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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 39.
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Chapter 39.
Madam September 1997Ihis hospital no longer treats women," the guard barked. Hewas standing at the top of the stairs, looking down icily on thecrowd gathered in front of Malalai Hospital.
A loud groan rose from the crowd.
"But this is a women's hospital!" a woman shouted behindMariam. Cries of approval followed this.
Mariam shifted Aziza from one arm to the other. With herfree arm, she supported Laila, who was moaning, and had herown arm flung around Rasheed's neck.
"Not anymore," the Talib said.
"My wife is having a baby!" a heavyset man yelled. "Wouldyou have her give birth here on the street, brother?"Mariam had heard the announcement, in January of thatyear, that men and women would be seen in differenthospitals, that all female staff would be discharged from Kabul'shospitals and sent to work in one central facility. No one hadbelieved it, and the Taliban hadn't enforced the policy. Untilnow.
"What about Ali Abaci Hospital?" another man cried.
The guard shook his head.
"WazirAkbarKhan?""Men only," he said.
"What are we supposed to do?""Go to Rabia Balkhi," the guard said.
A young woman pushed forward, said she had already beenthere. They had no clean water, she said, no oxygen, nomedications, no electricity. "There is nothing there.""That's where you go," the guard said.
There were more groans and cries, an insult or two. Someonethrew a rock.
The Talib lifted his Kalashnikov and fired rounds into the air.
Another Talib behind him brandished a whip.
The crowd dispersed quickly.
* * *The waiting room at Rabia Balkhi was teeming with women inburqas and their children. The air stank of sweat andunwashed bodies, of feet, urine, cigarette smoke, and antiseptic.
Beneath the idle ceiling fan, children chased each other,hopping over the stretched-out legs of dozing fathers.
Mariam helped Laila sit against a wall from which patches ofplaster shaped like foreign countries had slid off Laila rockedback and forth, hands pressing against her belly.
"I'll get you seen, Laila jo. I promise.""Be quick," said Rasheed.
Before the registration window was a horde of women,shoving and pushing against each other. Some were still holdingtheir babies. Some broke from the mass and charged thedouble doors that led to the treatment rooms. An armed Talibguard blocked their way, sent them back.
Mariam waded in. She dug in her heels and burrowed againstthe elbows, hips, and shoulder blades of strangers. Someoneelbowed her in the ribs, and she elbowed back. A hand madea desperate grab at her face. She swatted it away. To propelherself forward, Mariam clawed at necks, at arms and elbows,at hair, and, when a woman nearby hissed, Mariam hissedback.
Mariam saw now the sacrifices a mother made. Decency wasbut one. She thought ruefully of Nana, of the sacrifices that shetoo had made. Nana, who could have given her away, ortossed her in a ditch somewhere and run. But she hadn't.
Instead, Nana had endured the shame of bearing aharami, hadshaped her life around the thankless task of raising Mariamand, in her own way, of loving her. And, in the end, Mariamhad chosen Jalil over her. As she fought her way withimpudent resolve to the front of the melee, Mariam wished shehad been a better daughter to Nana. She wished she'dunderstood then what she understood now aboutmotherhood-She found herself face-to-face with a nurse, whowas covered head to toe in a dirty gray burqa. The nurse wastalking to a young woman, whose burqa headpiece had soakedthrough with a patch of matted blood"My daughter's water broke and the baby won't come,"Mariam called.
"I'mtalking to her!" the bloodied young woman cried "Waityour turn!"The whole mass of them swayed side to side, like the tallgrass around thekolba when the breeze swept across theclearing. A woman behind Mariam was yelling that her girl hadbroken her elbow falling from a tree. Another woman criedthat she was passing bloody stools.
"Does she have a fever?" the nurse asked. It took Mariam amoment to realize she was being spoken to.
"No," Mariam said.
"No.""Whereis she?"Over the covered heads, Mariam pointed to where Laila wassitting with Rasheed.
"We'll get to her," the nurse said"How long?" Mariam cried Someone had grabbed her by theshoulders and was pulling her back.
"I don't know,"the nurse said. She said they had only twodoctorsand both were operating at the moment.
"She's in pain," Mariam said.
"Me too!" the woman with the bloodied scalp cried. "Waityour turn!"Mariam was being dragged back. Her view of the nurse wasblocked now by shoulders and the backs of heads. She smelleda baby's milky burp.
"Take her for awalk," the nurse yelled. "And wait."* * *It was dark outside when a nurse finally called them in. Thedelivery room had eight beds, on which women moaned andtwisted tended to by fully covered nurses. Two of the womenwere in the act of delivering. There were no curtains betweenthe beds. Laila was given a bed at the far end, beneath awindow that someone had painted black. There was a sinknearby, cracked and dry, and a string over the sink fromwhich hung stained surgical gloves. In the middle of the roomMariam saw an aluminum table. The top shelf had asoot-colored b............
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