بخش 5

کتاب: هزار خورشید تابان / فصل 5

هزار خورشید تابان

11 فصل

بخش 5

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

این فصل را می‌توانید به بهترین شکل و با امکانات عالی در اپلیکیشن «زیبوک» بخوانید

دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

فایل صوتی

برای دسترسی به این محتوا بایستی اپلیکیشن زبانشناس را نصب کنید.

متن انگلیسی فصل

It was a dazzling, cloudless day, perfect for a party. The men sat on rickety folding chairs in the yard. They drank tea and smoked and talked in loud bantering voices about the Mujahideen’s plan. From Babi, Laila had learned the outline of it: Afghanistan was now called the Islamic State of Afghanistan. An Islamic Jihad Council, formed in Peshawar by several of the Mujahideen factions, would oversee things for two months, led by Sibghatullah Mojadidi. This would be followed then by a leadership council led by Rabbani, who would take over for four months. During those six months, aloyajirga would be held, a grand council of leaders and elders, who would form an interim government to hold power for two years, leading up to democratic elections.

One of the men was fanning skewers of lamb sizzling over a makeshift grill Babi and Tariq’s father were playing a game of chess in the shade of the old pear tree. Their faces were scrunched up in concentration. Tariq was sitting at the board too, in turns watching the match, then listening in on the political chat at the adjacent table.

The women gathered in the living room, the hallway, and the kitchen. They chatted as they hoisted their babies and expertly dodged, with minute shifts of their hips, the children tearing after each other around the house. An Ustad Sarahangghazal blared from a cassette player.

Laila was in the kitchen, making carafes ofdogh with Giti. Giti was no longer as shy, or as serious, as before. For several months now, the perpetual severe scowl had cleared from her brow. She laughed openly these days, more frequently, and-it struck Laila-a bit flirtatiously. She had done away with the drab ponytails, let her hair grow, and streaked it with red highlights. Laila learned eventually that the impetus for this transformation was an eighteen-year-old boy whose attention Giti had caught. His name was Sabir, and he was a goalkeeper on Giti’s older brother’s soccer team.

“Oh, he has the most handsome smile, and this thick, thick black hair!” Giti had told Laila. No one knew about their attraction, of course. Giti had secretly met him twice for tea, fifteen minutes each time, at a small teahouse on the other side of town, in Taimani.

“He’s going to ask for my hand, Laila! Maybe as early as this summer. Can you believe it? I swear I can’t stop thinking about him.”

“What about school?” Laila had asked. Giti had tilted her head and given her aWe both know better look.

By the time we’re twenty,Hasina used to say,Giti and I, we’ll have pushed out four, five kids each Bui you, Laila, you ‘1Imake m two dummies proud. You ‘re going to be somebody. I know one day I’ll pick up a newspaper and find your picture on the frontpage.

Giti was beside Laila now, chopping cucumbers, with a dreamy, far-off look on her face.

Mammy was nearby, in her brilliant summer dress, peeling boiled eggs with Wajma, the midwife, and Tariq’s mother.

“I’m going to present Commander Massoud with a picture of Ahmad and Noor,” Mammy was saying to Wajma as Wajma nodded and tried to look interested and sincere.

“He personally oversaw the burial. He said a prayer at their grave. It’ll be a token of thanks for his decency.” Mammy cracked another boiled egg. “I hear he’s a reflective, honorable man. I think he would appreciate it.”

All around them, women bolted in and out of the kitchen, carried out bowls ofqurma, platters ofmasiawa, loaves of bread, and arranged it all onthesofrah spread on the living-room floor.

Every once in a while, Tariq sauntered in. He picked at this, nibbled on that.

“No men allowed,” said Giti.

“Out, out, out,” cried Wajma.

Tariq smiled at the women’s good-humored shooing. He seemed to take pleasure in not being welcome here, in infecting this female atmosphere with his half-grinning, masculine irreverence.

Laila did her best not to look at him, not to give these women any more gossip fodder than they already had So she kept her eyes down and said nothing to him, but she remembered a dream she’d had a few nights before, of his face and hers, together in a mirror, beneath a soft, green veil. And grains of rice, dropping from his hair, bouncing off the glass with alink.

Tariq reached to sample a morsel of veal cooked with potatoes.

“Ho bacha!”Giti slapped the back of his hand. Tariq stole it anyway and laughed.

He stood almost a foot taller than Laila now. He shaved. His face was leaner, more angular. His shoulders had broadened. Tariq liked to wear pleated trousers, black shiny loafers, and short-sleeve shirts that showed off his newly muscular arms-compliments of an old, rusty set of barbells that he lifted daily in his yard. His face had lately adopted an expression of playful contentiousness. He had taken to a self-conscious cocking of his head when he spoke, slightly to the side, and to arching one eyebrow when he laughed. He let his hair grow and had fallen into the habit of tossing the floppy locks often and unnecessarily. The corrupt half grin was a new thing too.

The last time Tariq was shooed out of the kitchen, his mother caught Laila stealing a glance at him. Laila’s heart jumped, and her eyes fluttered guiltily. She quickly occupied herself with tossing the chopped cucumber into the pitcher of salted, watered-down yogurt. But she could sense Tariq’s mother watching, her knowing, approving half smile.

The men filled their plates and glasses and took their meals to the yard. Once they had taken their share, the women and children settled on the floor around thesofrah and ate.

It was afterfat sofrah was cleared and the plates were stacked in the kitchen, when the frenzy of tea making and remembering who took green and who black started, that Tariq motioned with his head and slipped out the door.

Laila waited five minutes, then followed.

She found him three houses down the street, leaning against the wall at the entrance of a narrow-mouthed alley between two adjacent houses. He was humming an old Pashto song, by Ustad Awal Mir: Da ze ma ziba waian, da ze ma dada waian. This is our beautiful land, this is our beloved land.

And he was smoking, another new habit, which he’d picked up from the guys Laila spotted him hanging around with these days. Laila couldn’t stand them, these new friends of Tariq’s. They all dressed the same way, pleated trousers, and tight shirts that accentuated their arms and chest. They all wore too much cologne, and they all smoked. They strutted around the neighborhood in groups, joking, laughing loudly, sometimes even calling after girls, with identical stupid, self-satisfied grins on their faces. One of Tariq’s friends, on the basis of the most passing of resemblances to Sylvester Stallone, insisted he be called Rambo.

“Your mother would kill you if she knew about your smoking,” Laila said, looking one way, then the other, before slipping into the alley.

“But she doesn’t,” he said. He moved aside to make room.

“That could change.”

“Who is going to tell? You?”

Laila tapped her foot. “Tell your secret to the wind, but don’t blame it for telling the trees.”

Tariq smiled, the one eyebrow arched. “Who said that?”

“Khalil Gibran.”

“You’re a show-off.”

“Give me a cigarette.”

He shook his head no and crossed his arms. This was a new entry in his repertoire of poses: back to the wall, arms crossed, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, his good leg casually bent.

“Why not?”

“Bad for you,” he said.

“And it’s not bad for you?”

“I do it for the girls.”

“What girls?”

He smirked. “They think it’s sexy.”

“It’s not.”


“I assure you.”

“Not sexy?”

“You lookkhila, like a half-wit.”

“That hurts,” he said

“What girls anyway?”

“You’re jealous.”

“I’m indifferently curious.”

“You can’t be both.” He took another drag and squinted through the smoke. “I’ll bet they’re talking about us now.”

In Laila’s head, Mammy’s voice rang out.Like a mynah bird in your hands. Slacken your grip and away it flies. Guilt bore its teeth into her. Then Laila shut off Mammy’s voice. Instead, she savored the way Tariq had saidus. How thrilling, how conspiratorial, it sounded coming from him. And how reassuring to hear him say it like that-casually, naturally.Us. It acknowledged their connection, crystallized it.

“And what are they saying?”

“That we’re canoeing down the River of Sin,” he said. “Eating a slice of Impiety Cake.”

“Riding the Rickshaw of Wickedness?” Laila chimed in.

“Making SacrilegeQurma.”

They both laughed. Then Tariq remarked that her hair was getting longer. “It’s nice,” he said Laila hoped she wasn’t blushing- “You changed the subject.”

“From what?”

“The empty-headed girls who think you’re sexy.”

“You know.”

“Know what?”

“That I only have eyes for you.”

Laila swooned inside. She tried to read his face but was met by a look that was indecipherable: the cheerful, cretinous grin at odds with the narrow, half-desperate look in his eyes. A clever look, calculated to fall precisely at the midpoint between mockery and sincerity.

Tariq crushed his cigarette with the heel of his good foot. “So what do you think about all this?”

“The party?”

“Who’s the half-wit now?I meant the Mujahideen, Laila. Their coming to Kabul.”


She started to tell him something Babi had said, about the troublesome marriage of guns and ego, when she heard a commotion coming from the house. Loud voices. Screaming.

Laila took off running. Tariq hobbled behind her.

There was a melee in the yard. In the middle of it were two snarling men, rolling on the ground, a knife between them. Laila recognized one of them as a man from the table who had been discussing politics earlier. The other was the man who had been fanning the kebab skewers. Several men were trying to pull them apart. Babi wasn’t among them. He stood by the wall, at a safe distance from the fight, with Tariq’s father, who was crying.

From the excited voices around her, Laila caught snippets that she put together: The fellow at the politics table, a Pashtun, had called Ahmad Shah Massoud a traitor for “making a deal” with the Soviets in the 1980s. The kebab man, a Tajik, had taken offense and demanded a retraction. The Pashtun had refused. The Tajik had said that if not for Massoud, the other man’s sister would still be “giving it” to Soviet soldiers. They had come to blows. One of them had then brandished a knife; there was disagreement as to who.

With horror, Laila saw that Tariq had thrown himself into the scuffle. She also saw that some of the peacemakers were now throwing punches of their own. She thought she spotted a second knife.

Later that evening, Laila thought of how the melee had toppled over, with men falling on top of one another, amid yelps and cries and shouts and flying punches, and, in the middle of it, a grimacing Tariq, his hair disheveled, his leg come undone, trying to crawl out.

It was dizzyinghow quickly everything unraveled.

The leadership council was formed prematurely. It elected Rabbani president. The other factions criednepotism. Massoud called for peace and patience.

Hekmatyar, who had been excluded, was incensed. The Hazaras, with their long history of being oppressed and neglected, seethed.

Insults were hurled. Fingers pointed. Accusations flew. Meetings were angrily called off and doors slammed. The city held its breath. In the mountains, loaded magazines snapped into Kalashnikovs.

The Mujahideen, armed to the teeth but now lacking a common enemy, had found the enemy in each other.

Kabul’s day of reckoning had come at last.

And when the rockets began to rain down on Kabul, people ran for cover. Mammy did too, literally. She changed into black again, went to her room, shut the curtains, and pulled the blanket over her head.


It’s the whistling,” Laila said to Tariq, “the damn whistling, I hate more than anything” Tariq nodded knowingly.

It wasn’t so much the whistling itself, Laila thought later, but the seconds between the start of it and impact. The brief and interminable time of feeling suspended. The not knowing. The waiting. Like a defendant about to hear the verdict.

Often it happened at dinner, when she and Babi were at the table. When it started, their heads snapped up. They listened to the whistling, forks in midair, unchewed food in their mouths. Laila saw the reflection of their half-lit faces in the pitch-black window, their shadows unmoving on the wall. The whistling. Then the blast, blissfully elsewhere, followed by an expulsion of breath and the knowledge that they had been spared for now while somewhere else, amid cries and choking clouds of smoke, there was a scrambling, a barehanded frenzy of digging, of pulling from the debris, what remained of a sister, a brother, a grandchild.

But the flip side of being spared was the agony of wondering who hadn’t. After every rocket blast, Laila raced to the street, stammering a prayer, certain that, this time, surely this time, it was Tariq they would find buried beneath the rubble and smoke.

At night, Laila lay in bed and watched the sudden white flashes reflected in her window. She listened to the rattling of automatic gunfire and counted the rockets whining overhead as the house shook and flakes of plaster rained down on her from the ceiling. Some nights, when the light of rocket fire was so bright a person could read a book by it, sleep never came. And, if it did, Laila’s dreams were suffused with fire and detached limbs and the moaning of the wounded.

Morning brought no relief. The muezzin’s call fornamaz rang out, and the Mujahideen set down their guns, faced west, and prayed. Then the rugs were folded, the guns loaded, and the mountains fired on Kabul, and Kabul fired back at the mountains, as Laila and the rest of the city watched as helpless as old Santiago watching the sharks take bites out of his prize fish.

Everywhere Laila “went, she saw Massoud’s men. She saw them roam the streets and every few hundred yards stop cars for questioning. They sat and smoked atop tanks, dressed in their fatigues and ubiquitouspakols.They peeked at passersby from behind stacked sandbags at intersections.

Not that Laila went out much anymore. And, when she did, she was always accompanied by Tariq, who seemed to relish this chivalric duty.

“I bought a gun,” he said one day. They were sitting outside, on the ground beneath the pear tree in Laila’s yard. He showed her. He said it was a semiautomatic, a Beretta. To Laila, it merely looked black and deadly.

“I don’t like it,” she said. “Guns scare me.”

Tariq turned the magazine over in his hand

“They found three bodies in a house in Karteh-Seh last week,” he said. “Did you hear? Sisters. All three raped Their throats slashed. Someone had bitten the rings off their fingers. You could tell, they had teeth marks-“

“I don’t want to hear this.”

“I don’t mean to upset you,” Tariq said “But I just…Ifeel better carrying this.”

He was her lifeline to the streets now. He heard the word of mouth and passed it on to her. Tariq was the one who told her, for instance, that militiamen stationed in the mountains sharpened their marksmanship-and settled wagers over said marksmanship-by shooting civilians down below, men, women, children, chosen at random. He told her that they fired rockets at cars but, for some reason, left taxis alone-which explained to Laila the recent rash of people spraying their cars yellow.

Tariq explained to her the treacherous, shifting boundaries within Kabul. Laila learned from him, for instance, that this road, up to the second acacia tree on the left, belonged to one warlord; that the next four blocks, ending with the bakery shop next to the demolished pharmacy, was another warlord’s sector; and that if she crossed that street and walked half a mile west, she would find herself in the territory of yet another warlord and, therefore, fair game for sniper fire. And this was what Mammy’s heroes were called now. Warlords. Laila heard them callediofangdar too. Riflemen. Others still called them Mujahideen, but, when they did, they made a face-a sneering, distasteful face-the word reeking of deep aversion and deep scorn. Like an insult.

Tariq snapped the magazine back into his handgun. “Doyou have it in you?” Laila said.”To what?”

“To use this thing. To kill with it.”

Tariq tucked the gun into the waist of his denims. Then he said a thing both lovely and terrible. “For you,” he said. “I’d kill with it for you, Laila.”

He slid closer to her and their hands brushed, once, then again. When Tariq’s fingers tentatively began to slip into hers, Laila let them. And when suddenly he leaned over and pressed his lips to hers, she let him again.

At that moment, all of Mammy’s talk of reputations and mynah birds sounded immaterial to Laila. Absurd, even. In the midst of all this killing and looting, all this ugliness, it was a harmless thing to sit here beneath a tree and kiss Tariq. A small thing. An easily forgivable indulgence. So she let him kiss her, and when he pulled back she leaned in and kissedhim, heart pounding in her throat, her face tingling, a fire burning in the pit of her belly.

In June of that yeah, 1992, there was heavy fighting in West Kabul between the Pashtun forces of the warlord Sayyaf and the Hazaras of the Wahdat faction. The shelling knocked down power lines, pulverized entire blocks of shops and homes. Laila heard that Pashtun militiamen were attacking Hazara households, breaking in and shooting entire families, execution style, and that Hazaras were retaliating by abducting Pashtun civilians, raping Pashtun girls, shelling Pashtun neighborhoods, and killing indiscriminately. Every day, bodies were found tied to trees, sometimes burned beyond recognition. Often, they’d been shot in the head, had had their eyes gouged out, their tongues cut out.

Babi tried again to convince Mammy to leave Kabul.

“They’ll work it out,” Mammy said. “This fighting is temporary. They’ll sit down and figure something out.”

“Fariba, all these peopleknow is war,” said Babi. “They learned to walk with a milk bottle in one hand and a gun in the other.”

“Whozrtyou to say?” Mammy shot back. “Did you fight jihad? Did you abandon everything you had and risk your life? If not for the Mujahideen, we’d still be the Soviets’ servants, remember. And now you’d have us betray them!”

“We aren’t the ones doing the betraying, Fariba.”

“You go, then. Take your daughter and run away. Send me a postcard. But peace is coming, and I, for one, am going to wait for it.”

The streets became so unsafe that Babi did an unthinkable thing: He had Laila drop out of school.

He took over the teaching duties himself. Laila went into his study every day after sundown, and, as Hekmatyar launched his rockets at Massoud from the southern outskirts of the city, Babi and she discussedtheghazals of Hafez and the works of the beloved Afghan poet Ustad Khalilullah Khalili. Babi taught her to derive the quadratic equation, showed her how to factor polynomials and plot parametric curves. When he was teaching, Babi was transformed. In his element, amid his books, he looked taller to Laila. His voice seemed to rise from a calmer, deeper place, and he didn’t blink nearly as much. Laila pictured him as he must have been once, erasing his blackboard with graceful swipes, looking over a student’s shoulder, fatherly and attentive.

But it wasn’t easy to pay attention. Laila kept getting distracted.

“What is the area of a pyramid?” Babi would ask, and all Laila could think of was the fullness of Tariq’s lips, the heat of his breath on her mouth, her own reflection in his hazel eyes. She’d kissed him twice more since the time beneath the tree, longer, more passionately, and, she thought, less clumsily. Both times, she’d met him secretly in the dim alley where he’d smoked a cigarette the day of Mammy’s lunch party. The second time, she’d let him touch her breast.


“Yes, Babi.”

“Pyramid. Area. Where are you?”

“Sorry, Babi. I was, uh…Let’s see. Pyramid. Pyramid. One-third the area of the base times the height.”

Babi nodded uncertainly, his gaze lingering on her, and Laila thought of Tariq’s hands, squeezing her breast, sliding down the small of her back, as the two of them kissed and kissed.

One daY that same month of June, Giti was walking home from school with two classmates. Only three blocks from Giti’s house, a stray rocket struck the girls. Later that terrible day, Laila learned that Nila, Giti’s mother, had run up and down the street where Giti was killed, collecting pieces of her daughter’s flesh in an apron, screeching hysterically. Giti’s decomposing right foot, still in its nylon sock and purple sneaker, would be found on a rooftop two weeks later.

AtGiti’sfaiiha, the day after the killings, Laila sat stunned in a roomful of weeping women. This was the first time that someone whom Laila had known, been close to, loved, had died. She couldn’t get around the unfathomable reality that Giti wasn’t alive anymore. Giti, with whom Laila had exchanged secret notes in class, whose fingernails she had polished, whose chin hair she had plucked with tweezers. Giti, who was going to marry Sabir the goalkeeper. Giti was dead.Dead. Blown to pieces. At last, Laila began to weep for her friend. And all the tears that she hadn’t been able to shed at her brothers’ funeral came pouring down.


JLaila could hardly move, as though cement had solidified in every one of her joints. There was a conversation going on, and Laila knew that she was at one end of it, but she felt removed from it, as though she were merely eavesdropping. As Tariq talked, Laila pictured her life as a rotted rope, snapping, unraveling, the fibers detaching, falling away.

It was a hot, muggy afternoon that August of 1992, and they were in the living room of Laila’s house. Mammy had had a stomachache all day, and, minutes before, despite the rockets that Hekmatyar was launching from the south, Babi had taken her to see a doctor. And here was Tariq now, seated beside Laila on the couch, looking at the ground, hands between his knees.

Saying that he was leaving.

Not the neighborhood. Not Kabul. But Afghanistan altogether.


Laila was struck blind.

“Where? Where will you go?”

“Pakistan first. Peshawar. Then I don’t know. Maybe Hindustan. Iran.”

“How long?”

“I don’t know.”

“I mean, how long have you known?”

“A few days. I was going to tell you, Laila, I swear, but I couldn’t bring myself to. I knewhow upset you’d be.”




“Laila, look at me.”


“It’smy father. His heartcan’t take it anymore, all this fighting and killing.”

Laila buried her face in her hands, a bubble of dread filling her chest.

She should have seen this coming, she thought. Almost everyone she knew had packed their things and left. The neighborhood had been all but drained of familiar faces, and now, only four months after fighting had broken out between the Mujahideen factions, Laila hardly recognized anybody on the streets anymore. Hasina’s family had fled in May, off to Tehran. Wajma and her clan had gone to Islamabad that same month. Giti’s parents and her siblings left in June, shortly after Giti was killed. Laila didn’t know where they had gone-she heard a rumor that they had headed for Mashad, in Iran. After people left, their homes sat unoccupied for a few days, then either militiamen took them or strangers moved in.

Everyone was leaving. And now Tariq too.

“And my mother is not a young woman anymore,” he was saying. “They’re so afraid all the time. Laila, look at me.”

“You should have told me.”

“Please look at me.”

A groan came out of Laila. Then a wail. And then she was crying, and when he went to wipe her cheek with the pad of his thumb she swiped his hand away. It was selfish and irrational, but she was furious with him for abandoning her, Tariq, who was like an extension of her, whose shadow sprung beside hers in every memory. How could he leave her? She slapped him. Then she slapped him again and pulled at his hair, and he had to take her by the wrists, and he was saying something she couldn’t make out, he was saying it softly, reasonably, and, somehow, they ended up brow to brow, nose to nose, and she could feel the heat of his breath on her lips again.

And when, suddenly, he leaned in, she did too.

In the coming days and weeks, Laila would scramble frantically to commit it all to memory, what happened next-Like an art lover running out of a burning museum, she would grab whatever she could-a look, a whisper, a moan-to salvage from perishing, to preserve. But time is the most unforgiving of fires, and she couldn’t, in the end, save it all Still, she had these: that first, tremendous pang of pain down below. The slant of sunlight on the rug. Her heel grazing the cold hardness of his leg, lying beside them, hastily unstrapped. Her hands cupping his elbows. The upside-down, mandolin-shaped birthmark beneath his collarbone, glowing red. His face hovering over hers. His black curls dangling, tickling her lips, her chin. The terror that they would be discovered. The disbelief at their own boldness, their courage. The strange and indescribable pleasure, interlaced with the pain. And the look, the myriad oflooks, on Tariq: of apprehension, tenderness, apology, embarrassment, but mostly, mostly, of hunger.

There was frenzy after. Shirts hurriedly buttoned, belts buckled, hair finger-combed. They sat, then, they sat beside each other, smelling of each other, faces flushed pink, both of them stunned, both of them speechless before the enormity of what had just happened. What they had done.

Laila saw three drops of blood on the rug,her blood, and pictured her parents sitting on this couch later, oblivious to the sin that she had committed. And now the shame set in, and the guilt, and, upstairs, the clock ticked on, impossibly loud to Laila’s ears. Like a judge’s gavel pounding again and again, condemning her.

Then Tariq said, “Come with me.”

For a moment, Laila almost believed that it could be done. She, Tariq, and his parents, setting out together-Packing their bags, climbing aboard a bus, leaving behind all this violence, going to find blessings, or trouble, and whichever came they would face it together. The bleak isolation awaiting her, the murderous loneliness, it didn’t have to be.

She could go. They could be together.

They would have more afternoons like this.

“I want to marry you, Laila.”

For the first time since they were on the floor, she raised her eyes to meet his. She searched his face. There was no playfulness this time. His look was one of conviction, of guileless yet ironclad earnestness.


“Let me marry you, Laila. Today. We could get married today.”

He began to say more, about going to a mosque, finding a mullah, a pair of witnesses, a quicknikka. … But Laila was thinking of Mammy, as obstinate and uncompromising as the Mujahideen, the air around her choked with rancor and despair, and she was thinking of Babi, who had long surrendered, who made such a sad, pathetic opponent to Mammy.

Sometimes…I feel like you ‘re all I have, Laila.

These were the circumstances of her life, the inescapable truths of it.

“I’ll ask Kaka Hakim for your hand He’ll give us his blessing, Laila, I know it.”

He was right. Babi would. But it would shatter him.

Tariq was still speaking, his voice hushed, then high, beseeching, then reasoning; his face hopeful, then stricken.

“I can’t,” Laila said.

“Don’t say that. I love you.”

“I’m sorry-“

“I love you.”

How long had she waited to hear those words from him? How many times had she dreamed them uttered? There they were, spoken at last, and the irony crushed her.

“It’s my father I can’t leave,” Laila said “I’m all he has left. His heart couldn’t take it either.”

Tariq knew this. He knew she could not wipe away the obligations of her life any more than he could his, but it went on, his pleadings and her rebuttals, his proposals and her apologies, his tears and hers.

In the end, Laila had to make him leave.

At the door, she made him promise to go without good-byes. She closed the door on him. Laila leaned her back against it, shaking against his pounding fists, one arm gripping her belly and a hand across her mouth, as he spoke through the door and promised that he would come back, that he would come back for her. She stood there until he tired, until he gave up, and then she listened to his uneven footsteps until they faded, until all was quiet, save for the gunfire cracking in the hills and her own heart thudding in her belly, her eyes, her bones.


It was, by far, the hottest day of the year. The mountains trapped the bone-scorching heat, stifled the city like smoke. Power had been out for days. All over Kabul, electric fans sat idle, almost mockingly so.

Laila was lying still on the living-room couch, sweating through her blouse. Every exhaled breath burned the tip of her nose. She was aware of her parents talking in Mammy’s room. Two nights ago, and again last night, she had awakened and thought she heard their voices downstairs. They were talking every day now, ever since the bullet, ever since the new hole in the gate.

Outside, the far-offboom of artillery, then, more closely, the stammering of a long string of gunfire, followed by another.

Inside Laila too a battle was being waged: guilt on one side, partnered with shame, and, on the other, the conviction that what she and Tariq had done was not sinful; that it had been natural, good, beautiful, even inevitable, spurred by the knowledge that they might never see each other again.

Laila rolled to her side on the couch now and tried to remember something: At one point, when they were on the floor, Tariq had lowered his forehead on hers. Then he had panted something, eitherAm I hurting you? orIs this hurting you?

Laila couldn’t decide which he had said.

Am Ihurting you?

Is this hurting you?

Only two weeks since he had left, and it was already happening- Time, blunting the edges of those sharp memories. Laila bore down mentally. What had he said? It seemed vital, suddenly, that she know.

Laila closed hereyes. Concentrated.

With the passing of time, she would slowly tire of this exercise. She would find it increasingly exhausting to conjure up, to dust off, to resuscitate once again what was long dead. There would come a day, in fact, years later, when Laila would no longer bewail his loss. Or not as relentlessly; not nearly. There would come a day when the details of his face would begin to slip from memory’s grip, when overhearing a mother on the street call after her child by Tariq’s name would no longer cut her adrift. She would not miss him as she did now, when the ache of his absence was her unremitting companion-like the phantom pain of an amputee.

Except every once in a long while, when Laila was a grown woman, ironing a shirt or pushing her children on a swing set, something trivial, maybe the warmth of a carpet beneath her feet on a hot day or the curve of a stranger’s forehead, would set off a memory of that afternoon together. And it would all come rushing back. The spontaneity of it. Their astonishing imprudence. Their clumsiness. The pain of the act, the pleasure of it, the sadness of it. The heat of their entangled bodies.

It would flood her, steal her breath.

But then it would pass. The moment would pass. Leave her deflated, feeling nothing but a vague restlessness.

She decided that he had saidAmi hurting you? Yes. That wasit. Laila was happy that she’d remembered Then Babi was in the hallway, calling her name from the top of the stairs, asking her to come up quickly.

“She’s agreed!”he said, his voice tremulous with suppressed excitement- “We’re leaving, Laila. All three of us. We’re leavingKabul.”

InMammy’s room, the three of them sat on the bed.Outside, rockets were zipping acrossthe sky as Hekmatyar’s and Massoud’sforces fought and fought. Laila knew that somewhere in the city someone had justdied, and that a pall of black smoke was hovering over some building that had collapsed in a puffing mass of dust. There would be bodies to step around in the morning. Some would be collected. Others not. Then Kabul’s dogs, who had developed a taste for human meat, would feast.

All the same, Laila had an urge to run through those streets.She could barely contain her own happiness. It took effortto sit, to not shriek withjoy. Babi said they would go to Pakistan first, to apply forvisas. Pakistan, where Tariq was! Tariq was only gone seventeen days, Laila calculated excitedly. If only Mammy had made up her mindseventeen days earlier, they could have left together. She would have been with Tariq right now! But that didn’tmatter now. They were goingto Peshawar-she,Mammy, and Babi-and they would find Tariq and his parents there. Surely they would. They would process their paperwork together. Then, who knew? Who knew? Europe?

America? Maybe, as Babi was always saying, somewhere near the sea…

Mammy was half lying, half sitting against the headboard. Her eyes were puffy. She was picking at her hair.

Three days before, Laila had gone outside for a breath of air. She’d stood by the front gates, leaning against them, when she’d heard a loud crack and something had zipped by her right ear, sending tiny splinters of wood flying before her eyes. After Giti’s death, and the thousands of rounds fired and myriad rockets that had fallen on Kabul, it was the sight of that single round hole in the gate, less than three fingers away from where Laila’s head had been, that shook Mammy awake. Made her see that one war had cost her two children already; this latest could cost her her remaining one.

From the walls of the room, Ahmad and Noor smiled down. Laila watched Mammy’s eyes bouncing now, guiltily, from one photo to the other. As if looking for their consent. Their blessing. As if asking for forgiveness.

“There’s nothing left for us here,” Babi said. “Our sons are gone, but we still have Laila. We still have each other, Fariba. We can make a new life.”

Babi reached across the bed. When he leaned to take her hands, Mammy let him. On her face, a look of concession. Of resignation. They held each other’s hands, lightly, and then they were swaying quietly in an embrace. Mammy buried her face in his neck. She grabbed a handful of his shirt.

For hours that night, the excitement robbed Laila of sleep. She lay in bed and watched the horizon light up in garish shades of orange and yellow. At some point, though, despite the exhilaration inside and the crack of artillery fire outside, she fell asleep.

And dreamed

They are on a ribbon of beach, sitting on aquilt. It’s a chilly, overcast day,but it’s warm next to Tariq under the blanket draped over their shoulders. She can see cars parked behind a low fence of chipped white paint beneath a row of windswept palm trees. The wind makes her eyes water and buries their shoes in sand, hurls knots of dead grass from the curved ridgesof one dune to another. They’re watching sailboats bob in the distance. Around them, seagulls squawk and shiver in the wind. The wind whips up another spray of sand off the shallow, windwardslopes. There is a noise then likea chant, and she tells him something Babi had taught her years before about singing sand.

He rubs at her eyebrow, wipesgrains of sand from it. She catches a flicker of the band on his finger. It’s identicalto hers -gold with a sort of maze patternetched all the way around.

It’s true,she tellshim.It’s the friction, of grain against grain. Listen. Hedoes. He frowns. They wait. They hear it again. A groaning sound, when the wind is soft, when it blows hard, a mewling, high-pitched chorus.

Babi said theyshould take only what was absolutely necessary. They would sell the rest.

“That should hold us in Peshawar until I find work.”

For the next two days, they gathered items to be sold. They put them in big piles.

In her room, Laila set aside old blouses, old shoes, books, toys. Looking under her bed, she found a tiny yellow glass cow Hasina had passed to her during recess in fifth grade. A miniature-soccer-ball key chain, a gift from Giti. A little wooden zebra on wheels. A ceramic astronaut she and Tariq had found one day in a gutter. She’d been six and he eight. They’d had a minor row, Laila remembered, over which one of them had found it.

Mammy too gathered her things. There was a reluctance in her movements, and her eyes had a lethargic, faraway look in them. She did away with her good plates, her napkins, all her jewelry-save for her wedding band-and most of her old clothes.

“You’re not selling this, are you?” Laila said, lifting Mammy’s wedding dress. It cascaded open onto her lap. She touched the lace and ribbon along the neckline, the hand-sewn seed pearls on the sleeves.

Mammy shrugged and took it from her. She tossed it brusquely on a pile of clothes. Like ripping off a Band-Aid in one stroke, Laila thought.

It was Babi who had the most painful task.

Laila found him standing in his study, a rueful expression on his face as he surveyed his shelves. He was wearing a secondhand T-shirt with a picture of San Francisco’s red bridge on it. Thick fog rose from the whitecapped waters and engulfed the bridge’s towers.

“You know the old bit,” he said. “You’re on a deserted island. You can have five books. Which do you choose? I never thought I’d actually have to.”

“We’ll have to start you a new collection, Babi.”

“Mm.” He smiled sadly. “I can’t believe I’m leaving Kabul. I went to school here, got my first job here, became a father in this town. It’s strange to think that I’ll be sleeping beneath another city’s skies soon.”

“It’s strange for me too.”

“All day, this poem about Kabul has been bouncing around in my head. Saib-e-Tabrizi wrote it back in the seventeenth century, I think. I used to know the whole poem, but all I can remember now is two lines: “One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her -walls.”

Laila looked up, saw he was weeping. She put an arm around his waist. “Oh, Babi. We’ll come back. When this war is over. We’ll come back to Kabul,inshallah. You’ll see.”

On the third morning, Laila began moving the piles of things to the yard and depositing them by the front door. They would fetch a taxi then and take it all to a pawnshop.

Laila kept shuffling between the house and the yard, back and forth, carrying stacks of clothes and dishes and box after box of Babi’s books. She should have been exhausted by noon, when the mound of belongings by the front door had grown waist high. But, with each trip, she knew that she was that much closer to seeing Tariq again, and, with each trip, her legs became more sprightly, her arms more tireless.

“We’re going to need a big taxi.”

Laila looked up. It was Mammy calling down from her bedroom upstairs. She was leaning out the window, resting her elbows on the sill. The sun, bright and warm, caught in her graying hair, shone on her drawn, thin face. Mammy was wearing the same cobalt blue dress she had worn the day of the lunch party four months earlier, a youthful dress meant for a young woman, but, for a moment, Mammy looked to Laila like an old woman. An old woman with stringy arms and sunken temples and slow eyes rimmed by darkened circles of weariness, an altogether different creature from the plump, round-faced woman beaming radiantly from those grainy wedding photos.

“Two big taxis,” Laila said.

She could see Babi too, in the living room stacking boxes of books atop each other.

“Come up when you’re done with those,” Mammy said. “We’ll sit down for lunch. Boiled eggs and leftover beans.”

“My favorite,” Laila said.

She thought suddenly of her dream. She and Tariq on a quilt. The ocean. The wind. The dunes.

What had it sounded like, she wondered now, the singing sands?

Laila stopped. She saw a gray lizard crawl out of a crack in the ground. Its head shot side to side. It blinked. Darted under a rock.

Laila pictured the beach again. Except now the singing was all around. And growing. Louder and louder by the moment, higher and higher. It flooded her ears. Drowned everything else out. The gulls were feathered mimes now, opening and closing their beaks noiselessly, and the waves were crashing with foam and spray but no roar. The sands sang on. Screaming now. A sound like…a tinkling?

Not a tinkling. No. A whistling.

Laila dropped the books at her feet. She looked up to the sky. Shielded her eyes with one hand.

Then a giant roar.

Behind her, a flash of white.

The ground lurched beneath her feet.

Something hot and powerful slammed into her from behind. It knocked her out of her sandals. Lifted her up. And now she was flying, twisting and rotating in the air, seeing sky, then earth, then sky, then earth. A big burning chunk of wood whipped by. So did a thousand shards of glass, and it seemed to Laila that she could see each individual one flying all around her, flipping slowly end over end, the sunlight catching in each. Tiny, beautiful rainbows.

Then Laila struck the wall. Crashed to the ground. On her face and arms, a shower of dirt and pebbles and glass. The last thing she was aware of was seeing something thud to the ground nearby. A bloody chunk of something. On it, the tip of a red bridge poking through thick fog.

Shapes moving about. A fluorescent light shines from the ceiling above. A woman’s face appears, hovers over hers.

Laila fades back to the dark.

Another face. This time a man’s. His features seem broad and droopy. His lips move but make no sound. All Laila hears is ringing.

The man waves his hand at her. Frowns. His lips move again.

It hurts. It hurts to breathe. It hurts everywhere.

A glass of water. A pink pill.

Back to the darkness.

The woman again. Long face, narrow-set eyes. She says something. Laila can’t hear anything but the ringing. But she can see the words, like thick black syrup, spilling out of the woman’s mouth.

Her chest hurts. Her arms and legs hurt.

All around, shapes moving.

Where is Tariq?

Why isn’t he here?

Darkness. A flock of stars.

Babi and she, perched somewhere high up. He is pointing to a field of barley. A generator comes to life.

The long-faced woman is standing over her looking down.

It hurts to breathe.

Somewhere, an accordion playing.

Mercifully, the pink pill again. Then a deep hush. A deephush falls over everything.

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