A Thousand Splendid Suns

(Nancy Kaufman) #1


ariq said that one of the men who shared his cell had a cousin who'd been publicly
flogged once for painting flamingos. He, the cousin, had a seemingly incurable thing
for them.

"Entire sketchbooks," Tariq said. "Dozens of oil paintings of them, wading in lagoons,
sunbathing in marshlands. Flying into sunsets too, I'm afraid."
"Flamingos," Laila said. She looked at him sitting against the wall, his good leg bent at the
knee. She had an urge to touch him again, as she had earlier by the front gate when she'd
run to him. It embarrassed her now to think of how she'd thrown her arms around his neck
and wept into his chest, how she'd said his name over and over in a slurring, thick voice.
Had she acted too eagerly, she wondered, too desperately? Maybe so. But she hadn't been
able to help it. And now she longed to touch him again, to prove to herself again that he
was really here, that he was not a dream, an apparition.

"Indeed," he said. "Flamingos."

When the Taliban had found the paintings, Tariq said, they'd taken offense at the birds'
long, bare legs. After they'd tied the cousin's feet and flogged his soles bloody, they had
presented him with a choice: Either destroy the paintings or make the flamingos decent. So
the cousin had picked up his brush and painted trousers on every last bird

"And there you have it. Islamic flamingos," Tariq said Laughter came up, but Laila
pushed it back down. She was ashamed of her yellowing teeth, the missing incisor
Ashamed of her withered looks and swollen lip. She wished she'd had the chance to wash
her face, at least comb her hair.
"But he'll have the last laugh, the cousin," Tariq said "He painted those trousers with
watercolor. When the Taliban are gone, he'll just wash them off" He smiled Laila noticed
that he had a missing tooth of his own and looked down at his hands. "Indeed"

He was wearing apakol on his head, hiking boots, and a black wool sweater tucked into
the waist of khaki pants. He was half smiling, nodding slowly. Laila didn't remember him
saying this before, this word indeed, and this pensive gesture, the fingers making a tent in
his lap, the nodding, it was new too. Such an adult word, such an adult gesture, and why
should it be so startling? He was an adult now, Tariq, a twenty five year old man with slow
movements and a tiredness to his smile. Tall, bearded, slimmer than in her dreams of him,
but with strong looking hands, workman's hands, with tortuous, full veins. His face was still
lean and handsome but not fair skinned any longer; his brow had a weathered look to it,
sunburned, like his neck, the brow of a traveler at the end of a long and wearying journey.
His pakol was pushed back on his head, and she could see that he'd started to lose his hair.
The hazel of his eyes was duller than she remembered, paler, or perhaps it was merely the
light in the room.


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