s daylight steadily bleached darkness from the sky that spring morning of 1994 , Laila
became certain that Rasheed knew. That, any moment now, he would drag her out of
bed and ask whether she'd really taken him for such a khar, such a donkey, that he wouldn't
find out. But azan rang out, and then the morning sun was falling flat on the rooftops and
the roosters were crowing and nothing out of the ordinary happened
She could hear him now in the bathroom, the tapping of his razor against the edge of the
basin. Then downstairs, moving about, heating tea. The keys jingled. Now he was crossing
the yard, walking his bicycle.
Laila peered through a crack in the living room curtains. She watched him pedal away, a
big man on a small bicycle, the morning sun glaring off the handlebars.
Mariam was in the doorway. Laila could tell that she hadn't slept either. She wondered if
Mariam too had been seized all night by bouts of euphoria and attacks of mouth drying
"We'll leave in half an hour," Laila said.
In the backseat of the taxi, they did not speak. Aziza sat on Mariam's lap, clutching her
doll, looking with wide eyed puzzlement at the city speeding by.
"Ona!"she cried, pointing to a group of little girls skipping rope. "Mayam! Ona"
Everywhere she looked, Laila saw Rasheed. She spotted him coming out of barbershops
with windows the color of coal dust, from tiny booths that sold partridges, from battered,
open fronted stores packed with old tires piled from floor to ceiling.
She sank lower in her seat.
Beside her, Mariam was muttering a prayer. Laila wished she could see her face, but
Mariam was in burqa they both were and all she could see was the glitter of her eyes
through the grid.
This was Laila's first time out of the house in weeks, discounting the short trip to the
pawnshop the day before where she had pushed her wedding ring across a glass counter,
where she'd walked out thrilled by the finality of it, knowing there was no going back.
All around her now, Laila saw the consequences of the recent fighting whose sounds she'd
heard from the house. Homes that lay in roofless ruins of brick and jagged stone, gouged
buildings with fallen beams poking through the holes, the charred, mangled husks of cars,
upended, sometimes stacked on top of each other, walls pocked by holes of every
conceivable caliber, shattered glass everywhere. She saw a funeral procession marching
toward a mosque, a black clad old woman at the rear tearing at her hair. They passed a
cemetery littered with rock piled graves and ragged shaheed flags fluttering in the breeze.
Laila reached across the suitcase, wrapped her fingers around the softness of her