A Thousand Splendid Suns

(Nancy Kaufman) #1

And, more than once, How long do I have to stay?

They stopped two blocks from the squat, barracks style building.

"Zalmai and I will wait here," Rasheed said. "Oh, before I forget..."

He fished a stick of gum from his pocket, a parting gift, and held it out to Aziza with a
stiff, magnanimous air. Aziza took it and muttered a thank you. Laila marveled at Aziza's
grace, Aziza's vast capacity for forgiveness, and her eyes filled. Her heart squeezed, and
she was faint with sorrow at the thought that this afternoon Aziza would not nap beside her,
that she would not feel the flimsy weight of Aziza's arm on her chest, the curve of Aziza's
head pressing into her ribs, Aziza's breath warming her neck, Aziza's heels poking her

When Aziza was led away, Zalmai began wailing, crying, Ziza! Ziza! He squirmed and
kicked in his father's arms, called for his sister, until his attention was diverted by an organ
grinder's monkey across the street.

They walked the last two blocks alone, Mariam, Laila, and Aziza. As they approached the
building, Laila could see its splintered fa9ade, the sagging roof, the planks of wood nailed
across frames with missing windows, the top of a swing set over a decaying wall.

They stopped by the door, and Laila repeated to Aziza what she had told her earlier.

"And if they ask about your father, what do you say?"
"The Mujahideen killed him," Aziza said, her mouth set with wariness.

"That's good. Aziza, do you understand?"

"Because this is a special school," Aziza said Now that they were here, and the building
was a reality, she looked shaken. Her lower lip was quivering and her eyes threatened to
well up, and Laila saw how hard she was struggling to be brave. "If we tell the truth," Aziza
said in a thin, breathless voice, "they won't take me. It's a special school. I want to go

"I'll visit all the time," Laila managed to say. "I promise."

"Me too," said Mariam. "We'll come to see you, Aziza jo, and we'll play together, just like
always. It's only for a while, until your father finds work."

"They have food here," Laila said shakily. She was glad for the burqa, glad that Aziza
couldn't see how she was falling apart inside it. "Here, you won't go hungry. They have rice
and bread and water, and maybe even fruit."

"But you won't be here. And Khala Mariam won't be with me."

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