A Thousand Splendid Suns

(Nancy Kaufman) #1

agitated Aziza, who still has nightmares, who'd been startled to tears the week before when
someone had shot rounds into the sky at a wedding nearby. Laila has to explain to Aziza
that when they return to Kabul the Taliban won't be there, that there will not be any fighting,
and that she will not be sent back to the orphanage. "We'll all live together. Your father, me,
Zalmai. And you, Aziza. You'll never, ever, have to be apart from me again. I promise."
She smiles at her daughter. "Until the day you want to, that is. When you fall in love with
some young man and want to marry him."

On the day they leave Murree, Zalmai is inconsolable. He has wrapped his arms around
Alyona's neck and will not let go.

"I can't pry him off of her, Mammy," says Aziza.

"Zalmai. We can't take a goat on the bus," Laila explains again.

It isn't until Tariq kneels down beside him, until he promises Zalmai that he will buy him
a goat just like Alyona in Kabul, that Zalmai reluctantly lets go.

There are tearful farewells with Sayeed as well For good luck, he holds a Koran by the
doorway for Tariq, Laila, and the children to kiss three times, then holds it high so they can
pass under it. He helps Tariq load the two suitcases into the trunk of his car. It is Sayeed
who drives them to the station, who stands on the curb waving good bye as the bus sputters
and pulls away.

As she leans back and watches Sayeed receding in the rear window of the bus, Laila hears
the voice of doubt whispering in her head. Are they being foolish, she wonders, leaving
behind the safety of Murree? Going back to the land where her parents and brothers
perished, where the smoke of bombs is only now settling?
And then, from the darkened spirals of her memory, rise two lines of poetry, Babi's
farewell ode to Kabul:

One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, Or the thousand splendid suns
that hide behind her walls.

Laila settles back in her seat, blinking the wetness from her eyes. Kabul is waiting.
Needing. This journey home is the right thing to do.
But first there is one last farewell to be said.

The wars in Afghanistan have ravaged the roads connecting Kabul, Herat, and Kandahar.
The easiest way to Herat now is through Mashad, in Iran. Laila and her family are there
only overnight. They spend the night at a hotel, and, the next morning, they board another

Mashad is a crowded, bustling city. Laila watches as parks, mosques, and chelo kebab

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