A Thousand Splendid Suns

(Nancy Kaufman) #1

ne Sunday that September, Laila is putting Zalmai, who has a cold, down for a nap
when Tariq bursts into their bungalow.

"Did you hear?" he says, panting a little. "They killed him. Ahmad Shah Massoud. He's


From the doorway, Tariq tells her what he knows.

"They say he gave an interview to a pair of journalists who claimed they were Belgians
originally from Morocco. As they're talking, a bomb hidden in the video camera goes off.
Kills Massoud and one of the journalists. They shoot the other one as he tries to run.
They're saying now the journalists were probably Al Qaeda men."

Laila remembers the poster of Ahmad Shah Massoud that Mammy had nailed to the wall
of her bedroom. Massoud leaning forward, one eyebrow cocked, his face furrowed in
concentration, as though he was respectfully listening to someone. Laila remembers how
grateful Mammy was that Massoud had said a graveside prayer at her sons' burial, how she
told everyone about it. Even after war broke out between his faction and the others,
Mammy had refused to blame him. He's a good man, she used to say.

He wants peace. He wants to rebuild Afghanistan. But they won 't let him. They just won 't
let him. For Mammy, even in the end, even after everything went so terribly wrong and
Kabul lay in ruins, Massoud was still the Lion of Panjshir.

Laila is not as forgiving Massoud's violent end brings her no joy, but she remembers too
well the neighborhoods razed under his watch, the bodies dragged from the rubble, the
hands and feet of children discovered on rooftops or the high branch of some tree days after
their funeral She remembers too clearly the look on Mammy's own face moments before
the rocket slammed in and, much as she has tried to forget, Babi's headless torso landing
nearby, the bridge tower printed on his T shirt poking through thick fog and blood.
"There is going to be a funeral," Tariq is saying. "I'm sure of it. Probably in Rawalpindi.
It'll be huge."

Zalmai, who was almost asleep, is sitting up now, rubbing his eyes with balled fists.

Two days later, they are cleaning a room when they hear a commotion. Tariq drops the
mop and hurries out. Laila tails him.

The noise is coming from the hotel lobby. There is a lounge area to the right of the
reception desk, with several chairs and two couches upholstered in beige suede. In the
corner, facing the couches, is a television, and Sayeed, the concierge, and several guests are
gathered in front of.


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