A Thousand Splendid Suns

(Nancy Kaufman) #1

with slimy, gray juice and sliced off its head. "It was either your daughter or the moths."

"Where did you learn to clean fish like that?"
"When I was a little girl, I lived by a stream. I used to catch my own fish."
"I've never fished"
"Not much to it. It's mostly waiting."
Laila watched her cut the gutted trout into thirds. "Did you sew the clothes yourself?"
Mariam nodded.
Mariam rinsed sections of fish in a bowl of water. "When I was pregnant the first time. Or
maybe the second time. Eighteen, nineteen years ago. Long time, anyhow. Like I said, I
never had any use for them."
"You're a really good khayai. Maybe you can teach me."
Mariam placed the rinsed chunks of trout into a clean bowl. Drops of water dripping from
her fingertips, she raised her head and looked at Laila, looked at her as if for the first time.
"The other night, when he...Nobody's ever stood up for me before," she said.

Laila examined Mariam's drooping cheeks, the eyelids that sagged in tired folds, the deep
lines that framed her mouth she saw these things as though she too were looking at
someone for the first time. And, for the first time, it was not an adversary's face Laila saw
but a face of grievances unspoken, burdens gone unprotested, a destiny submitted to and
endured. If she stayed, would this be her own face, Laila wondered, twenty years from
"I couldn't let him," Laila said "I wasn't raised in a household where people did things like
"This is your household now. You ought to get used to it."
"Not to/to I won't."
"He'll turn on you too, you know," Mariam said, wiping her hands dry with a rag. "Soon
enough. And you gave him a daughter. So, you see, your sin is even less forgivable than
Laila rose to her feet. "I know it's chilly outside, but what do you say we sinners have us a
cup of chai in the yard?"
Mariam looked surprised "I can't. I still have to cut and wash the beans."
"I'll help you do it in the morning."
"And I have to clean up here."

"We'll do it together. If I'm not mistaken, there's some halwa left over. Awfully good with
Mariam put the rag on the counter. Laila sensed anxiety in the way she tugged at her
sleeves, adjusted her hijab, pushed back a curl of hair.
"The Chinese say it's better to be deprived of food for three days than tea for one."
Mariam gave a half smile. "It's a good saying."
"It is."
"But I can't stay long."
"One cup."
They sat on folding chairs outside and ate halwa with their fingers from a common bowl.

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