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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 45.
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Chapter 45.
MadamI was upstairs, playing with Mariam," Zalmai said.
"And your mother?""She was…She was downstairs, talking to that man.""I see," said Rasheed. "Teamwork."Mariam watched his face relax, loosen. She watched the foldsclear from his brow. Suspicion and misgiving winked out of hiseyes. He sat up straight, and, for a few brief moments, heappeared merely thoughtful, like a captain informed of imminentmutiny taking his time to ponder his next move.
He looked up.
Mariam began to say something, but he raised a hand, and,without looking at her, said, "It's too late, Mariam."To Zalmai he said coldly, "You're going upstairs, boy."On Zalmai's face, Mariam saw alarm. Nervously, he lookedaround at the three of them. He sensed now that his tattletalegame had let something serious-adult serious-into the room. Hecast a despondent, contrite glance toward Mariam, then hismother.
In a challenging voice, Rasheed said,"Now!"He took Zalmai by the elbow. Zalmai meekly let himself be ledupstairs.
They stood frozen, Mariam and Laila, eyes to the ground, asthough looking at each other would give credence to the wayRasheed saw things, that while he was opening doors andlugging baggage for people who wouldn't spare him a glance alewd conspiracy was shaping behind his back, in his home, inhis beloved son's presence. Neither one of them said a word.
They listened to the footsteps in the hallway above, one heavyand foreboding, the other the pattering of a skittish little animal.
They listened to muted words passed, a squeaky plea, a curtretort, a door shut, the rattle of a key as it turned. Then oneset of footsteps returning, more impatiently now.
Mariam saw his feet pounding the steps as he came down.
She saw him pocketing the key, saw his belt, the perforatedend wrapped tightly around his knuckles. The fake brass buckledragged behind him, bouncing on the steps.
She went to stop him, but he shoved her back and blew byher. Without saying a word, he swung the belt at Laila. He didit with such speed that she had no time to retreat or duck, oreven raise a protective arm. Laila touched her fingers to hertemple, looked at the blood, looked at Rasheed, withastonishment. It lasted only a moment or two, this look ofdisbelief, before it was replaced by something hateful.
Rasheed swung the belt again.
This time, Laila shielded herself with a forearm and made agrab at the belt. She missed, and Rasheed brought the beltdown again. Laila caught it briefly before Rasheed yanked itfree and lashed at her again. Then Laila was dashing aroundthe room, and Mariam was screaming words that ran togetherand imploring Rasheed, as he chased Laila, as he blocked herway and cracked his belt at her. At one point, Laila duckedand managed to land a punch across his ear, which made himspit a curse and pursue her even more relentlessly. He caughther, threw her up against the wall, and struck her with thebelt again and again, the buckle slamming against her chest,her shoulder, her raised arms, her fingers, drawing bloodwherever it struck.
Mariam lost count of how many times the belt cracked, howmany pleading words she cried out to Rasheed, how manytimes she circled around the incoherent tangle of teeth and fistsand belt, before she saw fingers clawing at Rasheed's face,chipped nails digging into his jowls and pulling at his hair andscratching his forehead. How long before she realized, with bothshock and relish, that the fingers were hers.
He let go of Laila and turned on her. At first, he looked ather without seeing her, then his eyes narrowed, appraisedMariam with interest. The look in them shifted from puzzlementto shock, then disapproval, disappointment even, lingering therea moment.
Mariam remembered the first time she had seen his eyes,under the wedding veil, in the mirror, with Jalil looking on,how their gazes had slid across the glass and met, hisindifferent, hers docile, conceding, almost apologetic.
Apologetic.
Mariam saw now in those same e............
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