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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 35.
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Chapter 35.
MadamJr rom that night on, Mariam and Laila did their chorestogether. They sat in the kitchen and rolled dough, choppedgreen onions, minced garlic, offered bits of cucumber to Aziza,who banged spoons nearby and played with carrots. In theyard, Aziza lay in a wicker bassinet, dressed in layers ofclothing, a winter muffler wrapped snugly around her neck.
Mariam and Laila kept a watchful eye on her as they did thewash, Mariam's knuckles bumping Laila's as they scrubbedshirts and trousers and diapers.
Mariam slowly grew accustomed to this tentative but pleasantcompanionship. She was eager for the three cups ofchai sheand Laila would share in the yard, a nightly ritual now. In themornings, Mariam found herself looking forward to the soundof Laila's cracked slippers slapping the steps as she came downfor breakfast and to the tinkle of Aziza's shrill laugh, to thesight of her eight little teeth, the milky scent of her skin. IfLaila and Aziza slept in, Mariam became anxious waiting. Shewashed dishes that didn't need washing. She rearrangedcushions in the living room. She dusted clean windowsills. Shekept herself occupied until Laila entered the kitchen, Azizahoisted on her hip.
When Aziza first spotted Mariam in the morning, her eyesalways sprang open, and she began mewling and squirming inher mother's grip. She thrust her arms toward Mariam,demanding to be held, her tiny hands opening and closingurgently, on her face a look of both adoration and quiveringanxiety.
"What a scene you're making," Laila would say, releasing herto crawl toward Mariam. "What a scene! Calm down. KhalaMariam isn't going anywhere. There she is, your aunt. See? Goon, now."As soon as she was in Mariam's arms, Aziza's thumb shotinto her mouth and she buried her face in Mariam's neck.
Mariam bounced her stiffly, a half-bewildered, half-gratefulsmile on her lips. Mariam had never before been wanted likethis. Love had never been declared to her so guilelessly, sounreservedly.
Aziza made Mariam want to weep.
"Why have you pinned your little heart to an old, ugly haglike me?" Mariam would murmur into Aziza's hair. "Huh? I amnobody, don't you see? Adehatl What have I got to give you?"But Aziza only muttered contentedly and dug her face indeeper. And when she did that, Mariam swooned. Her eyeswatered. Her heart took flight. And she marveled at how, afterall these years of rattling loose, she had found in this littlecreature the first true connection in her life of false, failedconnections.
* * *Early the following yeah, in January 1994, Dostumdid switchsides. He joined Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and took up positionnear Bala Hissar, the old citadel walls that loomed over the cityfrom the Koh-e-Shirdawazamountains. Together, they fired on Massoud and Rabbaniforces at the Ministry of Defense and the Presidential Palace.
From either side of the Kabul River, they released rounds ofartillery at each other. The streets became littered with bodies,glass, and crumpled chunks of metal. There was looting,murder, and, increasingly, rape, which was used to intimidatecivilians and reward militiamen. Mariam heard of women whowere killing themselves out of fear of being raped, and of menwho, in the name of honor, would kill their wives or daughtersif they'd been raped by the militia.
Aziza shrieked at the thumping of mortars. To distract her,Mariam arranged grains of rice on the floor, in the shape of ahouse or a rooster or a star, and let Aziza scatter them. Shedrew elephants for Aziza the way Jalil had shown her, in onestroke, without ever lifting the tip of the pen.
Rasheed said civilians were getting killed daily, by the dozens.
Hospitals and stores holding medical supplies were gettingshelled. Vehicles carrying emergency food supplies were beingbarred from entering the city, he said, raided, shot at. Mariamwondered if there was fighting like this in Herat too, and, if so,how Mullah Faizullah was coping, if he was still alive, andBibijo too, with all her sons, brides, and grandchildren. And, ofcourse, Jalil. Washe hiding out, Mariam wondered, as she was? Or had hetaken his wives and children and fled the country? She hopedJalil was somewhere safe, that he'd managed to get away fromall of this killing.
For a week, the fighting forced even Rasheed to stay home.
He locked the door to the yard, set booby traps, locked thefront door too and barricaded it with the couch. He paced thehouse, smoking, peering out the window, cleaning his gun,loading and loadin............
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