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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 36.
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Chapter 36.
LailaAs daylight steadily bleached darkness from the skythat springmorning of1994, Laila became certain that Rasheed knew. That,any moment now, he would drag her out of bed and askwhether she'd really taken him for such akhar, such a donkey,that he wouldn't find out. Butazan rang out, and then themorning sun was falling flat on the rooftops and the roosterswere crowing and nothing out of the ordinary happenedShe could hear him now in the bathroom, the tapping of hisrazor against the edge of the basin. Then downstairs, movingabout, heating tea. The keys jingled. Now he was crossing theyard, walking his bicycle.
Laila peered through a crack in the living-room curtains. Shewatched him pedal away, a big man on a small bicycle, themorning sun glaring off the handlebars.
"Laila?"Mariam was in the doorway. Laila could tell that she hadn'tslept either. She wondered if Mariam too had been seized allnight by bouts of euphoria and attacks of mouth-drying anxiety.
"We'll leave in half an hour," Laila said.
* * *In the backseat of the taxi, they did not speak. Aziza sat onMariam's lap, clutching her doll, looking with wide-eyedpuzzlement at the city speeding by.
"Ona!"she cried, pointing to a group of little girls skippingrope. "Mayam!Ona"Everywhere she looked, Laila saw Rasheed. She spotted himcoming out of barbershops with windows the color of coal dust,from tiny booths that sold partridges, from battered,open-fronted stores packed with old tires piled from floor toceiling.
She sank lower in her seat.
Beside her, Mariam was muttering a prayer. Laila wished shecould see her face, but Mariam was in burqa-they bothwere-and all she could see was the glitter of her eyes throughthe grid.
This was Laila's first time out of the house in weeks,discounting the short trip to the pawnshop the daybefore-where she had pushed her wedding ring across a glasscounter, where she'd walked out thrilled by the finality of it,knowing there was no going back.
All around her now, Laila saw the consequences of the recentfighting whose sounds she'd heard from the house. Homes thatlay in roofless ruins of brick and jagged stone, gouged buildingswith fallen beams poking through the holes, the charred,mangled husks of cars, upended, sometimes stacked on top ofeach other, walls pocked by holes of every conceivable caliber,shattered glass everywhere. She saw a funeral processionmarching toward a mosque, a black-clad old woman at therear tearing at her hair. They passed a cemetery littered withrock-piled graves and raggedshaheed flags fluttering in thebreeze.
Laila reached across the suitcase, wrapped her fingers aroundthe softness of her daughter's arm.
* * *At the Lahore Gate bus station, near Pol Mahmood Khan inEast Kabul, a row of buses sat idling along the curbside. Menin turbans were busy heaving bundles and crates onto bustops, securing suitcases down with ropes. Inside the station,men stood in a long line at the ticket booth. Burqa-clad womenstood in groups and chatted, their belongings piled at their feet.
Babies were bounced, children scolded for straying too far.
Mujahideen militiamen patrolled the station and the curbside,barking curt orders here and there. They wore boots,pakols,dusty green fatigues. They all carried Kalashnikovs.
Laila felt watched. She looked no one in the face, but she feltas though every person in this place knew, that they werelooking on with disapproval at what she and Mariam weredoing.
"Do you see anybody?" Laila asked.
Mariam shifted Aziza in her arms. "I'm looking."This, Laila had known, would be the first risky part, finding aman suitable to pose with them as a family member. Thefreedoms and opportunities that women had enjoyed between1978 and 1992 were a thing of the past now- Laila could stillremember Babi saying of those years of communist rule,It's agood time to be a woman in Afghanistan, Laila Since theMujahideen takeover in April 1992, Afghanistan's name hadbeen changed to the Islamic State of Afghanistan. The SupremeCourt under Rabbani was filled now with hard-liner mullahswho did away with the communist-era decrees that empoweredwomen and instead passed rulings based on Shari'a, strictIslamic laws that ordered women to cover, forbade their travelwithout a male relative, punished adultery with stoning. Even ifthe actual enforcement of these laws was sporadic at best.Butthey'd enforce them on us more, Laila had said to Mariam,ifthey weren't so busy killing each other. And us.
The second risky part of this trip would come when theyactually arrived in Pakistan. Already burdened with nearly twomillion Afghan refugees, Pakistan had closed its borders toAfghans in January of that year. Laila had heard that onlythose with visas would be admitted. But the border wasporous-always had been-and Laila knew that thousands ofAfghans were still crossing into Pakistan either with bribes orby proving humanitarian grounds- and there were alwayssmugglers who could be hired.We'll find a way when we getthere, she'd told Mariam.
"How about him?" Mariam said, motioning with her chin.
"He doesn't look trustworthy.""And him?""Too old. And he's traveling with two other men."Eventually,Laila found him sitting outside on a park bench,witha veiled woman at his side and a little boy in a skullcap,roughly Aziza's age, bouncing on his knees.He wastall andslender, bearded, wearing an open-collaredshirt and a modestgray coat with missing buttons.
"Wait here,"she said to Mariam. Walking away, she againheard Mariam muttering a prayer.
When Laila approached the young man, he looked up,shielded the sun from his eyes with a hand.
"Forgive me, brother, but are you going to Peshawar?""Yes," he said, squinting.
"I wonder ifyou can help us. Can you do us a favor?"He passed the boy to his wife. He and Laila stepped away.
"What is it,hamshiraT'
She was encouraged to see that he had soft eyes, a kindface.
She told him the story that she and Mariam had agreed on.
She was abiwa,she said, a widow. She and her mother anddaughter had no oneleft in Kabul. They were going toPeshawar to stay with her uncle.
"You want to come with my family," the young man said"I know it'szahmat for you. But you look like a decentbrother, and I-""Don't worry,hamshira I understand. It's no trouble. Let mego and buy your tickets.""Thank you, brother. This issawab, a good deed. God willremember."She fished the envelope from her pocket beneath the burqaand passed it to him. In it was eleven hundred afghanis, orabout half of the money she'd stashed over the past year plusthe sale of the ring. He slipped the envelope in his trouserpocket.
"Wait here."She watched him enter the station. He returned half an hourlater.
"It's best I hold on to your tickets," he said. The bus leavesin one hour, at eleven. We'll all board together. My name isWakil. If they ask-and they shouldn't-I'll tell them you're mycousin."Laila gave him their names, and he said he would remember.
"Stay close," he said.
They sat on the bench adjacent to Wakil and his family's. Itwas a sunny, warm morning, the sky streaked only by a fewwispy clouds hovering in the distance over thehills. Mariambegan feeding Aziza a few of the crackers she'd remembered tobring in their rush to pack. She offered one to Laila.
"I'll throwup," Laila laughed. "I'm too excited.""Metoo.""Thankyou, Mariam.""For what?""For this.For coming with us," Laila said. "I don't think I coulddo this alone.""You won't have to.""We're going to be all right, aren't we, Mariam, where we'regoing?"Mariam's hand slid across the bench and closed over hers.
"The Koran says Allah is the East and the West, thereforewherever you turn there is Allah's purpose.""Bov!"Aziza cried, pointing to a bus. "Mayam,bov""I see it, Aziza jo," Mariam said. "That's right,bov. Soon we'reall going to ride on abov. Oh, the things you're going to see."Laila smiled. She watched a carpenter in his shop across thestreet sawing wood, sending chips flying. She watched the carsbolting past, their windows coated with soot and grime. Shewatched the buses growling idly at the curb, with peacocks,lions, rising suns, and glittery swords painted on their sides.
In the warmth of the morning sun, Laila felt giddy and bold.
She had another of those little sparks of euphoria, and when astray dog with yellow eyes limped by, Laila leaned forward andpet its back.
A few minutes before eleven, a man with a bullhorn called forall passengers to Peshawar to begin boarding. The bus doorsopened with a violent hydraulic hiss. A parade of travelersrushed toward it, scampering past each other to squeezethrough.
Wakil motioned toward Laila as he picked up his son.
"We're going," Laila said.
Wakil led the way. As they approached the bus, Laila sawfaces appear in the windows, noses and palms pressed to theglass. All around them, farewells were yelled.
A young militia soldier was checking tickets at the bus door.
"Bov!" Azxzz.cried.
Wakil handed tickets to the soldier, who tore them in half andhanded them back. Wakil let his wife board first. Laila saw alook pass between Wakil and the militiaman. Wakil, perched onthe first step of the bus, leaned down and said something inhis ear. The militiaman nodded.
Laila's heart plummeted.
"You two, with the child, step aside," the soldier said.
Laila pretended not to hear. She went to climb the steps, buthe grabbed her by the shoulder and roughly pulled her out ofthe line. "You too," he called to Mariam. "Hurry up! You'reholding up the line.""What's the problem, brother?" Laila said through numb lips.
"We have tickets. Didn't my cousin hand them to you?"He made aShh motion with his finger and spoke in a lowvoice to another guard. The second guard, a rotund fellow witha scar down his right cheek, nodded.
"Follow me," this one said to Laila.
"We have to board this bus," Laila cried, aware that her voicewas shaking. "We have tickets. Why are you doing this?""You're not going to get on this bus. You might as well acceptthat. You will follow me. Unless you want your little girl to seeyou dragged."As they were led to a truck, Laila looked over her shoulderand spotted Wakil's boy at the rear of the bus. The boy sawher too and waved happily.
* * *At the police station at Torabaz Khan Intersection, they weremade to sit apart, on opposite ends of a long, crowdedcorridor, between them a desk, behind which a man smokedone cigarette after another and clacked occasionally on atypewriter. Three hours passed this way. Aziza tottered fromLaila to Mariam, then back. She played with a paper clip thatthe man at the desk gave her. She finished the crackers.
Eventually, she fell asleep in Mariam's lap.
At around three o'clock, Laila was taken to an interview room.
Mariam was made to wait with Aziza in the corridor.
The man sitting on the other side of the desk in the interviewroom was in his thirties and wore civilian clothes- black suit,tie, black loafers. He had a neatly trimmed beard, short hair,and eyebrows that met. He stared at Laila, bouncing a pencilby the eraser end on the desk.
"We know," he began, clearing his throat and politely coveringhis mouth with a fist, "that you have already told one lietoday,kamshira The young man at the station was not yourcousin. He told us as much himself. The question is whetheryou will tell more lies today. Personally, I advise you against it.""We were going to stay with my uncle," Laila said "That's thetruth."The policeman nodded. "Thehamshira in the corridor, she'syour mother?""Yes.""She has a Herati accent. You don't.""She was raised in Herat, I was born here in Kabul.""Of course. And you are widowed? You said you were. Mycondolences. And this uncle, thiskaka, where does he live?""In Peshawar.""Yes, you said that." He l............
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