One day that winter, Laila asked to braid Mariam's hair.
Mariam sat still and watched Laila's slim fingers in the mirror tighten her plaits, Laila's
face scrunched in concentration. Aziza was curled up asleep on the floor. Tucked under her
arm was a doll Mariam had hand stitched for her. Mariam had stuffed it with beans, made it
a dress with tea dyed fabric and a necklace with tiny empty thread spools through which
she'd threaded a string.
Then Aziza passed gas in her sleep. Laila began to laugh, and Mariam joined in. They
laughed like this, at each other's reflection in the mirror, their eyes tearing, and the moment
was so natural, so effortless, that suddenly Mariam started telling her about Jalil, and Nana,
and the jinn. Laila stood with her hands idle on Mariam's shoulders, eyes locked on
Mariam's face in the mirror. Out the words came, like blood gushing from an artery.
Mariam told her about Bibi jo, Mullah Faizullah, the humiliating trek to Jalil's house,
Nana's suicide. She told about Jalil's wives, and the hurried nikka with Rasheed, the trip to
Kabul, her pregnancies, the endless cycles of hope and disappointment, Rasheed's turning
After, Laila sat at the foot of Mariam's chair. Absently, she removed a scrap of lint
entangled in Aziza's hair. A silence ensued.
"I have something to tell you too," Laila said.
Mariam did not sleep that night. She sat in bed, watched the snow falling soundlessly.
Seasons had come and gone; presidents in Kabul had been inaugurated and murdered; an
empire had been defeated; old wars had ended and new ones had broken out. But Mariam
had hardly noticed, hardly cared. She had passed these years in a distant corner of her mind
A dry, barren field, out beyond wish and lament, beyond dream and disillusionment
There, the future did not matter. And the past held only this wisdom: that love was a
damaging mistake, and its accomplice, hope, a treacherous illusion. And whenever those
twin poisonous flowers began to sprout in the parched land of that field, Mariam uprooted
them. She uprooted them and ditched them before they took hold.
But somehow, over these last months, Laila and Aziza aharami like herself, as it turned
out had become extensions of her, and now, without them, the life Mariam had tolerated for
so long suddenly seemed intolerable.
We're leaving this spring, Aziza and I. Come with us, Mariam.
The years had not been kind to Mariam. But perhaps, she thought, there were kinder years
waiting still. A new life, a life in which she would find the blessings that Nana had said a
harami like her would never see. Two new flowers had unexpectedly sprouted in her life,
and, as Mariam watched the snow coming down, she pictured Mullah Faizullah twirling his
iasbeh beads, leaning in and whispering to her in his soft, tremulous voice, But it is God
Who has planted them, Mariam jo. And it is His will that you tend to them. It is His will, my