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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 47.
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Chapter 47.
MadamBack in akolba, it seemed, after all these years.
The Walayat women's prison was a drab, square-shapedbuilding in Shar-e-Nau near Chicken Street. It sat in the centerof a larger complex that housed male inmates. A padlockeddoor separated Mariam and the other women from thesurrounding men. Mariam counted five working cells. They wereunfurnished rooms, with dirty, peeling walls, and small windowsthat looked into the courtyard. The windows were barred, eventhough the doors to the cells were unlocked and the womenwere free to come and go to the courtyard as they pleased.
The windows had no glass. There were no curtains either,which meant the Talib guards who roamed the courtyard hadan eyeful of the interior of the cells. Some of the womencomplained that the guards smoked outside the window andleered in, with their inflamed eyes and wolfish smiles, that theymuttered indecent jokes to each other about them. Because ofthis, most of the women wore burqas all day and lifted themonly after sundown, after the main gate was locked and theguards had gone to their posts.
At night, the cell Mariam shared with five women and fourchildren was dark. On those nights when there was electricalpower, they hoisted Naghma, a short, flat-chested girl with blackfrizzy hair, up to the ceiling. There was a wire there fromwhich the coating had been stripped. Naghma would hand-wrapthe live wire around the base of the lightbulb then to make acircuit.
The toilets were closet-sized, the cement floor cracked Therewas a small, rectangular hole in the ground, at the bottom ofwhich was a heap of feces. Flies buzzed in and out of thehole-In the middle of the prison was an open, rectangularcourtyard, and, in the middle of that, a well The well had nodrainage, meaning the courtyard was often a swamp and thewater tasted rotten. Laundry lines, loaded with handwashedsocks and diapers, slashed across each other in the courtyard.
This was where inmates met visitors, where they boiled the ricetheir families brought them-the prison provided no food Thecourtyard was also the children's playground-Mariam hadlearned that many of the children had been born in Walayat,had never seen the world outside these walls. Mariam watchedthem chase each other around, watched their shoeless feet slingmud. All day, they ran around, making up lively games,unaware of the stench of feces and urine that permeatedWalayat and their own bodies, unmindful of the Talib guardsuntil one smacked them.
Mariam had no visitors. That was the first and only thing shehad asked the Talib officials here. No visitors.
* * *None of the women in Mariam's cell were serving time forviolent crime-they were all there for the common offense of"running away from home." As a result, Mariam gained somenotoriety among them, became a kind of celebrity. The womeneyed her with a reverent, almost awestruck, expression. Theyoffered her their blankets. They competed to share their foodwith her.
The most avid was Naghma, who was always hugging herelbows and following Mariam everywhere she went. Naghmawas the sort of person who found it entertaining to dispensenews of misfortune, whether others' or her own. She said herfather had promised her to a tailor some thirty years olderthan her.
"He smellslike goh, and has fewer teeth than fingers," Naghmasaid of the tailor.
She'd tried to elope to Gardez with a young man she'd fallenin love with, the son of a local mullah. They'd barely made itout of Kabul. When they were caught and sent back, themullah's son was flogged before he repented and said thatNaghma had seduced him with her feminine charms. She'd casta spell on him, he said. He promised he would rededicatehimself to the study of the Koran. The mullah's son was freed.
Naghma was sentenced to five years.
It was just as well, she said, her being here in prison. Herfather had sworn that the day she was released he would takea knife to her throat.
Listening to Naghma, Mariam remembered the dim glimmer ofcold stars and the stringy pink clouds streaking over theSafid-koh mountains that long-ago morning when Nana hadsaid to her,Like a compass needle that points north, a man'saccusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You rememberthat, Mariam.
* * *Mamam'S trial had taken place the week before. There wasno legal council, no public hearing, no cross-examining ofevidence, no appeals. Mariam declined her right to witnesses.
The entire thing lasted less than fifteen minutes.
The middle judge, a brittle-looking Talib, was the leader. Hewas strikingly gaunt, with yellow, leathery skin and a curly redbeard. He wore eyeglasses that magnified his eyes and revealedhow yellow the whites were. His neck looked too thin tosupport the intricately wrapped turban on his head.
"You admit to this,hamshira?I he asked again in a tired voice.
"I do," Mariam said.
The man nodded. Or maybe he didn't. It was hard to tell; hehad a pronounced shaking of his hands and head thatreminded Mariam of Mullah Faizullah's tremor. When he sippedtea, he did not reach for his cup. He motioned to thesquare-shouldered man to his left, who respectfully brought itto his lips. After, the Talib closed his eyes gently, a muted andelegant gesture of gratitude.
Mariam found a disarming quality about him. When he spoke,it was with a tinge of guile and tenderness. His smile waspatient. He did not look at Mariam despisingly. He did notaddress her with spite or accusation but with a soft tone ofapology.
"Do you fully understand what you're saying?" the bony-facedTalib to the judge's right, not the tea giver, said. This one wasthe youngest of the three. He spoke quickly and with emphatic,arrogant confidence. He'd been irritated that Mariam could notspeak Pashto. He struck Mariam as the sort of quarrelsomeyoung man who relished his authority, who saw offenseseverywhere, thought it his birthright to pass judgment.
"I do understand," Mariam said.
"I wonder," the young Talib said. "God has made usdifferently, you women and us men. Our brains are different.
You are not able to think like we can. Western doctors andtheir science have proven this. This is why we require only onemale witness but two female ones.""I admit to what I did, brother," Mariam said. "But, if Ihadn't, he would have killed her. He was strangling her.""So you say. But, then, women swear to all sorts of things allthe time.""It's the truth.""Do you have witnesses? Other than yourambagh?’'
"I do not," said Mariam.
"Well, then." He threw up his hands and snickered.
It was the sickly Talib who spoke next.
"I have a doctor in Peshawar," he said. "A fine, youngPakistani fellow. I saw him a month ago, and then again lastweek. I said, tell me the truth, friend, and he said to me, threemonths, Mullah sahib, maybe six at most-all God's will, ofcourse."He nodded discreetly at the square-shouldered man on his leftand took another sip of the tea he was offered. He wiped hismouth with the back of his tremulous hand. "It does notfrighten me to leave this life that my only son left five yearsago, this life that insists we bear sorrow upon sorrow longafter we can bear no more. No, I believe I shall gladly takemy leave when the time comes.
"What frightens me,hamshira, is the day God summons mebefore Him and asks,Why did you not do as I said, Mullah?
Why did you not obey my laws? How shall I explain myself toHim,hamshira1? What will be my defense for not heeding Hiscommands? All I can do, all any of us can do, in the time weare granted, is to go on abiding by the laws He has set forus. The clearer I see my end,hamshira, the nearer I am to myday of reckoning, the more determined I grow to carry out Hisword. However painful it may prove."He shifted on his cushion and winced.
"I believe you when you say that your husband was a manof disagreeable temperament," he resumed, fixing Mariam withhis bespectacled eyes, his gaze both stern and compassionate.
"But I cannot help but be disturbed by the brutality of youraction,hamshira I ............
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