Every week, since Aziza's birth, she pried his wallet open when he was asleep or in the
outhouse and took a single bill. Some weeks, if the wallet was light, she took only a
five-afghan bill, or nothing at all, for fear that he would notice. When the wallet was plump,
she helped herself to a ten or a twenty, once even risking two twenties. She hid the money
in a pouch she’d sewn in the lining of her checkered winter coat.
She wondered what he would do if he knew that she was planning to run away next spring.
Next summer at the latest. Laila hoped to have a thousand afghanis or more stowed away,
half of which would go to the bus fare from Kabul to Peshawar. She would pawn her
wedding ring when the time drew close, as well as the other jewelry that Rasheed had given
her the year before when she was still the malika of his palace.
"Anyway," he said at last, fingers drumming his belly, "I can't be blamed. I am a husband.
These are the things a husband wonders. But he's lucky he died the way he did. Because if
he was here now, if I got my hands on him..." He sucked through his teeth and shook his
"What happened to not speaking ill of the dead?"
"I guess some people can't be dead enough," he said.
Two days later, Laila woke up in the morning and found a stack of baby clothes, neatly
folded, outside her bedroom door. There was a twirl dress with little pink fishes sewn
around the bodice, a blue floral wool dress with matching socks and mittens, yellow
pajamas with carrot colored polka dots, and green cotton pants with a dotted ruffle on the
"There is a rumor," Rasheed said over dinner that night, smacking his lips, taking no
notice of Aziza or the pajamas Laila had put on her, "that Dostum is going to change sides
and join Hekmatyar. Massoud will have his hands full then, fighting those two. And we
mustn't forget the Hazaras." He took a pinch of the pickled eggplant Mariam had made that
summer. "Let's hope it's just that, a rumor. Because if that happens, this war," he waved one
greasy hand, "will seem like a Friday picnic at Paghman."
Later, he mounted her and relieved himself with wordless haste, fully dressed save for his
tumban, not removed but pulled down to the ankles. When the frantic rocking was over, he
rolled off her and was asleep in minutes.
Laila slipped out of the bedroom and found Mariam in the kitchen squatting, cleaning a
pair of trout. A pot of rice was already soaking beside her. The kitchen smelled like cumin
and smoke, browned onions and fish.
Laila sat in a comer and draped her knees with the hem of her dress.
"Thank you," she said.
Mariam took no notice of her. She finished cutting up the first trout and picked up the
second. With a serrated knife, she clipped the fins, then turned the fish over, its underbelly
facing her, and sliced it expertly from the tail to the gills. Laila watched her put her thumb
into its mouth, just over the lower jaw, push it in, and, in one downward stroke, remove the
gills and the entrails.
"The clothes are lovely."
"I had no use for them," Mariam muttered. She dropped the fish on a newspaper smudged