A Thousand Splendid Suns

(Nancy Kaufman) #1

At the Lahore Gate bus station, near Pol Mahmood Khan in East Kabul, a row of buses sat
idling along the curbside. Men in turbans were busy heaving bundles and crates onto bus
tops, securing suitcases down with ropes. Inside the station, men stood in a long line at the
ticket booth. Burqa clad women stood in groups and chatted, their belongings piled at their
feet. Babies were bounced, children scolded for straying too far.
Mujahideen militiamen patrolled the station and the curbside, barking curt orders here and
there. They wore boots, pakols, dusty green fatigues. They all carried Kalashnikovs.
Laila felt watched. She looked no one in the face, but she felt as though every person in
this place knew, that they were looking on with disapproval at what she and Mariam were
"Do you see anybody?" Laila asked.
Mariam shifted Aziza in her arms. "I'm looking."

This, Laila had known, would be the first risky part, finding a man suitable to pose with
them as a family member. The freedoms and opportunities that women had enjoyed
between 1978 and 1992 were a thing of the past now Laila could still remember Babi
saying of those years of communist rule, It's a good time to be a woman in Afghanistan,
Laila Since the Mujahideen takeover in April 1992, Afghanistan's name had been changed
to the Islamic State of Afghanistan. The Supreme Court under Rabbani was filled now with
hard liner mullahs who did away with the communist era decrees that empowered women
and instead passed rulings based on Shari'a, strict Islamic laws that ordered women to cover,
forbade their travel without a male relative, punished adultery with stoning. Even if the
actual enforcement of these laws was sporadic at best. But they'd enforce them on us more,
Laila had said to Mariam, if they weren't so busy killing each other. And us.
The second risky part of this trip would come when they actually arrived in Pakistan.
Already burdened with nearly two million Afghan refugees, Pakistan had closed its borders
to Afghans in January of that year. Laila had heard that only those with visas would be
admitted. But the border was porous always had been and Laila knew that thousands of
Afghans were still crossing into Pakistan either with bribes or by proving humanitarian
grounds and there were always smugglers who could be hired. We'll find a way when we
get there, she'd told Mariam.
"How about him?" Mariam said, motioning with her chin.
"He doesn't look trustworthy."
"And him?"
"Too old. And he's traveling with two other men."

Eventually, Laila found him sitting outside on a park bench, with a veiled woman at his
side and a little boy in a skullcap, roughly Aziza's age, bouncing on his knees. He was tall
and slender, bearded, wearing an open collared shirt and a modest gray coat with missing
"Wait here," she said to Mariam. Walking away, she again heard Mariam muttering a
When Laila approached the young man, he looked up, shielded the sun from his eyes with
a hand.
"Forgive me, brother, but are you going to Peshawar?"

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