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HOME > Classical Novels > A Thousand Splendid Suns > Chapter 51.
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Chapter 51.
April 2003Thedrought has ended. It snowed at last this past winter,kneedeep, and now it has been raining for days.The KabulRiver is flowing once again. Its spring floods have washed awayTitanic City.
There is mud on the streets now. Shoes squish. Cars gettrapped. Donkeys loaded with apples slog heavily, their hoovessplattering muck from rain puddles. But no one is complainingabout the mud, no one is mourning Titanic City.We need Kabulto be green again, people say.
Yesterday, Laila watched her children play in the downpour,hopping from one puddle to another in their backyard beneatha lead-colored sky. She was watching from the kitchen windowof the small two-bedroom house that they are renting inDeh-Mazang. There is a pomegranate tree in the yard and athicket of sweetbriar bushes. Tariq has patched the walls andbuilt the children a slide, a swing set, a little fenced area forZalmai's new goat. Laila watched the rain slide off Zalmai'sscalp-he has asked that he be shaved, like Tariq, who is incharge now of saying theBabaloo prayers. The rain flattenedAziza's long hair, turned it into sodden tendrils that sprayedZalmai when she snapped her head.
Zalmai is almost six. Aziza is ten. They celebrated her birthdaylast week, took her to Cinema Park, where, at last,Titanic wasopenly screened for the people of Kabul.
* * *"Come on, children, we're going to be late," Laila calls, puttingtheir lunches in a paper bag-It's eight o'clock in the morning.
Laila was up at five. As always, it was Aziza who shook herawake for morningnamaz. The prayers, Laila knows, are Aziza'sway of clinging to Mariam, her way of keeping Mariam closeawhile yet before time has its way, before it snatches Mariamfrom the garden of her memory like a weed pulled by itsroots.
Afternamaz, Laila had gone back to bed, and was still asleepwhen Tariq left the house. She vaguely remembers him kissingher cheek. Tariq has found work with a French NGO that fitsland mine survivors and amputees with prosthetic limbs.
Zalmai comes chasing Aziza into the kitchen.
"You have your notebooks, you two? Pencils? Textbooks?""Right here," Aziza says, lifting her backpack. Again, Lailanotices how her stutter is lessening.
"Let's go, then."Laila lets the children out of the house, locks the door. Theystep out into the cool morning. It isn't raining today. The skyis blue, and Laila sees no clumps of clouds in the horizon.
Holding hands, the three of them make their way to the busstop. The streets are busy already, teeming with a steadystream of rickshaws, taxicabs, UN trucks, buses, ISAF jeeps.
Sleepy-eyed merchants are unlocking store gates that had beenrolled down for the night-Vendors sit behind towers of chewinggum and cigarette packs. Already the widows have claimed theirspots at street corners, asking the passersby for coins.
Laila finds it strange to be back in Kabul The city haschanged Every day now she sees people planting saplings,painting old houses, carrying bricks for new ones. They diggutters and wells. On windowsills, Laila spots flowers potted inthe empty shells of old Mujahideen rockets-rocket flowers,Kabulis call them. Recently, Tariq took Laila and the children tothe Gardens of Babur, which are being renovated. For the firsttime in years, Laila hears music at Kabul's street corners,rubaband tabla,dooiar, harmonium and tamboura, old Ahmad Zahirsongs.
Laila wishes Mammy and Babi were alive to see thesechanges. But, like Mil's letter, Kabul's penance has arrived toolate.
Laila and the children are about to cross the street to the busstop when suddenly a black Land Cruiser with tinted windowsblows by. It swerves at the last instant and misses Laila by lessthan an arm's length. It splatters tea-colored rainwater all overthe children's shirts.
Laila yanks her children back onto the sidewalk, heartsomersaulting in her throat.
The Land Cruiser speeds down the street, honks twice, andmakes a sharp left.
Laila stands there, trying to catch her breath, her fingersgripped tightly around her children's wrists.
It slays Laila. It slays her that the warlords have been allowedback to Kabul That her parents' murderers live in posh homeswith walled gardens, that they have been appointed minister ofthis and deputy minister of that, that they ride with impunity inshiny, bulletproof SUVs through neighborhoods that theydemolished. It slays her.
But Laila has decided that she will not be crippled byresentment. Mariam wouldn't want it that way.What's thesense? she would say with a smile both innocent andwise.What good is it, Laila jo? And so Laila has resignedherself to moving on. For her own sake, for Tariq's, for herchildren's. And for Mariam, who still visits Laila in her dreams,who is never more than a breath or two below herconsciousness. Laila has moved on. Because in the end sheknows that's all she can do. That and hope.
* * *Zamanis standing at the free throw line, his knees bent,bouncing a basketball. He is instructing a group of boys inmatching jerseys sitting in a semicircle on the court. Zamanspots Laila, tucks the ball under his arm, and waves. He sayssomething to the boys, who then wave and cry out,"Salaam,moalim sahib!"Laila waves back.
The orphanage playground has a row of apple saplings nowalong the east-facing wall. Laila is planning to plant some onthe south wall as well as soon as it is rebuilt. There is a newswing set, new monkey bars, and a jungle gym.
Laila walks back inside through the screen door.
They have repainted both the exterior and the interior of theorphanage. Tariq and Zaman have repaired all the roof leaks,patched the walls, replaced the windows, carpeted the roomswhere the children sleep and play. This past winter, Lailabought a few beds for the children's sleeping quarters, pillowstoo, and proper wool blankets. She had cast-iron stovesinstalled for the winter.
Anis,one of Kabul's newspapers, had run a story the monthbefore on the renovation of the orphanage. They'd taken aphoto too, of Zaman, Tariq, Laila, and one of the attendants,standing in a row behind the children. When Laila saw thearticle, she'd thought of her childhood friends Giti and Hasina,and Hasina saying,By the time we're twenty, Giti and I, we'llhave pushed out four, five kids each Bui you, Laila, you'll makeus two dummies proud. You 're going to be somebody. I knowone day I'll pick up a newspaper and find your picture on thefrontpage. The photo hadn't made the front page, but there itwas nevertheless, as Hasina had predicted.
Laila takes a turn and makes her way down the samehallway where, two years before, she and Mariam had deliveredAziza to Zaman. Laila still remembers how they had to pryAziza's fingers from her wrist. She remembers running downthis hallway, holding back a howl, Mariam calling after her,Aziza screaming with panic. The hallway's walls are coverednow with posters, of dinosaurs, cartoon characters, the Buddhasof Bamiyan, and displays of artwork by the orphans. Many ofthe drawings depict tanks running over huts, men brandishingAK-47s, refugee camp tents, scenes of jihad.
Laila turns a corner in the hallway and sees the children now,waiting outside the classroom. She is greeted by their scarves,their shaved scalps covered by skullcaps, their small, leanfigures, the beauty of their drabness.
When the children spot Laila, they come run............
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