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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 34.
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Chapter 34.
LailaOf all earthly pleasures, Laila's favorite was lying next to Aziza,her baby's face so close that she could watch her big pupilsdilate and shrink. Laila loved running her finger over Aziza'spleasing, soft skin, over the dimpled knuckles, the folds of fat ather elbows. Sometimes she lay Aziza down on her chest andwhispered into the soft crown of her head things about Tariq,the father who would always be a stranger to Aziza, whoseface Aziza would never know. Laila told her of his aptitude forsolving riddles, his trickery and mischief, his easy laugh.
"He had the prettiest lashes, thick like yours. A good chin, afine nose, and a round forehead. Oh, your father washandsome, Aziza. He was perfect. Perfect, like you are."But she was careful never to mention him by name.
Sometimes she caught Rasheed looking at Aziza in the mostpeculiar way. The other night, sitting on the bedroom floor,where he was shaving a corn from his foot, he said quitecasually, "So what was it like between you two?"Laila had given him a puzzled look, as though she didn'tunderstand.
"Laili and Majnoon. You and theyakknga,the cripple. What wasit you had, he and you?""He was my friend," she said, careful that her voice not shifttoo much in key.She busied herself making a bottle."You knowthat.""I don't knowwhat Iknow." Rasheed deposited the shavings onthe windowsill and dropped onto the bed. The springsprotested with a loud creak. He splayed his legs, picked at hiscrotch. "And as….friends, did the two of you ever do anythingout of order?""Out of order?"Rasheed smiled lightheartedly, but Laila could feel his gaze,cold and watchful. "Let me see, now. Well, did heever give youa kiss? Maybeput his hand where it didn't belong?"Laila winced with, she hoped, an indignant air. She could feelher heart drumming in her throat."He was like abrother tome.""So he was a friend or a brother?""Both. He^""Which was it?""He was like both.""But brothers and sisters are creatures of curiosity.Yes.
Sometimes a brother lets his sister see his pecker, and asisterwill-""You sicken me," Laila said.
"So there was nothing.""I don't want to talk about this anymore."Rasheed tilted his head, pursed his lips, nodded. "Peoplegossiped, you know. I remember. They said all sorts of thingsabout you two. But you're saying there was nothing."She willed herself to glare athim.
He held her eyesfor an excruciatingly long time in anunblinking way that made her knuckles go pale around themilkbottle, and it took all that Laila could muster to not falter.
She shuddered at what he would do if hefound out that shehad been stealing from him. Every week, since Aziza's birth,she pried his wallet open when he wasasleep or in theouthouse and took a single bill. Some weeks, if the wallet waslight, she took only a five-afghanibill, or nothing at all, for fearthat he would notice. When the wallet was plump, shehelpedherself to a ten or a twenty, once even risking twotwenties. She hid the money in a pouchshe'd sewn in the liningof her checkered winter coat.
She wondered what he would do if he knew that she wasplanning to run away next spring. Next summer at the latest.
Laila hoped to have a thousand afghanis or more stowed away,half of which would go to the bus fare from Kabul toPeshawar. She would pawn her wedding ring when the timedrew close, as well as the other jewelry that Rasheed hadgiven her the year before when she was still themalika of hispalace.
"Anyway," he said at last, fingers drumming his belly, "I can'tbe blamed. I am a husband. These are the things a husbandwonders. But he's lucky he died the way he did. Because if hewas here now, if I got my hands on him…" He suckedthrough his teeth and shook his head.
"What happened to not speaking ill of the dead?""I guess some people can't be dead enough," he said.
* * *Two days later, Laila woke up in the morning and found astack of baby clothes, neatly folded, outside her bedroom door.
There was a twirl dress with little pink fishes sewn around thebodice, a blue floral wool dress with matching socks andmittens, yellow pajamas with carrot-colored polka dots, andgreen cotton pants with a dotted ruffle on the cuff.
"There is a rumor," Rasheed said over dinner that night,smacking his lips, taking no notice of Aziza or the pajamasLaila had put on her, "that Dostum is going to change s............
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