to trim withsandpaper, coveralls and pajamas to wash and hang to dry.
These clothes, like other things about the baby, became a pointof contention.
"What's the matter with them?" Rasheed said"They're boys' clothes. For abacha""You think she knows the difference? I paid good money forthose clothes. And another thing, I don't care for that tone.
Consider that a warning."Every week, without fail, the girl heated a black metal brazierover a flame, tossed a pinch of wild rue seeds in it, andwafted theespandi smoke in her baby's direction to ward offevil.
Mariam found it exhausting to watch the girl's lollopingenthusiasm-and had to admit, if only privately, to a degree ofadmiration. She marveled at how the girl's eyes shone withworship, even in the mornings when her face drooped and hercomplexion was waxy from a night's worth of walking the baby.
The girl had fits of laughter when the baby passed gas. Thetiniest changes in the baby enchanted her, and everything it didwas declared spectacular.
"Look! She's reaching for the rattle. How clever she is.""I'll call the newspapers," said Rasheed.
Every night, there were demonstrations. When the girl insistedhe witness something, Rasheed tipped his chin upward and castan impatient, sidelong glance down the blue-veined hook of hisnose.
"Watch. Watch how she laughs when I snap my fingers.
There. See? Did you see?"Rasheed would grunt, and go back to his plate. Mariamremembered how the girl's mere presence used to overwhelmhim. Everything she said used to please him, intrigue him,make him look up from his plate and nod with approval.
The strange thing was, the girl's fall from grace ought to havepleased Mariam, brought her a sense of vindication. But itdidn't. It didn't. To her own surprise, Mariam found herselfpitying the girl.
It was also over dinner that the girl let loose a steady streamof worries. Topping the list was pneumonia, which wassuspected with every minor cough. Then there was dysentery,the specter of which was raised with every loose stool. Everyrash was either chicken pox or measles.
"You should not get so attached," Rasheed said one night.
"What do you mean?""I was listening to the radio the other night. Voice of America.
I heard an interesting statistic. They said that in Afghanistanone out of four children will die before the age of five. That'swhat they said. Now, they-What? What? Where are you going?
Come back here. Get back here this instant!"He gave Mariam a bewildered look. "What's the matter withher?"That night, Mariam was lying in bed when the bickeringstarted again. It was a hot, dry summer night, typical of themonth ............
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