بخش 10کتاب: هزار خورشید تابان / فصل 10
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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»
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متن انگلیسی فصل
I was upstairs, playing with Mariam,” Zalmai said.
“And your mother?”
“She was…She was downstairs, talking to that man.”
“I see,” said Rasheed. “Teamwork.”
Mariam watched his face relax, loosen. She watched the folds clear from his brow. Suspicion and misgiving winked out of his eyes. He sat up straight, and, for a few brief moments, he appeared merely thoughtful, like a captain informed of imminent mutiny taking his time to ponder his next move.
He looked up.
Mariam began to say something, but he raised a hand, and, without looking at her, said, “It’s too late, Mariam.”
To Zalmai he said coldly, “You’re going upstairs, boy.”
On Zalmai’s face, Mariam saw alarm. Nervously, he looked around at the three of them. He sensed now that his tattletale game had let something serious-adult serious-into the room. He cast a despondent, contrite glance toward Mariam, then his mother.
In a challenging voice, Rasheed said,”Now!”
He took Zalmai by the elbow. Zalmai meekly let himself be led upstairs.
They stood frozen, Mariam and Laila, eyes to the ground, as though looking at each other would give credence to the way Rasheed saw things, that while he was opening doors and lugging baggage for people who wouldn’t spare him a glance a lewd conspiracy was shaping behind his back, in his home, in his beloved son’s presence. Neither one of them said a word. They listened to the footsteps in the hallway above, one heavy and foreboding, the other the pattering of a skittish little animal. They listened to muted words passed, a squeaky plea, a curt retort, a door shut, the rattle of a key as it turned. Then one set of footsteps returning, more impatiently now.
Mariam saw his feet pounding the steps as he came down. She saw him pocketing the key, saw his belt, the perforated end wrapped tightly around his knuckles. The fake brass buckle dragged behind him, bouncing on the steps.
She went to stop him, but he shoved her back and blew by her. Without saying a word, he swung the belt at Laila. He did it with such speed that she had no time to retreat or duck, or even raise a protective arm. Laila touched her fingers to her temple, looked at the blood, looked at Rasheed, with astonishment. It lasted only a moment or two, this look of disbelief, before it was replaced by something hateful.
Rasheed swung the belt again.
This time, Laila shielded herself with a forearm and made a grab at the belt. She missed, and Rasheed brought the belt down again. Laila caught it briefly before Rasheed yanked it free and lashed at her again. Then Laila was dashing around the room, and Mariam was screaming words that ran together and imploring Rasheed, as he chased Laila, as he blocked her way and cracked his belt at her. At one point, Laila ducked and managed to land a punch across his ear, which made him spit a curse and pursue her even more relentlessly. He caught her, threw her up against the wall, and struck her with the belt again and again, the buckle slamming against her chest, her shoulder, her raised arms, her fingers, drawing blood wherever it struck.
Mariam lost count of how many times the belt cracked, how many pleading words she cried out to Rasheed, how many times she circled around the incoherent tangle of teeth and fists and belt, before she saw fingers clawing at Rasheed’s face, chipped nails digging into his jowls and pulling at his hair and scratching his forehead. How long before she realized, with both shock and relish, that the fingers were hers.
He let go of Laila and turned on her. At first, he looked at her without seeing her, then his eyes narrowed, appraised Mariam with interest. The look in them shifted from puzzlement to shock, then disapproval, disappointment even, lingering there a moment.
Mariam remembered the first time she had seen his eyes, under the wedding veil, in the mirror, with Jalil looking on, how their gazes had slid across the glass and met, his indifferent, hers docile, conceding, almost apologetic.
Mariam saw now in those same eyes what a fool she had been.
Had she been a deceitful wife? she asked herself. A complacent wife? A dishonorable woman? Discreditable? Vulgar? What harmful thing had she willfully done to this man to warrant his malice, his continual assaults, the relish with which he tormented her? Had she not looked after him when he was ill? Fed him, and his friends, cleaned up after him dutifully?
Had she not given this man her youth?
Had she ever justly deserved his meanness?
The belt made a thump when Rasheed dropped it to the ground and came for her. Some jobs, thatthump said, were meant to be done with bare hands.
But just as he was bearing down on her, Mariam saw Laila behind him pick something up from the ground. She watched Laila’s hand rise overhead, hold, then come swooping down against the side of his face. Glass shattered. The jagged remains of the drinking glass rained down to the ground. There was blood on Laila’s hands, blood flowing from the open gash on Rasheed’s cheek, blood down his neck, on his shirt. He turned around, all snarling teeth and blazing eyes.
They crashed to the ground, Rasheed and Laila, thrashing about. He ended up on top, his hands already wrapped around Laila’s neck.
Mariam clawed at him. She beat at his chest. She hurled herself against him. She struggled to uncurl his fingers from Laila’s neck. She bit them. But they remained tightly clamped around Laila’s wind-pipe, and Mariam saw that he meant to carry this through.
He meant to suffocate her, and there was nothing either of them could do about it.
Mariam backed away and left the room. She was aware of a thumping sound from upstairs, aware that tiny palms were slapping against a locked door. She ran down the hallway. She burst through the front door. Crossed the yard.
In the toolshed, Mariam grabbed the shovel.
Rasheed didn’t notice her coming back into the room. He was still on top of Laila, his eyes wide and crazy, his hands wrapped around her neck. Laila’s face was turning blue now, and her eyes had rolled back. Mariam saw that she was no longer struggling.He’s going to kill her, she thought.He really means to. And Mariam could not, would not, allow that to happen. He’d taken so much from her in twenty-seven years of marriage. She would not watch him take Laila too.
Mariam steadied her feet and tightened her grip around the shovel’s handle. She raised it. She said his name. She wanted him to see.
He looked up.
She hit him across the temple. The blow knocked him off Laila.
Rasheed touched his head with the palm of his hand. He looked at the blood on his fingertips, then at Mariam. She thought she saw his face soften. She imagined that something had passed between them, that maybe she had quite literally knocked some understanding into his head. Maybe he saw something in her face too, Mariam thought, something that made him hedge. Maybe he saw some trace of all the self-denial, all the sacrifice, all the sheer exertion it had taken her to live with him for all these years, live with his continual condescension and violence, his faultfinding and meanness. Was that respect she saw in his eyes? Regret?
But then his upper lip curled back into a spiteful sneer, and Mariam knew then the futility, maybe even the irresponsibility, of not finishing this. If she let him walk now, how long before he fetched the key from his pocket and went for that gun of his upstairs in the room where he’d locked Zalmai? Had Mariam been certain that he would be satisfied with shooting only her, that there was a chance he would spare Laila, she might have dropped the shovel. But in Rasheed’s eyes she saw murder for them both.
And so Mariam raised the shovel high, raised it as high as she could, arching it so it touched the small of her back. She turned it so the sharp edge was vertical, and, as she did, it occurred to her that this was the first time thatshe was deciding the course of her own life.
And, with that, Mariam brought down the shovel This time, she gave it everything she had.
Laila was aware of the face over her, all teeth and tobacco and foreboding eyes. She was dimly aware, too, of Mariam, a presence beyond the face, of her fists raining down. Above them was the ceiling, and it was the ceiling Laila was drawn to, the dark markings of mold spreading across it like ink on a dress, the crack in the plaster that was a stolid smile or a frown, depending on which end of the room you looked at it from. Laila thought of all the times she had tied a rag around the end of a broom and cleaned cobwebs from this ceiling. The three times she and Mariam had put coats of white paint on it. The crack wasn’t a smile any longer now but a mocking leer. And it was receding. The ceiling was shrinking, lifting, rising away from her and toward some hazy dimness beyond. It rose until it shrank to the size of a postage stamp, white and bright, everything around it blotted out by the shuttered darkness. In the dark, Rasheed’s face was like a sunspot.
Brief little bursts of blinding light before her eyes now, like silver stars exploding. Bizarre geometric forms in the light, worms, egg-shaped things, moving up and down, sideways, melting into each other, breaking apart, morphing into something else, then fading, giving way to blackness.
Voices muffled and distant.
Behind the lids of her eyes, her children’s faces flared and fizzled. Aziza, alert and burdened, knowing, secretive. Zalmai, looking up at his father with quivering eagerness.
It would end like this, then, Laila thought. What a pitiable end-But then the darkness began to lift. She had a sensation of rising up, of being hoisted up. The ceiling slowly came back, expanded, and now Laila could make out the crack again, and it was the same old dull smile.
She was being shaken.Are you all right? Answer me, are you all right? Mariam’s face, engraved with scratches, heavy with worry, hovered over Laila.
Laila tried a breath. It burned her throat. She tried another. It burned even more this time, and not just her throat but her chest too. And then she was coughing, and wheezing. Gasping. But breathing. Her good ear rang.
The first thing she saw when she sat up was Rasheed. He was lying on his back, staring at nothing with an unblinking, fish-mouthed expression. A bit of foam, lightly pink, had dribbled from his mouth down his cheek. The front of his pants was wet. She saw his forehead.
Then she saw the shovel.
A groan came out of her. “Oh,” she said, tremulously, barely able to make a voice, “Oh, Mariam.”
Laila paced, moaning and banging her hands together, as Mariam sat near Rasheed, her hands in her lap, calm and motionless. Mariam didn’t say anything for a long time.
Laila’s mouth was dry, and she was stammering her words, trembling all over. She willed herself not to look at Rasheed, at the rictus of his mouth, his open eyes, at the blood congealing in the hollow of his collarbone.
Outside, the light was fading, the shadows deepening. Mariam’s face looked thin and drawn in this light, but she did not appear agitated or frightened, merely preoccupied, thoughtful, so self-possessed that when a fly landed on her chin she paid it no attention. She just sat there with her bottom lip stuck out, the way she did when she was absorbed in thought.
At last, she said, “Sit down, Laila jo.”
Laila did, obediently.
“We have to move him. Zalmai can’t see this.”
Mariam fished the bedroom key from Rasheed’s pocket before they wrapped him in a bedsheet. Laila took him by the legs, behind the knees, and Mariam grabbed him under the arms. They tried lifting him, but he was too heavy, and they ended up dragging him. As they were passing through the front door and into the yard, Rasheed’s foot caught against the doorframe and his leg bent sideways. They had to back up and try again, and then something thumped upstairs and Laila’s legs gave out. She dropped Rasheed. She slumped to the ground, sobbing and shaking, and Mariam had to stand over her, hands on hips, and say that she had to get herself together. That what was done was done-After a time, Laila got up and wiped her face, and they carried Rasheed to the yard without further incident. They took him into the toolshed. They left him behind the workbench, on which sat his saw, some nails, a chisel, a hammer, and a cylindrical block of wood that Rasheed had been meaning to carve into something for Zalmai but had never gotten around to doing-Then they went back inside. Mariam washed her hands, ran them through her hair, took a deep breath and let it out. “Let me tend to your wounds now. You’re all cut up, Laila jo.”
Mahiam said she needed the night to think things over. To get her thoughts together and devise a plan.
“There is a way,” she said, “and I just have to find it.”
“We have to leave! We can’t stay here,” Laila said in a broken, husky voice. She thought suddenly of the sound the shovel must have made striking Rasheed’s head, and her body pitched forward. Bile surged up her chest.
Mariam waited patiently until Laila felt better. Then she had Laila lie down, and, as she stroked Laila’s hair in her lap, Mariam said not to worry, that everything would be fine. She said that they would leave-she, Laila, the children, and Tariq too. They would leave this house, and this unforgiving city. They would leave this despondent country altogether, Mariam said, running her hands through Laila’s hair, and go someplace remote and safe where no one would find them, where they could disown their past and find shelter.
“Somewhere with trees,” she said. “Yes. Lots of trees.”
They would live in a small house on the edge of some town they’d never heard of, Mariam said, or in a remote village where the road was narrow and unpaved but lined with all manner of plants and shrubs. Maybe there would be a path to take, a path that led to a grass field where the children could play, or maybe a graveled road that would take them to a clear blue lake where trout swam and reeds poked through the surface. They would raise sheep and chickens, and they would make bread together and teach the children to read. They would make new lives for themselves-peaceful, solitary lives-and there the weight of all that they’d endured would lift from them, and they would be deserving of all the happiness and simple prosperity they would find.
Laila murmured encouragingly. It would be an existence rife with difficulties, she saw, but of a pleasurable kind, difficulties they could take pride in, possess, value, as one would a family heirloom. Mariam’s soft maternal voice went on, brought a degree of comfort to her.There is a way, she’d said, and, in the morning, Mariam would tell her what needed to be done and they would do it, and maybe by tomorrow this time they would be on their way to this new life, a life luxuriant with possibility and joy and welcomed difficulties. Laila was grateful that Mariam was in charge, unclouded and sober, able to think this through for both of them. Her own mind was a jittery, muddled mess.
Mariam got up. “You should tend to your son now.” On her was the most stricken expression Laila had ever seen on a human face.
Laila found him in the dark, curled up on Rasheed’sside of the mattress. She slipped beneath the covers beside him and pulled the blanket over them.
“Are you asleep?”
Without turning around to face her, he said, “Can’t sleep yet. Baba jan hasn’t said theBabaloo prayers with me.”
“Maybe I can say them with you tonight.”
“You can’t say them like he can.”
She squeezed his little shoulder. Kissed the nape of his neck. “I can try.”
“Where is Baba jan?”
“Baba jan has gone away,” Laila said, her throat closing up again.
And there it was, spoken for the first time, the great, damning lie.How many more times would this lie have to be told? Laila wondered miserably. How many more times would Zalmai have to be deceived? She pictured Zalmai, his jubilant, running welcomes when Rasheed came home and Rasheed picking him up by the elbows and swinging him round and round until Zalmai’s legs flew straight out, the two of them giggling afterward when Zalmai stumbled around like a drunk. She thought of their disorderly games and their boisterous laughs, their secretive glances.
A pall of shame and grief for her son fell over Laila.
“Where did he go?”
“I don’t know, my love.”
When was he coming back? Would Baba jan bring a present with him when he returned?
She did the prayers with Zalmai. Twenty-oneBismallah-e-rahman-erahims -one for each knuckle of seven fingers. She watched him cup his hands before his face and blow into them, then place the back of both hands on his forehead and make a casting-away motion, whispering, Babaloo,be gone, do not come to Zalmai, he has no business with you. Babaloo,be gone. Then, to finish off, they saidAilah-u-akbar three times. And later, much later that night, Laila was startled by a muted voice:Did Babajan leave because of me? Because of what I said, about you and the man downstairs?
She leaned over him, meaning to reassure, meaning to sayIt had nothing to do with you, Zalmai. No. Nothing is your fault. But he was asleep, his small chest rising and sinking.
When Laila “went to bed, her mind was muffled up, clouded, incapable of sustained rational thought. But when she woke up, to the muezzin’s call for morning prayer, much of the dullness had lifted.
She sat up and watched Zalmai sleep for a while, the ball of his fist under his chin. Laila pictured Mariam sneaking into the room in the middle of the night as she and Zalmai had slept, watching them, making plans in her head.
Laila slipped out of bed. It took effort to stand. She ached everywhere. Her neck, her shoulders, her back, her arms, her thighs, all engraved with the cuts of Rasheed’s belt buckle. Wincing, she quietly left the bedroom.
In Mariam’s room, the light was a shade darker than gray, the kind of light Laila had always associated with crowing roosters and dew rolling off blades of grass. Mariam was sitting in a corner, on a prayer rug facing the window. Slowly, Laila lowered herself to the ground, sitting down across from her.
“You should go and visit Aziza this morning,” Mariam said.
“I know what you mean to do.”
“Don’t walk. Take the bus, you’ll blend in. Taxis are too conspicuous. You’re sure to get stopped for riding alone.”
“What you promised last night…”
Laila could not finish. The trees, the lake, the nameless village. A delusion, she saw. A lovely lie meant to soothe. Like cooing to a distressed child.
“I meant it,” Mariam said. “I meant it foryou, Laila jo.”
“I don’t want any of it without you,” Laila croaked.
Mariam smiled wanly.
“I want it to be just like you said, Mariam, all of us going together, you, me, the children. Tariq has a place in Pakistan. We can hide out there for a while, wait for things to calm down-“
“That’s not possible,” Mariam said patiently, like a parent to a well-meaning but misguided child.
“We’ll take care of each other,” Laila said, choking on the words, her eyes wet with tears. “Like you said. No. I’ll take careof you for a change.”
“Oh, Laila jo.”
Laila went on a stammering rant. She bargained. She promised. She would do all the cleaning, she said, and all the cooking. “You won’t have to do a thing. Ever again. You rest, sleep in, plant a garden. Whatever you want, you ask and I’ll get it for you. Don’t do this, Mariam. Don’t leave me. Don’t break Aziza’s heart.”
“They chop off hands for stealing bread,” Mariam said “What do you think they’ll do when they find a dead husband and two missing wives?”
“No one will know,” Laila breathed. “No one will find us.”
“They will. Sooner or later. They’re bloodhounds.” Mariam’s voice was low, cautioning; it made Laila’s promises sound fantastical, trumped-up, foolish.
“When they do, they’ll find you as guilty as me. Tariq too. I won’t have the two of you living on the run, like fugitives. What will happen to your children if you’re caught?”
Laila’s eyes brimming, stinging.
“Who will take care of them then? The Taliban? Think like a mother, Laila jo. Think like a mother. I am.”
“You have to.”
“It isn’t fair,” Laila croaked.
“But itis. Come here. Come lie here.”
Laila crawled to her and again put her head on Mariam’s lap. She remembered all the afternoons they’d spent together, braiding each other’s hair, Mariam listening patiently to her random thoughts and ordinary stories with an air of gratitude, with the expression of a person to whom a unique and coveted privilege had been extended “Itis fair,” Mariam said. “I’ve killed our husband. I’ve deprived your son of his father. It isn’t right that I run. Ican’t. Even if they never catch us, I’ll never…” Her lips trembled. “I’ll never escape your son’s grief How do I look at him? How do I ever bring myself to look at him, Laila jo?”
Mariam twiddled a strand of Laila’s hair, untangled a stubborn curl.
“For me, it ends here. There’s nothing more I want. Everything I’d ever wished for as a little girl you’ve already given me. You and your children have made me so very happy. It’s all right, Laila jo. This is all right. Don’t be sad.”
Laila could find no reasonable answer for anything Mariam said. But she rambled on anyway, incoherently, childishly, about fruit trees that awaited planting and chickens that awaited raising. She went on about small houses in unnamed towns, and walks to trout-filled lakes. And, in the end, when the words dried up, the tears did not, and all Laila could do was surrender and sob like a child over-whelmed by an adult’s unassailable logic. All she could do was roll herself up and bury her face one last time in the welcoming warmth of Mariam’s lap.
Later that morning, Mariam packed Zalmai a small lunch of bread and dried figs. For Aziza too she packed some figs, and a few cookies shaped like animals. She put it all in a paper bag and gave it to Laila.
“Kiss Aziza for me,” she said. “Tell her she is thenoor of my eyes and the sultan of my heart. Will you do that for me?”
Laila nodded, her lips pursed together.
“Take the bus, like I said, and keep your head low.”
“When will I see you, Mariam? I want to see you before I testify. I’ll tell them how it happened. I’ll explain that it wasn’t your fault. That you had to do it. They’ll understand, won’t they, Mariam? They’ll understand.”
Mariam gave her a soft look.
She hunkered down to eye level with Zalmai. He was wearing a red T-shirt, ragged khakis, and a used pair of cowboy boots Rasheed had bought him from Mandaii. He was holding his new basketball with both hands. Mariam planted a kiss on his cheek.
“You be a good, strong boy, now,” she said. “You treat your mother well.” She cupped his face. He pulled back but she held on. “I am so sorry, Zalmai jo. Believe me that I’m so very sorry for all your pain and sadness.”
Laila held Zalmai’s hand as they walked down the road together. Just before they turned the corner, Laila looked back and saw Mariam at the door. Mariam was wearing a white scarf over her head, a dark blue sweater buttoned in the front, and white cotton trousers. A crest of gray hair had fallen loose over her brow. Bars of sunlight slashed across her face and shoulders. Mariam waved amiably.
They turned the corner, and Laila never saw Mariam again.
Back in akolba, it seemed, after all these years.
The Walayat women’s prison was a drab, square-shaped building in Shar-e-Nau near Chicken Street. It sat in the center of a larger complex that housed male inmates. A padlocked door separated Mariam and the other women from the surrounding men. Mariam counted five working cells. They were unfurnished rooms, with dirty, peeling walls, and small windows that looked into the courtyard. The windows were barred, even though the doors to the cells were unlocked and the women were free to come and go to the courtyard as they pleased. The windows had no glass. There were no curtains either, which meant the Talib guards who roamed the courtyard had an eyeful of the interior of the cells. Some of the women complained that the guards smoked outside the window and leered in, with their inflamed eyes and wolfish smiles, that they muttered indecent jokes to each other about them. Because of this, most of the women wore burqas all day and lifted them only after sundown, after the main gate was locked and the guards had gone to their posts.
At night, the cell Mariam shared with five women and four children was dark. On those nights when there was electrical power, they hoisted Naghma, a short, flat-chested girl with black frizzy hair, up to the ceiling. There was a wire there from which the coating had been stripped. Naghma would hand-wrap the live wire around the base of the lightbulb then to make a circuit.
The toilets were closet-sized, the cement floor cracked There was a small, rectangular hole in the ground, at the bottom of which was a heap of feces. Flies buzzed in and out of the hole-In the middle of the prison was an open, rectangular courtyard, and, in the middle of that, a well The well had no drainage, meaning the courtyard was often a swamp and the water tasted rotten. Laundry lines, loaded with handwashed socks and diapers, slashed across each other in the courtyard. This was where inmates met visitors, where they boiled the rice their families brought them-the prison provided no food The courtyard was also the children’s playground-Mariam had learned that many of the children had been born in Walayat, had never seen the world outside these walls. Mariam watched them chase each other around, watched their shoeless feet sling mud. All day, they ran around, making up lively games, unaware of the stench of feces and urine that permeated Walayat and their own bodies, unmindful of the Talib guards until one smacked them.
Mariam had no visitors. That was the first and only thing she had asked the Talib officials here. No visitors.
None of the women in Mariam’s cell were serving time for violent crime-they were all there for the common offense of “running away from home.” As a result, Mariam gained some notoriety among them, became a kind of celebrity. The women eyed her with a reverent, almost awestruck, expression. They offered her their blankets. They competed to share their food with her.
The most avid was Naghma, who was always hugging her elbows and following Mariam everywhere she went. Naghma was the sort of person who found it entertaining to dispense news of misfortune, whether others’ or her own. She said her father had promised her to a tailor some thirty years older than her.
“He smellslike goh, and has fewer teeth than fingers,” Naghma said of the tailor.
She’d tried to elope to Gardez with a young man she’d fallen in love with, the son of a local mullah. They’d barely made it out of Kabul. When they were caught and sent back, the mullah’s son was flogged before he repented and said that Naghma had seduced him with her feminine charms. She’d cast a spell on him, he said. He promised he would rededicate himself to the study of the Koran. The mullah’s son was freed. Naghma was sentenced to five years.
It was just as well, she said, her being here in prison. Her father had sworn that the day she was released he would take a knife to her throat.
Listening to Naghma, Mariam remembered the dim glimmer of cold stars and the stringy pink clouds streaking over the Safid-koh mountains that long-ago morning when Nana had said to her,Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.
Mamam’S trial had taken place the week before. There was no legal council, no public hearing, no cross-examining of evidence, no appeals. Mariam declined her right to witnesses. The entire thing lasted less than fifteen minutes.
The middle judge, a brittle-looking Talib, was the leader. He was strikingly gaunt, with yellow, leathery skin and a curly red beard. He wore eyeglasses that magnified his eyes and revealed how yellow the whites were. His neck looked too thin to support the intricately wrapped turban on his head.
“You admit to this,hamshira?I he asked again in a tired voice.
“I do,” Mariam said.
The man nodded. Or maybe he didn’t. It was hard to tell; he had a pronounced shaking of his hands and head that reminded Mariam of Mullah Faizullah’s tremor. When he sipped tea, he did not reach for his cup. He motioned to the square-shouldered man to his left, who respectfully brought it to his lips. After, the Talib closed his eyes gently, a muted and elegant gesture of gratitude.
Mariam found a disarming quality about him. When he spoke, it was with a tinge of guile and tenderness. His smile was patient. He did not look at Mariam despisingly. He did not address her with spite or accusation but with a soft tone of apology.
“Do you fully understand what you’re saying?” the bony-faced Talib to the judge’s right, not the tea giver, said. This one was the youngest of the three. He spoke quickly and with emphatic, arrogant confidence. He’d been irritated that Mariam could not speak Pashto. He struck Mariam as the sort of quarrelsome young man who relished his authority, who saw offenses everywhere, thought it his birthright to pass judgment.
“I do understand,” Mariam said.
“I wonder,” the young Talib said. “God has made us differently, you women and us men. Our brains are different. You are not able to think like we can. Western doctors and their science have proven this. This is why we require only one male witness but two female ones.”
“I admit to what I did, brother,” Mariam said. “But, if I hadn’t, he would have killed her. He was strangling her.”
“So you say. But, then, women swear to all sorts of things all the time.”
“It’s the truth.”
“Do you have witnesses? Other than yourambagh?’’
“I do not,” said Mariam.
“Well, then.” He threw up his hands and snickered.
It was the sickly Talib who spoke next.
“I have a doctor in Peshawar,” he said. “A fine, young Pakistani fellow. I saw him a month ago, and then again last week. I said, tell me the truth, friend, and he said to me, three months, Mullah sahib, maybe six at most-all God’s will, of course.”
He nodded discreetly at the square-shouldered man on his left and took another sip of the tea he was offered. He wiped his mouth with the back of his tremulous hand. “It does not frighten me to leave this life that my only son left five years ago, this life that insists we bear sorrow upon sorrow long after we can bear no more. No, I believe I shall gladly take my leave when the time comes.
“What frightens me,hamshira, is the day God summons me before Him and asks,Why did you not do as I said, Mullah? Why did you not obey my laws? How shall I explain myself to Him,hamshira1? What will be my defense for not heeding His commands? All I can do, all any of us can do, in the time we are granted, is to go on abiding by the laws He has set for us. The clearer I see my end,hamshira, the nearer I am to my day of reckoning, the more determined I grow to carry out His word. However painful it may prove.”
He shifted on his cushion and winced.
“I believe you when you say that your husband was a man of disagreeable temperament,” he resumed, fixing Mariam with his bespectacled eyes, his gaze both stern and compassionate. “But I cannot help but be disturbed by the brutality of your action,hamshira I am troubled by what you have done; I am troubled that his little boy was crying for him upstairs when you did it.
“I am tired and dying, and I want to be merciful. I want to forgive you. But when God summons me and says,But it wasn’t for you to forgive, Mullah, what shall I say?”
His companions nodded and looked at him with admiration.
“Something tells me you are not a wicked woman,hamshira But you have done a wicked thing. And you must pay for this thing you have done.Shari’a is not vague on this matter. It says I must send you where I will soon join you myself.
“Do you understand,hamshira?”
Mariam looked down at her hands. She said she did.
“May Allah forgive you.”
Before they led her out, Mariam was given a document, told to sign beneath her statement and the mullah’s sentence. As the three Taliban watched, Mariam wrote it out, her name-themeem, thereh, theyah, and themeem -remembering the last time she’d signed her name to a document, twenty-seven years before, at Jalil’s table, beneath the watchful gaze of another mullah.
Mahiam spent ten days in prison. She sat by the window of the cell, watched the prison life in the courtyard. When the summer winds blew, she watched bits of scrap paper ride the currents in a frenzied, corkscrew motion, as they were hurled this way and that, high above the prison walls. She watched the winds stir mutiny in the dust, whipping it into violent spirals that ripped through the courtyard. Everyone-the guards, the inmates, the children, Mariam-burrowed their faces in the hook of their elbows, but the dust would not be denied. It made homes of ear canals and nostrils, of eyelashes and skin folds, of the space between molars. Only at dusk did the winds die down. And then if a night breeze blew, it did so timidly, as if to atone for the excesses of its daytime sibling.
On Mariam’s last day at Walayat, Naghma gave her a tangerine. She put it in Mariam’s palm and closed her fingers around it. Then she burst into tears.
“You’re the best friend I ever had,” she said.
Mariam spent the rest of the day by the barred window watching the inmates below. Someone was cooking a meal, and a stream of cumin-scented smoke and warm air wafted through the window. Mariam could see the children playing a blindfolded game. Two little girls were singing a rhyme, and Mariam remembered it from her childhood, remembered Jalil singing it to her as they’d sat on a rock, fishing in the stream: Lili Mi birdbath, Sitting on a dirt path, Minnow sat on the rim and drank, Slipped, and in the water she sank Mariam had disjointed dreams that last night. She dreamed of pebbles, eleven of them, arranged vertically. Jalil, young again, all winning smiles and dimpled chins and sweat patches, coat flung over his shoulder, come at last to take his daughter away for a ride in his shiny black Buick Roadmaster. Mullah Faizullah twirling his rosary beads, walking with her along the stream, their twin shadows gliding on the water and on the grassy banks sprinkled with a blue-lavender wild iris that, in this dream, smelled like cloves. She dreamed of Nana in the doorway of thekolba, her voice dim and distant, calling her to dinner, as Mariam played in cool, tangled grass where ants crawled and beetles scurried and grasshoppers skipped amid all the different shades of green. The squeak of a wheelbarrow laboring up a dusty path. Cowbells clanging. Sheep baaing on a hill.
On the way to Ghazi Stadium, Mariam bounced in the bed of the truck as it skidded around potholes andits wheels spat pebbles. The bouncing hurt her tailbone. A young, armed Talib sat across from her looking at her.
Mariam wondered if he would be the one, this amiable-looking young man with the deep-set bright eyes and slightly pointed face, with the black-nailed index finger drumming the side of the truck.
“Are you hungry, mother?” he said.
Mariam shook her head.
“I have a biscuit. It’s good. You can have it if you’re hungry. I don’t mind.”
He nodded, looked at her benignly. “Are you afraid, mother?”
A lump closed off her throat. In a quivering voice, Mariam told him the truth.
“Yes. I’m very afraid.”
“I have a picture of my father,” he said. “I don’t remember him. He was a bicycle repairman once, I know that much. But I don’t remember how he moved, you know, how he laughed or the sound of his voice.” He looked away, then back at Mariam. “My mother used to say that he was the bravest man she knew. Like a lion, she’d say.
But she told me he was crying like a child the morning the communists took him. I’m telling you so you know that it’s normal to be scared. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, mother.”
For the first time that day, Mariam cried a little.
Thousands of eyes bore down on her. In the crowded bleachers, necks were craned for the benefit of a better view. Tongues clucked. A murmuring sound rippled through the stadium when Mariam was helped down from the truck. Mariam imagined heads shaking when the loudspeaker announced her crime. But she did not look up to see whether they were shaking with disapproval or charity, with reproach or pity. Mariam blinded herself to them all.
Earlier that morning, she had been afraid that she would make a fool of herself, that she would turn into a pleading, weeping spectacle. She had feared that she might scream or vomit or even wet herself, that, in her last moments, she would be betrayed by animal instinct or bodily disgrace. But when she was made to descend from the truck, Mariam’s legs did not buckle. Her arms did not flail. She did not have to be dragged. And when she did feel herself faltering, she thought of Zalmai, from whom she had taken the love of his life, whose days now would be shaped by the sorrow of his father’s disappearance. And then Mariam’s stride steadied and she could walk without protest.
An armed man approached her and told her to walk toward the southern goalpost. Mariam could sense the crowd tightening up with anticipation. She did not look up. She kept her eyes to the ground, on her shadow, on her executioner’s shadow trailing hers.
Though there had been moments of beauty in it, Mariam knew that life for the most part had been unkind to her. But as she walked the final twenty paces, she could not help but wish for more of it. She wished she could see Laila again, wished to hear the clangor of her laugh, to sit with her once more for a pot ofchai and leftoverhalwa under a starlit sky. She mourned that she would never see Aziza grow up, would not see the beautiful young woman that she would one day become, would not get to paint her hands with henna and tossnoqul candy at her wedding. She would never play with Aziza’s children. She would have liked that very much, to be old and play with Aziza’s children.
Near the goalpost, the man behind her asked her to stop. Mariam did. Through the crisscrossing grid of the burqa, she saw his shadow arms lift his shadow Kalashnikov.
Mariam wished for so much in those final moments. Yet as she closed her eyes, it was not regret any longer but a sensation of abundant peace that washed over her. She thought of her entry into this world, theharami child of a lowly villager, an unintended thing, a pitiable, regrettable accident. A weed. And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last. No. It was not so bad, Mariam thought, that she should die this way. Not so bad. This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings.
Mariam’s final thoughts were a few words from the Koran, which she muttered under her breath.
He has created the heavens and the earth with the truth; He makes the night cover the day and makes the day overtake the night, and He has made the sun and the moon subservient; each one runs on to an assigned term; now surely He is the Mighty, the Great Forgiver.
“Kneel,” the Talib said
O my Lord! Forgive and have mercy, for you are the best of the merciful ones.
“Kneel here,hamshira And look down.”
One last time, Mariam did as she was told.
Tariq has headaches now.
Some nights, Laila awakens and finds him on the edge of their bed, rocking, his undershirt pulled over his head The headaches began in Nasir Bagh, he says, then worsened in prison. Sometimes they make him vomit, blind him in one eye. He says it feels like a butcher’s knife burrowing in one temple, twisting slowly through his brain, then poking out the other side.
“I can taste the metal, even, when they begin.”
Sometimes Laila wets a cloth and lays it on his forehead and that helps a little. The little round white pills Sayeed’s doctor gave Tariq help too. But some nights, all Tariq can do is hold his head and moan, his eyes bloodshot, his nose dripping. Laila sits with him when he’s in the grip of it like that, rubs the back of his neck, takes his hand in hers, the metal of his wedding band cold against her palm.
They married the day that they arrived in Murree. Sayeed looked relieved when Tariq told him they would. He would not have to broach with Tariq the delicate matter of an unmarried couple living in his hotel. Sayeed is not at all as Laila had pictured him, ruddy-faced and pea-eyed. He has a salt-and-pepper mustache whose ends he rolls to a sharp tip, and a shock of long gray hair combed back from the brow. He is a soft-spoken, mannerly man, with measured speech and graceful movements.
It was Sayeecl who summoned a friend and a mullah for thenikka that day, Sayeed who pulled Tariq aside and gave him money. Tariq wouldn’t take it, but Sayeed insisted. Tariq went to the Mall then and came back with two simple, thin wedding bands. They married later that night, after the children had gone to bed.
In the mirror, beneath the green veil that the mullah draped over their heads, Laila’s eyes met Tariq’s. There were no tears, no wedding-day smiles, no whispered oaths of long-lasting love. In silence, Laila looked at their reflection, at faces that had aged beyond their years, at the pouches and lines and sags that now marked their once-scrubbed, youthful faces. Tariq opened his mouth and began to say something, but, just as he did, someone pulled the veil, and Laila missed what it was that he was going to say.
That night, they lay in bed as husband and wife, as the children snored below them on sleeping cots. Laila remembered the ease with which they would crowd the air between them with words, she and Tariq, when they were younger, the haywire, brisk flow of their speech, always interrupting each other, tugging each other’s collar to emphasize a point, the quickness to laugh, the eagerness to delight. So much had happened since those childhood days, so much that needed to be said. But that first night the enormity of it all stole the words from her. That night, it was blessing enough to be beside him. It was blessing enough to know that he was here, to feel the warmth of him next to her, to lie with him, their heads touching, his right hand laced in her left.
In the middle of the night, when Laila woke up thirsty, she found their hands still clamped together, in the white-knuckle, anxious way of children clutching balloon strings.
Laila likes Mukree’S cool, foggy mornings and its dazzling twilights, the dark brilliance of the sky at night; the green of the pines and the soft brown of the squirrels darting up and down the sturdy tree trunks; the sudden downpours that send shoppers in the Mall scrambling for awning cover. She likes the souvenir shops, and the various hotels that house tourists, even as the locals bemoan the constant construction, the expansion of infrastructure that they say is eating away at Murree’s natural beauty. Laila finds it odd that people should lament thebuilding of buildings. In Kabul, they would celebrate it.
She likes that they have a bathroom, not an outhouse but an actual bathroom, with a toilet that flushes, a shower, and a sink too, with twin faucets from which she can draw, with a flick of her wrist, water, either hot or cold. She likes waking up to the sound of Alyona bleating in the morning, and the harmlessly cantankerous cook, Adiba, who works marvels in the kitchen.
Sometimes, as Laila watches Tariq sleep, as her children mutter and stir in their own sleep, a great big lump of gratitude catches in her throat, makes her eyes water.
In the mornings, Laila follows Tariq from room to room. Keys jingle from a ring clipped to his waist and a spray bottle of window cleaner dangles from the belt loops of his jeans. Laila brings a pail filled with rags, disinfectant, a toilet brush, and spray wax for the dressers. Aziza tags along, a mop in one hand, the bean-stuffed doll Mariam had made for her in the other. Zalmai trails them reluctantly, sulkily, always a few steps behind.
Laila vacuums, makes the bed, and dusts. Tariq washes the bathroom sink and tub, scrubs the toilet and mops the linoleum floor. He stocks the shelves with clean towels, miniature shampoo bottles, and bars of almond-scented soap. Aziza has laid claim to the task of spraying and wiping the windows. The doll is never far from where she works.
Laila told Aziza about Tariq a few days after thenikka
It is strange, Laila thinks, almost unsettling, the thing between Aziza and Tariq. Already, Aziza is finishing his sentences and he hers. She hands him things before he asks for them. Private smiles shoot between them across the dinner table as if they are not strangers at all but companions reunited after a lengthy separation.
Aziza looked down thoughtfully at her hands when Laila told her.
“I like him,” she said, after a long pause.
“He said that?”
“He doesn’t have to, Aziza.”
“Tell me the rest, Mammy. Tell me so I know.”
And Laila did.
“Your father is a good man. He is the best man I’ve ever known.”
“What if he leaves?” Aziza said
“He will never leave. Look at me, Aziza. Your father will never hurt you, and he will never leave.”
The relief on Aziza’s face broke Laila’s heart.
Tariq has bought Zalmai a rocking horse, built him a wagon. From a prison inmate, he learned to make paper animals, and so he has folded, cut, and tucked countless sheets of paper into lions and kangaroos for Zalmai, into horses and brightly plumed birds. But these overtures are dismissed by Zalmai unceremoniously, sometimes venomously.
“You’re a donkey!” he cries. “I don’t want your toys!”
“Zalmai!” Laila gasps.
“It’s all right,” Tariq says. “Laila, it’s all right. Let him.”
“You’re not my Baba jan! My real Baba jan is away on a trip, and when he gets back he’s going to beat you up! And you won’t be able to run away, because he has two legs and you only have one!”
At night, Laila holds Zalmai against her chest and recitesBabaloo prayers with him. When he asks, she tells him the lie again, tells him his Baba jan has gone away and she doesn’t know when he would come back. She abhors this task, abhors herself for lying like this to a child Laila knows that this shameful lie will have to be told again and again. It will have to because Zalmai will ask, hopping down from a swing, waking from an afternoon nap, and, later, when he’s old enough to tie his own shoes, to walk to school by himself, the lie will have to be delivered again.
At some point, Laila knows, the questions will dry up. Slowly, Zalmai will cease wondering why his father has abandoned him. He will not spot his father any longer at traffic lights, in stooping old men shuffling down the street or sipping tea in open-fronted samovar houses. And one day it will hit him, walking along some meandering river, or gazing out at an untracked snowfield, that his father’s disappearance is no longer an open, raw wound. That it has become something else altogether, something more soft-edged and indolent. Like a lore. Something to be revered, mystified by.
Laila is happy here in Murree. But it is not an easy happiness. It is not a happiness without cost.
On his days off, Tariq takes Laila and the children to the Mall, along which are shops that sell trinkets and next to which is an Anglican church built in the mid-nineteenth century. Tariq buys them spicychapli kebabs from street vendors. They stroll amid the crowds of locals, the Europeans and their cellular phones and digital cameras, the Punjabis who come here to escape the heat of the plains.
Occasionally, they board a bus to Kashmir Point. From there, Tariq shows them the valley of the Jhelum River, the pine-carpeted slopes, and the lush, densely wooded hills, where he says monkeys can still be spotted hopping from branch to branch. They go to the mapleclad Nathia Gali too, some thirty kilometers from Murree, where Tariq holds Laila’s hand as they walk the tree-shaded road to the Governor’s House. They stop by the old British cemetery, or take a taxi up a mountain peak for a view of the verdant, fog-shrouded valley below.
Sometimes on these outings, when they pass by a store window, Laila catches their reflections in it. Man, wife, daughter, son. To strangers, she knows, they must appear like the most ordinary of families, free of secrets, lies, and regrets.
Azizahas nightmares from which she wakes up shrieking. Laila has to lie beside her on the cot, dry her cheeks with her sleeve, soothe her back to sleep.
Laila has her own dreams. In them, she’s always back at the house in Kabul, walking the hall, climbing the stairs.
She is alone, but behind the doors she hears the rhythmic hiss of an iron, bedsheets snapped, then folded. Sometimes she hears a woman’s low-pitched humming of an old Herati song. But when she walks in, the room is empty. There is no one there.
The dreams leave Laila shaken. She wakes from them coated in sweat, her eyes prickling with tears. It is devastating. Every time, it is devastating.
One Sunday that September, Laila is putting Zalmai, who has a cold, down for a nap when Tariq bursts into their bungalow.
“Did you hear?” he says, panting a little. “They killed him. Ahmad Shah Massoud. He’s dead.”
From the doorway, Tariq tells her what he knows.
“They say he gave an interview to a pair of journalists who claimed they were Belgians originally from Morocco. As they’re talking, a bomb hidden in the video camera goes off. Kills Massoud and one of the journalists. They shoot the other one as he tries to run. They’re saying now the journalists were probably Al-Qaeda men.”
Laila remembers the poster of Ahmad Shah Massoud that Mammy had nailed to the wall of her bedroom. Massoud leaning forward, one eyebrow cocked, his face furrowed in concentration, as though he was respectfully listening to someone. Laila remembers how grateful Mammy was that Massoud had said a graveside prayer at her sons’ burial, how she told everyone about it. Even after war broke out between his faction and the others, Mammy had refused to blame him.He’s a good man, she used to say.
He wants peace. He wants to rebuild Afghanistan. But they won ‘t let him. They just won ‘t let him.For Mammy, even in the end, even after everything went so terribly wrong and Kabul lay in ruins, Massoud was still the Lion of Panjshir.
Laila is not as forgiving- Massoud’s violent end brings her no joy, but she remembers too well the neighborhoods razed under his watch, the bodies dragged from the rubble, the hands and feet of children discovered on rooftops or the high branch of some tree days after their funeral She remembers too clearly the look on Mammy’s own face moments before the rocket slammed in and, much as she has tried to forget, Babi’s headless torso landing nearby, the bridge tower printed on his T-shirt poking through thick fog and blood.
“There is going to be a funeral,” Tariq is saying. “I’m sure of it. Probably in Rawalpindi. It’ll be huge.”
Zalmai, who was almost asleep, is sitting up now, rubbing his eyes with balled fists.
Two days later, they are cleaning a room when they hear a commotion. Tariq drops the mop and hurries out. Laila tails him.
Thenoise is coming from the hotel lobby. There is a lounge area to the right of the reception desk, with several chairs and two couches upholstered in beige suede. In the corner, facing the couches, is a television, and Sayeed, the concierge, and several guests are gathered in front of.
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 Laden.
“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.”
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