hair, and eyebrows that met. He stared at Laila, bouncing a pencil by the eraser end on the
"We know," he began, clearing his throat and politely covering his mouth with a fist, "that
you have already told one lie today, kamshira The young man at the station was not your
cousin. He told us as much himself. The question is whether you will tell more lies today.
Personally, I advise you against it."
"We were going to stay with my uncle," Laila said "That's the truth."
The policeman nodded. "The hamshira in the corridor, she's your mother?"
"She has a Herati accent. You don't."
"She was raised in Herat, I was born here in Kabul."
"Of course. And you are widowed? You said you were. My condolences. And this uncle,
this kaka, where does he live?"
"Yes, you said that." He licked the point of his pencil and poised it over a blank sheet of
paper. "But where in Peshawar? Which neighborhood, please? Street name, sector
Laila tried to push back the bubble of panic that was coming up her chest. She gave him
the name of the only street she knew in Peshawar she'd heard it mentioned once, at the
party Mammy had thrown when the Mujahideen had first come to Kabul "Jamrud Road."
"Oh, yes. Same street as the Pearl Continental Hotel. He might have mentioned it."
Laila seized this opportunity and said he had. "That very same street, yes."
"Except the hotel is on Khyber Road."
Laila could hear Aziza crying in the corridor. "My daughter's frightened. May I get her,
"I prefer 'Officer.' And you'll be with her shortly. Do you have a telephone number for this
"I do. I did. I..." Even with the burqa between them, Laila was not buffered from his
penetrating eyes. "I'm so upset, I seem to have forgotten it."
He sighed through his nose. He asked for the uncle's name, his wife's name. How many
children did he have? What were their names? Where did he work? How old was he? His
questions left Laila flustered.
He put down his pencil, laced his fingers together, and leaned forward the way parents do
when they want to convey something to a toddler. "You do realize, hamshira, that it is a
crime for a woman to run away. We see a lot of it. Women traveling alone, claiming their
husbands have died. Sometimes they're telling the truth, most times not. You can be
imprisoned for running away, I assume you understand that,nay1?"
"Let us go, Officer..." She read the name on his lapel tag. "Officer Rahman. Honor the
meaning of your name and show compassion. What does it matter to you to let a mere two
women go? What's the harm in releasing us? We are not criminals."
"I beg you, please."
"It's a matter of qanoon, hamshira, a matter of law," Rahman said, injecting his voice with
a grave, self important tone. "It is my responsibility, you see, to maintain order."
In spite of her distraught state, Laila almost laughed. She was stunned that he'd used that