"You're getting so smart," Mariam said "So much smarter than your dumb khala"
Aziza's face glowed, broadened. "You're not dumb, Khala Mariam. And Kaka Zaman says
that, sometimes, the shifting of rocks is deep, deep below, and it's powerful and scary down
there, but all we feel on the surface is a slight tremor. Only a slight tremor."
The visit before this one, it was oxygen atoms in the atmosphere scattering the blue light
from the sun. If the earth had no atmosphere, Aziza had said a little breathlessly, the sky
wouldn’ t be blue at all but a pitch black sea and the sun a big bright star in the dark
"Is Aziza coming home with us this time?" Zalmai said.
"Soon, my love," Laila said. "Soon."
Laila watched him wander away, walking like his father, stooping forward, toes turned in.
He walked to the swing set, pushed an empty seat, ended up sitting on the concrete, ripping
weeds from a crack.
Water evaporates from the leaves Mammy, did you know? the way it does from laundry
hanging from a line. And that drives the flow of water up the tree. From the ground and
through the roots, then all the way up the tree trunk, through the branches and into the
leaves. It's called transpiration.
More than once, Laila had wondered what the Taliban would do about Kaka Zaman's
clandestine lessons if they found out.
During visits, Aziza didn't allow for much silence. She filled all the spaces with effusive
speech, delivered in a high, ringing voice. She was tangential with her topics, and her hands
gesticulated wildly, flying up with a nervousness that wasn't like her at all. She had a new
laugh, Aziza did. Not so much a laugh, really, as nervous punctuation, meant, Laila
suspected, to reassure.
And there were other changes. Laila would notice the dirt under Aziza's fingernails, and
Aziza would notice her noticing and bury her hands under her thighs. Whenever a kid cried
in their vicinity, snot oozing from his nose, or if a kid walked by bare assed, hair clumped
with dirt, Aziza's eyelids fluttered and she was quick to explain it away. She was like a
hostess embarrassed in front of her guests by the squalor of her home, the untidiness of her
Questions of how she was coping were met with vague but cheerful replies.
Doing Jim, Khala I'm fine.
Do kids pick on you?
They don’t Mammy. Everyone is nice.