"I should have known that you'd corrupt her," Rasheed spat at Mariam. He swung the belt,
testing it against his own thigh. The buckle jingled loudly.
"Stop it, basl" the girl said. "Rasheed, you can't do this."
"Go back to the room."
Mariam backpedaled again.
"No! Don't do this!"
Rasheed raised the belt again and this time came at Mariam.
Then an astonishing thing happened: The girl lunged at him. She grabbed his arm with
both hands and tried to drag him down, but she could do no more than dangle from it. She
did succeed in slowing Rasheed's progress toward Mariam.
"Let go!" Rasheed cried.
"You win. You win. Don't do this. Please, Rasheed, no beating! Please don't do this."
They struggled like this, the girl hanging on, pleading, Rasheed trying to shake her off,
keeping his eyes on Mariam, who was too stunned to do anything.
In the end, Mariam knew that there would be no beating, not that night. He'd made his
point. He stayed that way a few moments longer, arm raised, chest heaving, a fine sheen of
sweat filming his brow. Slowly, Rasheed lowered his arm. The girl's feet touched ground
and still she wouldn't let go, as if she didn't trust him. He had to yank his arm free of her
"I'm on to you," he said, slinging the belt over his shoulder. "I'm on to you both. I won't be
made an ahmaq, a fool, in my own house."
He threw Mariam one last, murderous stare, and gave the girl a shove in the back on the
When she heard their door close, Mariam climbed back into bed, buried her head beneath
the pillow, and waited for the shaking to stop.
Three times that night, Mariam was awakened from sleep. The first time, it was the
rumble of rockets in the west, coming from the direction of Karteh Char. The second time,
it was the baby crying downstairs, the girl's shushing, the clatter of spoon against milk
bottle. Finally, it was thirst that pulled her out of bed.
Downstairs, the living room was dark, save for a bar of moonlight spilling through the
window. Mariam could hear the buzzing of a fly somewhere, could make out the outline of
the cast iron stove in the corner, its pipe jutting up, then making a sharp angle just below
On her way to the kitchen, Mariam nearly tripped over something. There was a shape at
her feet. When her eyes adjusted, she made out the girl and her baby lying on the floor on
top of a quilt.
The girl was sleeping on her side, snoring. The baby was awake. Mariam lit the kerosene
lamp on the table and hunkered down. In the light, she had her first real close up look at the
baby, the tuft of dark hair, the thick lashed hazel eyes, the pink cheeks, and lips the color of