A Thousand Splendid Suns

(Nancy Kaufman) #1

"I'll come and see you," Laila said. "All the time. Look at me, Aziza. I'll come and see you.
I'm your mother. If it kills me, I'll come and see you."

The orphanage director was a stooping, narrow chested man with a pleasantly lined face.
He was balding, had a shaggy beard, eyes like peas. His name was Zaman. He wore a
skullcap. The left lens of his eyeglasses was chipped.
As he led them to his office, he asked Laila and Mariam their names, asked for Aziza's
name too, her age. They passed through poorly lit hallways where barefoot children stepped
aside and watched They had disheveled hair or shaved scalps. They wore sweaters with
frayed sleeves, ragged jeans whose knees had worn down to strings, coats patched with
duct tape. Laila smelled soap and talcum, ammonia and urine, and rising apprehension in
Aziza, who had begun whimpering.
Laila had a glimpse of the yard: weedy lot, rickety swing set, old tires, a deflated
basketball. The rooms they passed were bare, the windows covered with sheets of plastic. A
boy darted from one of the rooms and grabbed Laila's elbow, and tried to climb up into her
arms. An attendant, who was cleaning up what looked like a puddle of urine, put down his
mop and pried the boy off.

Zaman seemed gently proprietary with the orphans. He patted the heads of some, as he
passed by, said a cordial word or two to them, tousled their hair, without condescension.
The children welcomed his touch. They all looked at him, Laila thought, in hope of
He showed them into his office, a room with only three folding chairs, and a disorderly
desk with piles of paper scattered atop it.

"You're from Herat," Zaman said to Mariam. "I can tell from your accent."

He leaned back in his chair and laced his hands over his belly, and said he had a brother in
law who used to live there. Even in these ordinary gestures, Laila noted a laborious quality
to his movements. And though he was smiling faintly, Laila sensed something troubled and
wounded beneath, disappointment and defeat glossed over with a veneer of good humor.

"He was a glassmaker," Zaman said. "He made these beautiful, jade green swans. You
held them up to sunlight and they glittered inside, like the glass was filled with tiny jewels.
Have you been back?"

Mariam said she hadn't.
"I'm from Kandahar myself. Have you ever been to Kandahar,hamshira1? No? It's lovely.
What gardens! And the grapes! Oh, the grapes. They bewitch the palate."
A few children had gathered by the door and were peeking in. Zaman gently shooed them
away, in Pashto.

"Of course I love Herat too. City of artists and writers, Sufis and mystics. You know the

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