A Thousand Splendid Suns

(Nancy Kaufman) #1

had knitting needles and balls of yarn ready, she said, in case of a Taliban inspection. "We
put the books away and pretend to knit."

One day, during a visit with Aziza, Laila saw a middle aged woman, her burqa pushed
back, visiting with three boys and a girl. Laila recognized the sharp face, the heavy
eyebrows, if not the sunken mouth and gray hair. She remembered the shawls, the black
skirts, the curt voice, how she used to wear her jet black hair tied in a bun so that you could
see the dark bristles on the back of her neck. Laila remembered this woman once forbidding
the female students from covering, saying women and men were equal, that there was no
reason women should cover if men didn't.

At one point, Khala Rangmaal looked up and caught her gaze, but Laila saw no lingering,
no light of recognition, in her old teacher's eyes.

"They're fractures along the earth's crust," said Aziza. 'They're called faults."

It was a warm afternoon, a Friday, in June of 2001. They were sitting in the orphanage's
back lot, the four of them, Laila, Zalmai, Mariam, and Aziza. Rasheed had relented this
time as he infrequently did and accompanied the four of them. He was waiting down the
street, by the bus stop.

Barefoot kids scampered about around them. A flat soccer ball was kicked around, chased
after listlessly.
"And, on either side of the faults, there are these sheets of rock that make up the earth's
crust," Aziza was saying.

Someone had pulled the hair back from Aziza's face, braided it, and pinned it neatly on
top of her head. Laila begrudged whoever had gotten to sit behind her daughter, to flip
sections of her hair one over the other, had asked her to sit still.
Aziza was demonstrating by opening her hands, palms up, and rubbing them against each
other. Zalmai watched this with intense interest.

"Kectonic plates, they're called?"

"Tectonic," Laila said. It hurt to talk. Her jaw was still sore, her back and neck ached. Her
lip was swollen, and her tongue kept poking the empty pocket of the lower incisor Rasheed
had knocked loose two days before. Before Mammy and Babi had died and her life turned
upside down, Laila never would have believed that a human body could withstand this
much beating, this viciously, this regularly, and keep functioning.

"Right. And when they slide past each other, they catch and slip see, Mammy? and it
releases energy, which

travels to the earth's surface and makes it shake."

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