A Thousand Splendid Suns

(Nancy Kaufman) #1

fed and clothed. That much I promise you."
Laila nodded.

"All right?"

He was smiling companionably. "But don't cry, hamshira Don't let her see you cry."
Laila wiped her eyes again. "God bless you," she said thickly. "God bless you, brother."

But "when the time for good byes came, the scene erupted precisely as Laila had dreaded.

Aziza panicked.
All the way home, leaning on Mariam, Laila heard Aziza's shrill cries. In her head, she
saw Zaman's thick, calloused hands close around Aziza's arms; she saw them pull, gently at
first, then harder, then with force to pry Aziza loose from her. She saw Aziza kicking in
Zaman's arms as he hurriedly turned the corner, heard Aziza screaming as though she were
about to vanish from the face of the earth. And Laila saw herself running down the hallway,
head down, a howl rising up her throat.
"I smell her," she told Mariam at home. Her eyes swam unseeingly past Mariam's shoulder,
past the yard, the walls, to the mountains, brown as smoker's spit. "I smell her sleep smell.
Do you? Do you smell it?"

"Oh, Laila jo," said Mariam. "Don't. What good is this? What good?"

At first, Rasheed humored Laila, and accompanied them her, Mariam, and Zalmai to the
orphanage, though he made sure, as they walked, that she had an eyeful of his grievous
looks, an earful of his rants over what a hardship she was putting him through, how badly
his legs and back and feet ached walking to and from the orphanage. He made sure she
knew how awfully put out he was.

"I'm not a young man anymore," he said. "Not that you care. You'd run me to the ground,
if you had your way. But you don't, Laila. You don't have your way."
They parted ways two blocks from the orphanage, and he never spared them more than
fifteen minutes. "A minute late," he said, "and I start walking. I mean it."
Laila had to pester him, plead with him, in order to spin out the allotted minutes with
Aziza a bit longer. For herself, and for Mariam, who was disconsolate over Aziza's absence,
though, as always, Mariam chose to cradle her own suffering privately and quietly. And for
Zalmai too, who asked for his sister every day, and threw tantrums that sometimes
dissolved into inconsolable fits of crying.

Sometimes, on the way to the orphanage, Rasheed stopped and complained that his leg
was sore. Then he turned around and started walking home in long, steady strides, without
so much as a limp. Or he clucked his tongue and said, "It's my lungs, Laila. I'm short of

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