A Thousand Splendid Suns

(Nancy Kaufman) #1

sparks of euphoria, and when a stray dog with yellow eyes limped by, Laila leaned forward
and pet its back.
A few minutes before eleven, a man with a bullhorn called for all passengers to Peshawar
to begin boarding. The bus doors opened with a violent hydraulic hiss. A parade of
travelers rushed toward it, scampering past each other to squeeze through.
Wakil motioned toward Laila as he picked up his son.
"We're going," Laila said.
Wakil led the way. As they approached the bus, Laila saw faces appear in the windows,
noses and palms pressed to the glass. All around them, farewells were yelled.
A young militia soldier was checking tickets at the bus door.

"Bov!" Aziza cried.
Wakil handed tickets to the soldier, who tore them in half and handed them back. Wakil
let his wife board first. Laila saw a look pass between Wakil and the militiaman. Wakil,
perched on the first step of the bus, leaned down and said something in his ear. The
militiaman nodded.
Laila's heart plummeted.
"You two, with the child, step aside," the soldier said.
Laila pretended not to hear. She went to climb the steps, but he grabbed her by the
shoulder and roughly pulled her out of the line. "You too," he called to Mariam. "Hurry up!
You're holding up the line."
"What's the problem, brother?" Laila said through numb lips. "We have tickets. Didn't my
cousin hand them to you?"
He made a Shh motion with his finger and spoke in a low voice to another guard. The
second guard, a rotund fellow with a scar down his right cheek, nodded.
"Follow me," this one said to Laila.
"We have to board this bus," Laila cried, aware that her voice was shaking. "We have
tickets. Why are you doing this?"

"You're not going to get on this bus. You might as well accept that. You will follow me.
Unless you want your little girl to see you dragged."
As they were led to a truck, Laila looked over her shoulder and spotted Wakil's boy at the
rear of the bus. The boy saw her too and waved happily.

At the police station at Torabaz Khan Intersection, they were made to sit apart, on
opposite ends of a long, crowded corridor, between them a desk, behind which a man
smoked one cigarette after another and clacked occasionally on a typewriter. Three hours
passed this way. Aziza tottered from Laila to Mariam, then back. She played with a paper
clip that the man at the desk gave her. She finished the crackers. Eventually, she fell asleep
in Mariam's lap.
At around three o'clock, Laila was taken to an interview room. Mariam was made to wait
with Aziza in the corridor.
The man sitting on the other side of the desk in the interview room was in his thirties and
wore civilian clothes black suit, tie, black loafers. He had a neatly trimmed beard, short

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