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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 46.
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Chapter 46.
LailaLaila was aware of the face over her, all teeth and tobaccoand foreboding eyes. She was dimly aware, too, of Mariam, apresence beyond the face, of her fists raining down. Abovethem was the ceiling, and it was the ceiling Laila was drawnto, the dark markings of mold spreading across it like ink on adress, the crack in the plaster that was a stolid smile or afrown, depending on which end of the room you looked at itfrom. Laila thought of all the times she had tied a rag aroundthe end of a broom and cleaned cobwebs from this ceiling.
The three times she and Mariam had put coats of white painton it. The crack wasn't a smile any longer now but a mockingleer. And it was receding. The ceiling was shrinking, lifting,rising away from her and toward some hazy dimness beyond.
It rose until it shrank to the size of a postage stamp, whiteand bright, everything around it blotted out by the shuttereddarkness. In the dark, Rasheed's face was like a sunspot.
Brief little bursts of blinding light before her eyes now, likesilver stars exploding. Bizarre geometric forms in the light,worms, egg-shaped things, moving up and down, sideways,melting into each other, breaking apart, morphing intosomething else, then fading, giving way to blackness.
Voices muffled and distant.
Behind the lids of her eyes, her children's faces flared andfizzled. Aziza, alert and burdened, knowing, secretive. Zalmai,looking up at his father with quivering eagerness.
It would end like this, then, Laila thought. What a pitiableend-But then the darkness began to lift. She had a sensationof rising up, of being hoisted up. The ceiling slowly came back,expanded, and now Laila could make out the crack again, andit was the same old dull smile.
She was being shaken.Are you all right? Answer me, are youall right? Mariam's face, engraved with scratches, heavy withworry, hovered over Laila.
Laila tried a breath. It burned her throat. She tried another. Itburned even more this time, and not just her throat but herchest too. And then she was coughing, and wheezing. Gasping.
But breathing. Her good ear rang.
* * *The first thing she saw when she sat up was Rasheed. Hewas lying on his back, staring at nothing with an unblinking,fish-mouthed expression. A bit of foam, lightly pink, haddribbled from his mouth down his cheek. The front of hispants was wet. She saw his forehead.
Then she saw the shovel.
A groan came out of her. "Oh," she said, tremulously, barelyable to make a voice, "Oh, Mariam."* * *Laila paced, moaning and banging her hands together, asMariam sat near Rasheed, her hands in her lap, calm andmotionless. Mariam didn't say anything for a long time.
Laila's mouth was dry, and she was stammering her words,trembling all over. She willed herself not to look at Rasheed, atthe rictus of his mouth, his open eyes, at the blood congealingin the hollow of his collarbone.
Outside, the light was fading, the shadows deepening. Mariam'sface looked thin and drawn in this light, but she did notappear agitated or frightened, merely preoccupied, thoughtful, soself-possessed that when a fly landed on her chin she paid itno attention. She just sat there with her bottom lip stuck out,the way she did when she was absorbed in thought.
At last, she said, "Sit down, Laila jo."Laila did, obediently.
"We have to move him. Zalmai can't see this."* * *Mariam fished the bedroom key from Rasheed's pocket beforethey wrapped him in a bedsheet. Laila took him by the legs,behind the knees, and Mariam grabbed him under the arms.
They tried lifting him, but he was too heavy, and they endedup dragging him. As they were passing through the front doorand into the yard, Rasheed's foot caught against the doorframeand his leg bent sideways. They had to back up and try again,and then something thumped upstairs and Laila's legs gave out.
She dropped Rasheed. She slumped to the ground, sobbingand shaking, and Mariam had to stand over her, hands onhips, and say that she had to get herself together. That whatwas done was done-After a time, Laila got up and wiped herface, and they carried Rasheed to the yard without furtherincident. They took him into the toolshed. They left him behindthe workbench, on which sat his saw, some nails, a chisel, ahammer, and a cylindrical block of wood that Rasheed hadbeen meaning to carve into something for Zalmai but hadnever gotten around to doing-Then they went back inside.
Mariam washed her hands, ran them through her hair, took adeep breath and let it out. "Let me tend to your wounds now.
You're all cut up, Laila jo."* * *Mahiam said she needed the night to think things over. Toget her thoughts together and devise a plan.
"There is a way," she said, "and I just have to find it.""We have to leave! We can't stay here," Laila said in abroken, husky voice. She thought suddenly of the sound theshovel must have made striking Rasheed's head, and her bodypitched forward. Bile surged up her chest.
Mariam waited patiently until Laila felt better. Then she hadLaila lie down, and, as she stroked Laila's hair in her lap,Mariam said not to worry, that everything would be fine. Shesaid that they would leave-she, Laila, the children, and Tariqtoo. They would leave this house, and this unforgiving city.
They would leave this despondent country altogether, Mariamsaid, running her hands through Laila's hair, and go someplaceremote and safe where no one would find them, where theycould disown their past and find shelter.
"Somewhere with trees," she said. "Yes. Lots of trees."They would live in a small house on the edge of some townthey'd never heard of, Mariam said, or in a remote villagewhere the road was narrow and unpaved but lined with allmanner of plants and shrubs. Maybe there would be a path totake, a path that led to a grass field where the children couldplay, or maybe a graveled road that would take them to aclear blue lake where trout swam and reeds poked through thesurface. They would raise sheep and chickens, and they wouldmake bread together and teach the children to read. Theywould make new lives for themselves-peaceful, solitary lives-andthere the weight of all that they'd endured would lift fromthem, and they would be deserving of all the happiness andsimple prosperity they would find.
Laila murmured encouragingly. It would be an existence rifewith difficulties, she saw, but of a pleasurable kind, difficultiesthey could take pride in, possess, value, as one would a familyheirloom. Mariam's soft maternal voice went on, brought adegree of comfort to her.There is a way, she'd said, and, inthe morning, Mariam would tell her what needed to be doneand they would do it, and maybe by tomorrow this time theywould be on their way to this new life, a life luxuriant withpossibility and joy and welcomed difficulties. Laila was gratefulthat Mariam was in charge, unclouded and sober, able to thinkthis through for both of them. Her own mind was a jittery,muddled mess.
Mariam got up. "You should tend to your son now." On herwas the most stricken expression Laila had ever seen on ahuman face.
* * *Laila found him in the dark, curled up on Rasheed'sside ofthe mattress. She slipped beneath the covers beside him andpulled the blanket over them.
"Are you asleep?"Without turning around to face her, he said, "Can't sleep yet.
Baba jan hasn't said theBabaloo prayers with me.""Maybe I can say them with you tonight.""You can't say them like he can."She squeezed his little shoulder. Kissed the nape of his neck.
"I can try.""Where is Baba jan?""Baba jan has gone away," Laila said, her throat closing upagain.
And there it was, spoken for the first time, the great, damninglie.How many more times w............
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