A Thousand Splendid Suns

(Nancy Kaufman) #1

Laila and Tariq work their way in.

The TV is tuned to BBC. On the screen is a building, a tower, black smoke billowing from
its top floors. Tariq says something to Sayeed and Sayeed is in midreply when a plane
appears from the corner of the screen. It crashes into the adjacent tower, exploding into a
fireball that dwarfs any ball of fire that Laila has ever seen. A collective yelp rises from
everyone in the lobby.

In less than two hours, both towers have collapsed
Soon all the TV stations are talking about Afghanistan and the Taliban and Osama bin

"Did you hear what the Taliban said?" Tariq asks. "About bin Laden?"

Aziza is sitting across from him on the bed, considering the board. Tariq has taught her to
play chess. She is frowning and tapping her lower lip now, mimicking the body language
her father assumes when he's deciding on a move.

Zalmai's cold is a little better. He is asleep, and Laila is rubbing Vicks on his chest.
"I heard," she says.

The Taliban have announced that they won't relinquish bin Laden because he is amehman,
a guest, who has found sanctuary in Afghanistan and it is against thePashiunwali code of
ethics to turn over a guest. Tariq chuckles bitterly, and Laila hears in his chuckle that he is
revolted by this distortion of an honorable Pashtun custom, this misrepresentation of his
people's ways.

A few days after the attacks, Laila and Tariq are in the hotel lobby again. On the TV
screen, George W. Bush is speaking. There is a big American flag behind him. At one point,
his voice wavers, and Laila thinks he is going to weep.
Sayeed, who speaks English, explains to them that Bush has just declared war.
"On whom?" says Tariq.
"On your country, to begin with."

"It may not be such a bad thing," Tariq says.

They have finished making love. He's lying beside her, his head on her chest, his arm
draped over her belly. The first few times they tried, there was difficulty. Tariq was all
apologies, Laila all reassurances. There are still difficulties, not physical now but logistical.
The shack they share with the children is small. The children sleep on cots below them and
so there is little privacy. Most times, Laila and Tariq make love in silence, with controlled,

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