A Thousand Splendid Suns

(Nancy Kaufman) #1

Laila thought of Tariq's mother, her unhurried manners, the clever smiles, the dull purple
wig. And his father, with his squinty gaze, his wry humor. Earlier, at the door, with a voice
full of tears, tripping over her own words, she'd told Tariq what she thought had happened
to him and his parents, and he had shaken his head. So now she asked him how they were
doing, his parents. But she regretted the question when Tariq looked down and said, a bit
distractedly, "Passed on."

"I'm so sorry."

"Well. Yes. Me too. Here." He fished a small paper bag from his pocket and passed it to
her. "Compliments of Alyona." Inside was a block of cheese in plastic wrap.

"Alyona. It's a pretty name." Laila tried to say this next without wavering. "Your wife?"

"My goat." He was smiling at her expectantly, as though waiting for her to retrieve a

Then Laila remembered. The Soviet film. Alyona had been the captain's daughter, the girl
in love with the first mate. That was the day that she, Tariq, and Hasina had watched Soviet
tanks and jeeps leave Kabul, the day Tariq had worn that ridiculous Russian fur hat.

"I had to tie her to a stake in the ground," Tariq was saying. "And build a fence. Because
of the wolves. In the foothills where I live, there's a wooded area nearby, maybe a quarter
of a mile away, pine trees mostly, some fir, deodars. They mostly stick to the woods, the
wolves do, but a bleating goat, one that likes to go wandering, that can draw them out. So
the fence. The stake."

Laila asked him which foothills.
"Pir PanjaL Pakistan," he said "Where I live is called Murree; it's a summer retreat, an
hour from Islamabad. It's hilly and green, lots of trees, high above sea level So it's cool in
the summer. Perfect for tourists."

The British had built it as a hill station near their military headquarters in Rawalpindi, he
said, for the Victorians to escape the heat. You could still spot a few relics of the colonial
times, Tariq said, the occasional tearoom, tin roofed bungalows, called cottages, that sort of
thing. The town itself was small and pleasant. The main street was called the Mall, where
there was a post office, a bazaar, a few restaurants, shops that overcharged tourists for
painted glass and hand knotted carpets. Curiously, the Mall's one way traffic flowed in one
direction one week, the opposite direction the next week.

"The locals say that Ireland's traffic is like that too in places," Tariq said. "I wouldn't know.
Anyway, it's nice. It's a
plain life, but I like it. I like living there."

"With your goat. With Alyona."

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