A Thousand Splendid Suns

(Nancy Kaufman) #1

the water she sank

Mariam had disjointed dreams that last night. She dreamed of pebbles, eleven of them,
arranged vertically. Jalil, young again, all winning smiles and dimpled chins and sweat
patches, coat flung over his shoulder, come at last to take his daughter away for a ride in his
shiny black Buick Roadmaster. Mullah Faizullah twirling his rosary beads, walking with
her along the stream, their twin shadows gliding on the water and on the grassy banks
sprinkled with a blue lavender wild iris that, in this dream, smelled like cloves. She
dreamed of Nana in the doorway of the kolba, her voice dim and distant, calling her to
dinner, as Mariam played in cool, tangled grass where ants crawled and beetles scurried and
grasshoppers skipped amid all the different shades of green. The squeak of a wheelbarrow
laboring up a dusty path. Cowbells clanging. Sheep baaing on a hill.

On the way to Ghazi Stadium, Mariam bounced in the bed of the truck as it skidded
around potholes and its wheels spat pebbles. The bouncing hurt her tailbone. A young,
armed Talib sat across from her looking at her.

Mariam wondered if he would be the one, this amiable looking young man with the deep
set bright eyes and slightly pointed face, with the black nailed index finger drumming the
side of the truck.

"Are you hungry, mother?" he said.

Mariam shook her head.

"I have a biscuit. It's good. You can have it if you're hungry. I don't mind."

"No. Tashakor, brother."

He nodded, looked at her benignly. "Are you afraid, mother?"

A lump closed off her throat. In a quivering voice, Mariam told him the truth.

"Yes. I'm very afraid."

"I have a picture of my father," he said. "I don't remember him. He was a bicycle
repairman once, I know that much. But I don't remember how he moved, you know, how he
laughed or the sound of his voice." He looked away, then back at Mariam. "My mother
used to say that he was the bravest man she knew. Like a lion, she'd say.

But she told me he was crying like a child the morning the communists took him. I'm
telling you so you know that it's normal to be scared. It's nothing to be ashamed of,

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