arly one morning the next spring, of 1993, Mariam stood by the living room window
and watched Rasheed escort the girl out of the house. The girl was tottering forward,
bent at the waist, one arm draped protectively across the taut drum of her belly, the shape of
which was visible through her burqa. Rasheed, anxious and overly attentive, was holding
her elbow, directing her across the yard like a traffic policeman. He made a Wait here
gesture, rushed to the front gate, then motioned for the girl to come forward, one foot
propping the gate open. When she reached him, he took her by the hand, helped her through
the gate. Mariam could almost hear him say, "Watch your step, now, my flower, my gul."
They came back early the next evening.
Mariam saw Rasheed enter the yard first. He let the gate go prematurely, and it almost hit
the girl on the face. He crossed the yard in a few, quick steps. Mariam detected a shadow
on his face, a darkness underlying the coppery light of dusk. In the house, he took off his
coat, threw it on the couch. Brushing past Mariam, he said in a brusque voice, "I'm hungry.
Get supper ready."
The front door to the house opened. From the hallway, Mariam saw the girl, a swaddled
bundle in the hook of her left arm. She had one foot outside, the other inside, against the
door, to prevent it from springing shut. She was stooped over and was grunting, trying to
reach for the paper bag of belongings that she had put down in order to open the door. Her
face was grimacing with effort. She looked up and saw Mariam.
Mariam turned around and went to the kitchen to warm Rasheed's meal.
"It’s like someone is ramming a screwdriver into my ear," Rasheed said, rubbing his eyes.
He was standing in Mariam's door, puffy eyed, wearing only aiumban tied with a floppy
knot. His white hair was straggly, pointing every which way. "This crying. I can't stand it."
Downstairs, the girl was walking the baby across the floor, trying to sing to her.
"I haven't had a decent night's sleep in two months," Rasheed said. "And the room smells
like a sewer. There's shit cloths lying all over the place. I stepped on one just the other
Mariam smirked inwardly with perverse pleasure.
"Take her outside!" Rasheed yelled over his shoulder. "Can't you take her outside?"
The singing was suspended briefly."She'll catch pneumonia!"
Rasheed clenched his teeth and raised his voice. "I said, It's warm out!"
"I'm not taking her outside!"
The singing resumed
"Sometimes, I swear, sometimes I want to put that thing in a box and let her float down
Kabul River. Like baby Moses."
Mariam never heard him call his daughter by the name the girl had given her, Aziza, the