Laila meant this less as a joke than as a surreptitious entry into another line of talk, such as
who else was there with him worrying about wolves eating goats. But Tariq only went on
"I'm sorry about your parents too," he said.
"I spoke to some neighbors earlier," he said. A pause, during which Laila wondered what
else the neighbors had told him. "I don't recognize anybody. From the old days, I mean."
"They're all gone. There's no one left you'd know."
"I don't recognize Kabul."
"Neither do I," Laila said. "And I never left."
"Mammy has a new friend," Zalmai said after dinner later that same night, after Tariq had
left. "A man."
Rasheed looked up."Does she, now?"
TARIQ ASKED IF HE COULD SMOKE.
They had stayed awhile at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp near Peshawar, Tariq said,
tapping ash into a saucer. There were sixty thousand Afghans living there already when he
and his parents arrived.
"It wasn't as bad as some of the other camps like, God forbid, Jalozai," he said. "I guess at
one point it was even
some kind of model camp, back during the Cold War, a place the West could point to and
prove to the world they weren't just funneling arms into Afghanistan."
But that had been during the Soviet war, Tariq said, the days of jihad and worldwide
interest and generous funding and visits from Margaret Thatcher.
"You know the rest, Laila. After the war, the Soviets fell apart, and the West moved on.
There was nothing at stake for them in Afghanistan anymore and the money dried up. Now
Nasir Bagh is tents, dust, and open sewers. When we got there, they handed us a stick and a
sheet of canvas and told us to build ourselves a tent."
Tariq said what he remembered most about Nasir Bagh, where they had stayed for a year,
was the color brown. "Brown tents. Brown people. Brown dogs. Brown porridge."