A Thousand Splendid Suns

(Nancy Kaufman) #1

"I worry."

"I'll be fine," Laila says. "I promise. Take the children to a market. Buy them something."

Zalmai begins to cry when the taxi pulls away, and, when Laila looks back, she sees that
he is reaching for Tariq. That he is beginning to accept Tariq both eases and breaks Laila's

"You're not from Herat," the driver says.
He has dark, shoulder length hair a common thumbing of the nose at the departed Taliban,
Laila has discovered and some kind of scar interrupting his mustache on the left side. There
is a photo taped to the windshield, on his side. It's of a young girl with pink cheeks and hair
parted down the middle into twin braids.
Laila tells him that she has been in Pakistan for the last year, that she is returning to Kabul.
"Deh Mazang."

Through the windshield, she sees coppersmiths welding brass handles to jugs, saddle
makers laying out cuts of rawhide to dry in the sun.
"Have you lived here long, brother?" she asks.

"Oh, my whole life. I was born here. I've seen everything. You remember the uprising?"

Laila says she does, but he goes on.

"This was back in March 1979, about nine months before the Soviets invaded. Some
angry Heratis killed a few Soviet advisers, so the Soviets sent in tanks and helicopters and
pounded this place. For three days, hamshira, they fired on the city. They collapsed
buildings, destroyed one of the minarets, killed thousands of people. Thousands. I lost two
sisters in those three days. One of them was twelve years old." He taps the photo on his
windshield. "That's her."

"I'm sorry," Laila says, marveling at how every Afghan story is marked by death and loss
and unimaginable grief. And yet, she sees, people find a way to survive, to go on. Laila
thinks of her own life and all that has happened to her, and she is astonished that she too
has survived, that she is alive and sitting in this taxi listening to this man's

Gul Daman is a village of a few walled houses rising among flat kolbas built with mud
and straw. Outside the kolbas, Laila sees sunburned women cooking, their faces sweating
in steam rising from big blackened pots set on makeshift firewood grills. Mules eat from
troughs. Children giving chase to chickens begin chasing the taxi. Laila sees men pushing

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