Mariam had a view of the Polytechnic Institute, and, beyond that, the old Khair khana
district and the road to Mazar. To the south, she could see the bread factory, Silo, long
abandoned, its pale yellow fa9ade pocked with yawning holes from all the shelling it had
endured. Farther south, she could make out the hollow ruins of Darulaman Palace, where,
many years back, Rasheed had taken her for a picnic. The memory of that day was a relic
from a past that no longer seemed like her own.
Mariam concentrated on these things, these landmarks. She feared she might lose her
nerve if she let her mind wander.
Every few minutes, jeeps and taxis drove up to the hotel entrance. Doormen rushed to
greet the passengers, who were all men, armed, bearded, wearing turbans, all of them
stepping out with the same self assured, casual air of menace. Mariam heard bits of their
chatter as they vanished through the hotel's doors. She heard Pashto and Farsi, but Urdu and
"Meet ourreal masters," Rasheed said in a low pitched voice. "Pakistani and Arab
Islamists. The Taliban are puppets. These are the big players and Afghanistan is their
Rasheed said he'd heard rumors that the Taliban were allowing these people to set up
secret camps all over the country, where young men were being trained to become suicide
bombers and jihadi fighters.
"What's taking him so long?" Mariam said.
Rasheed spat, and kicked dirt on the spit.
An hour later, they were inside, Mariam and Rasheed, following the doorman. Their heels
clicked on the tiled floor as they were led across the pleasantly cool lobby. Mariam saw two
men sitting on leather chairs, rifles and a coffee table between them, sipping black tea and
eating from a plate of syrup coated jelabi, rings sprinkled with powdered sugar. She
thought of Aziza, who loved jelabi, and tore her gaze away.
The doorman led them outside to a balcony. From his pocket, he produced a small black
cordless phone and a scrap of paper with a number scribbled on it. He told Rasheed it was
his supervisor's satellite phone.
"I got you five minutes," he said. "No more."
"Tashakor," Rasheed said. "I won't forget this."
The doorman nodded and walked away. Rasheed dialed. He gave Mariam the phone.
As Mariam listened to the scratchy ringing, her mind wandered. It wandered to the last
time she'd seen Jalil, thirteen years earlier, back in the spring of 1987. He'd stood on the
street outside her house, leaning on a cane, beside the blue Benz with the Herat license
plates and the white stripe bisecting the roof, the hood, and trunk. He'd stood there for