Laila found herself caught in a net of terrible thoughts.
He would never come back. His parents had moved away forgood; the trip to Ghazni had been a ruse. An adult scheme tospare the two of them an upsetting farewell.
A land minehad gotten to him again. The way it did in 1981,when he was five, the last time his parents took him south toGhazni. That was shortly after Laila’s third birthday. He’d beenlucky that time, losing only a leg; lucky that he’d survived atall.
Her head rang and rang with these thoughts.
Then one night Laila saw a tiny flashing light from down thestreet. A sound, something between a squeak and a
gasp,escaped herlips. She quickly fished her own flashlight fromunder the bed, but it wouldn’t work. Laila banged it againsther palm, cursed the dead batteries. But it didn’t matter. Hewas back. Laila sat on the edge of her bed, giddy with relief,and watched that beautiful, yellow eye winking on and off.
* * *On her way to Tariq’s house the next day, Laila saw Khadimand a group of his friends across the street. Khadim wassquatting, drawing something in the dirt with a stick. When hesaw her, he dropped the stick and wiggled his fingers. He saidsomething and there was a round of chuckles. Laila droppedher head and hurried past.
“What did youdo1?” she exclaimed when Tariq opened thedoor. Only then did she remember that his uncle was abarber.
Tariq ran his hand over his newly shaved scalp and smiled,showing white, slightly uneven teeth.
“Like it?””You look like you’re enlisting in the army.””You want to feel?” He lowered his head.
The tiny bristles scratched Laila’s palm pleasantly. Tariq wasn’tlike some of the other boys, whose hair concealedcone-shaped skulls and unsightly lumps. Tariq’s head wasperfectly curved and lump-free.
When he looked up, Laila saw that his cheeks and brow hadsunburned”What took you so long?” she said”My uncle was sick. Come on. Come inside.”He led her down the hallway to the family room. Laila lovedeverything about this house. The shabby old rug in the familyroom, the patchwork quilt on the couch, the ordinary clutter ofTariq’s life: his mother’s bolts of fabric, her sewing needlesembedded in spools, the old magazines, the accordion case inthe corner waiting to be cracked open.
“Who is it?”It was his mother calling from the
“Laila,” he answeredHe pulled her a chair. The family room was brightly lit andhad double windows that opened into the yard. On the sillwere empty jars in which Tariq’s mother pickled eggplant andmade carrot marmalade.
“You mean ouraroos,our daughter-in-law,”his father announced,entering the room. He was a carpenter, a lean, white-hairedman in his early sixties. He had gaps between his front teeth,and the squinty eyes of someone who had spent most of hislife outdoors. He opened his arms and Laila went into them,greeted by his pleasant and familiar smell of sawdust. Theykissed on the cheek three times.
“You keep calling her that and she’ll stop coming here,”Tariq’s mother said, passing by them. She was carrying a traywith a large bowl, a serving spoon, and four smaller bowls onit. She set the tray on the table. “Don’t mind the old man.”She cupped Laila’s face. “It’s good to see you, my dear. Come,sit down. I brought back some water-soaked fruit with me.”The table was bulky and made of a light, unfinishedwood-Tariq’s father had built it, as well as the chairs. It wascovered with a moss green vinyl tablecloth with little magentacrescents and stars on it. Most of the living-room wall wastaken up with pictures of Tariq at various ages. In some of thevery early ones, he had two legs.
“I heard your brother was sick,” Laila said to Tariq’s father,dipping a spoon into her bowl of soaked raisins, pistachios, andapricots.
He was lighting a cigarette. “Yes, but he’s fine now,shokr eKhoda, thanks to God.””Heart attack. His second,” Tariq’s mother said, giving herhusband an admonishing look.
Tariq’s father blew smoke and winked at Laila. It struck heragain that Tariq’s parents could easily pass for hisgrandparents. His mother hadn’t had him until she’d been wellinto her forties.
“How is your father, my dear?” Tariq’s mother said, lookingon over her bowl-As long as Laila had known her, Tariq’smother had worn a wig. It was turning a dull purple with age.
It was pulled low on her brow today, and Laila could see thegray hairs of her sideburns.Some days,it rode high on herforehead. But, to Laila, Tariq’s mother never looked pitiable init- What Laila saw was the calm, self-assured face beneath thewig, the clever eyes, the pleasant, unhurried manners.
“He’s fine,” Laila said. “Still at Silo, of course. He’s fine.””And your mother?””Good days. Bad ones too. The same-“”Yes,” Tariq’s mother said thoughtfully, lowering her spoon intothe bowl “How hard it must be, how terribly hard, for amother to be away from her sons.””You’re staying for lunch?” Tariq said-“You have to,” said his mother. “I’m makingshorwa””I don’t want to be amozahem. “”Imposing?” Tariq’s mother said. “We leave for a couple ofweeks and you turn polite on us?””All right, I’ll stay,” Laila said, blushing and smiling.
“It’s settled, then.”The truth was, Laila loved eating meals at Tariq’s house asmuch as she disliked eating them at hers. At Tariq’s, there wasno eating alone; they always ate as a family. Laila liked theviolet plastic drinking glasses they used and the quarter lemonthat always floated in the water pitcher. She liked how theystarted each meal with a bowl of fresh yogurt, how theysqueezed sour oranges on everything, even their yogurt, andhow they made small, harmless jokes at each other’s expense.
Over meals, conversation always flowed. Though Tariq and hisparents were ethnic Pashtuns, they spoke Farsi when Laila wasaround for her benefit, even though Laila more or lessunderstood their native Pashto, having learned it in school. Babisaid that there were tensions between their people-the Tajiks,who were a minority, and Tariq’s people, the Pashtuns, whowere the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan.Tajiks have alwaysfelt slighted, Babi had said.Pashiun kings ruled this country foralmost two hundred and’fifty years, Laila, and Tajiks for all ofnine months, back in 1929.
And you,Laila had asked,do you feel slighted, Babi?
Babi had wiped his eyeglasses clean with the hem of hisshirt.To me, it’s nonsense -and very dangerous nonsense atthat-all this talk of I’m Tajik and you ‘re Pashiun and he’sHazara and she’s Uzbek. We ‘re all Afghans, and that’s all thatshould matter. But when one group rules over the others forso long…Theref s contempt. Rivalry. There is. There always hasbeen.
Maybe so. But Laila never felt it in Tariq’s house, where thesematters never even came up. Her time with Tariq’s familyalways felt natural to Laila, 佛山桑拿网2019论坛 effortless, uncomplicated bydifferences in tribe or language, or by the personal spites andgrudges that infected the air at her own home.
“How about a game of cards?” Tariq said.
“Yes, go upstairs,” his mother said, swiping disapprovingly ather husband’s cloud of smoke. “I’ll getthe shorwa going.”They lay on their stomachs in the middle of Tariq’s room andtook turns dealing forpanjpar. Pedaling air with his foot, Tariqtold her about his trip. The peach saplings he had helped hisuncle plant. A garden snake he had captured.
This room was where Laila and Tariq did their homework,where they built playing-card towers and drew ridiculousportraits of each other. If it was raining, they leaned on thewindowsill, drinking warm, fizzy orange Fanta, and watched theswollen rain droplets trickle down the glass.
“All right, here’s one,” Laila 佛山夜生活luntan said, shuffling. “What goes aroundthe world but stays in a corner?””Wait.” Tariq pushed himself up and swung his artificial leftleg around. Wincing, he lay on his side, leaning on his elbow.
“Hand me that pillow.” He placed it under his leg. “There.
That’s better.”Laila remembered the first time he’d shown her his stump.
She’d been six. With one finger, she had poked the taut.
shiny skin just below his left knee. Her finger had found littlehard lumps there, and Tariq had told her they were spurs ofbone that sometimes grew after an amputation. She’d askedhim if his stump hurt, and he said it got sore at the end ofthe day, when it swelled and didn’t fit the prosthesis like it wassupposed to, like a finger in a thimble.And sometimes it getsrubbed Especially when it’s hot. Then I get rashes and blisters,but my mother has creams 佛山桑拿论坛蒲友交流 that help. It’s not so bad.
Laila had burst into tears.
What are you crying for?He’d strapped his leg back on.Youasked to see it, you giryanok,you crybaby! If I’d known youwere going to bawl, I wouldn ‘i have shown you.
“A stamp,” he said.
“What?””The riddle. The answer is a stamp. We should go to the zooafter lunch.” “You knew that one. Did you?” “Absolutely not.””You’re a cheat.””And you’re envious.” “Of what?””My masculine smarts.””Yourmasculine smarts? Really? Tell me, who always wins atchess?””I let you win.” He laughed. They both knew that wasn’t true.
“And who failed math? Who do you come to for help withyour math homework even though you’re a grade ahead?””I’d be two grades ahead if math didn’t bore me.””I suppose geography bores you too.””How did you know? Now, shut up. So are we going to thezoo or not?”Laila smiled. 佛山桑拿0757 “We’re going.””Good.””I missed you.”There was a pause. Then Tariq turned to her with ahalf-grinning, half-grimacing look of distaste. “What’s thematterwith you?”How many times had she, Hasina, and Giti said those samethree words to each other, Laila wondered, said it withouthesitation, after only two or three days of not seeing eachother? /missed you, Hasina Oh, I missed you too. In Tariq’sgrimace, Laila learned that boys differed from girls in thisregard. They didn’t make a show of friendship. They felt nourge, no need, for this sort of talk. Laila imagined it had beenthis way for her brothers too. Boys, Laila came to see, treatedfriendship the way they treated the sun: its existenceundisputed; its radiance best enjoyed, not beheld directly.
“I was trying to annoy you,” she said.
He gave her a sidelong glance. “It worked.”But 广东佛山桑拿论坛 she thought his grimace softened. And she thought thatmaybe the sunburn on his cheeks deepened momentarily.
* * *Laila didn’t mean to tell him. She’d, in fact, decided that tellinghim would be a very bad idea. Someone would get hurt,because Tariq wouldn’t be able to let it pass. But when theywere on the street later, heading down to thebus stop, she sawKhadim again, leaning against a wall He was surrounded by hisfriends, thumbs hooked in his belt loops. He grinned at herdefiantly.
And so she told Tariq. The story spilled out of her mouthbefore she could stop it.
“He did what?”She told him again.
He pointed to Khadim. “Him? He’s the one? You’re sure?””I’m sure.”Tariq clenched his teeth and muttered something to himself inPashto that Laila didn’t catch. “You wait here,” he said, in Farsinow.
“No, Tariq-“He was already crossing 佛山夜生活888 the street.
Khadim was the first to see him. His grin faded, and hepushed himself off the wall. He unhooked his thumbs from thebelt loops and made himself more upright, taking on aself-conscious air of menace. The others followed his gaze.
Laila wished she hadn’t said anything. What if they bandedtogether? How many of them were there-ten? eleven? twelve?
What if they hurt him?
Then Tariq stopped a few feet from Khadim and his band.
There was a moment of consideration, Laila thought, maybe achange of heart, and, when he bent down, she imagined hewould pretend his shoelace had come undone and walk backto her. Then his hands went to work, and she understood.
The others understood too when Tariq straightened up,standing on one leg. When he began hopping toward Khadim,then charging him, his unstrapped leg raised high over hisshoulder 佛山桑拿哪里好 like a sword.
The boys stepped aside in a hurry. They gave him a clearpath to Khadim.
Then it was all dust and fists and kicks and yelps.
Khadim never bothered Laila again.
* * *That night, as most nights, Laila set the dinner table for twoonly. Mammy said she wasn’t hungry. On those nights that shewas, she made a point of taking a plate to her room beforeBabi even came home. She was usually asleep or lying awakein bed by the time Laila and Babi sat down to eat.
Babi came out of the bathroom, his hair-peppered white withflour when he’d come home-washed clean now and combedback.
“What are we having, Laila?””Leftoveraush soup.””Sounds good,” he said, folding the towel with which he’ddried his hair. “So what are we working on tonight? Addingfractions?””Actually, converting fractions to mixed numbers.””Ah. Right.”Every night 佛山夜生活qq群 after dinner, Babi helped Laila with her homeworkand gave her some of his own. This was only to keep Laila astep or two ahead of her class, not because he disapproved ofthe work assigned by the school-the propaganda teachingnotwithstanding. In fact, Babi thought that the one thing thecommunists had done right-or at least intended to-ironically,was in the field of education, the vocation from which they hadfired him. More specifically, the education of women. Thegovernment had sponsored literacy classes for all women.
Almost two-thirds of the students at Kabul University werewomen now, Babi said, women who were studying law,medicine, engineering.
Women have always had it hard in this country, Laila, butthey’re probably more free now, under the communists, andhave more rights than they’ve ever had before,Babi said, alwayslowering 佛山桑拿会所600全套 his voice, aware of how intolerant Mammy was ofeven remotely positive talk of the communists.But it’s true, Babisaid,it’sagood time to be a woman in Afghanistan. And you cantake advantage of that, Laila Of course, women’s freedom -here, he shook his head ruefully-is also one of the reasonspeople out there took up arms in the first place.
By “out there,” he didn’t mean Kabul, which had always beenrelatively liberal and progressive. Here in Kabul, women taughtat the university, ran schools, held office in the government-No, Babi meant the tribal areas, especially the Pashtun regionsin the south or in the east near the Pakistani border, wherewomen were rarely seen on the streets and only then in burqaand accompanied by men. He meant those regions where menwho lived by ancient tribal laws had rebelled against thecommunists 佛山桑拿红场 and their decrees to liberate women, to abolishforced marriage, to raise the minimum marriage age to sixteenfor girls. There, men saw it as an insult to their centuries-oldtradition, Babi said, to be told by the government-and a godlessone at that-that their daughters had to leave home, attendschool, and work alongside men.
God forbid that should happen!Babi liked to say sarcastically.
Then he would sigh, and say,Laila, my love, the only enemy anAfghan cannot defeat is himselfBabi took his seat at the table, dipped bread into his bowlofaush.
Laila decided that she would tell him about what Tariq haddone to Khadim, over the meal, before they started in onfractions. But she never got the chance. Because, right then,there was a knock at the door, and, on the other side of thedoor, a stranger with news.
I need to speak to your parents,dokhiarjan” he said whenLaila opened the door. He was a stocky man, with a sharp,weather-roughened face. He wore a potato-colored coat, and abrown woolpakol on his head”Can I tell them who’s here?”Then Babi’s hand was on Laila’s shoulder, and he gentlypulled her from the door.
“Why don’t you go upstairs, Laila. Go on.”As she moved toward the steps, Laila heard the visitor say toBabi that he had news from Panjshir. Mammy was in theroom now too. She had one hand clamped over her mouth,and her eyes were skipping from Babi to the man in thepakolLaila peeked from the top of the stairs. She watched thestranger sit down with her parents. He leaned toward them.
Said a few muted words. Then Babi’s face was white, andgetting whiter, and he was looking at his hands, and Mammywas screaming, screaming, and tearing at her hair.
* * *The next morning, the day ofthefaiiha, a flock of neighborhoodwomen descended on the house and took charge ofpreparations for thekhatm dinner that would take place afterthe funeral Mammy sat on the couch the whole morning, herfingers working a handkerchief, her face bloated. She wastended to by a pair of sniffling women who took turns pattingMammy’s hand gingerly, like she was the rarest and mostfragile doll in the world. Mammy did not seem aware of theirpresence.
Laila kneeled before her mother and took her hands.
“Mammy.”Mammy’s eyes drifted down. She blinked.
“We’ll take care of her, Laila jan,” one of the women saidwith an air of self-importance. Laila had been to funerals beforewhere she had seen women like this, women who relished allthings that had to do with death, official consolers who let noone trespass on their self-appointed duties.
“It’s under control. You go on now, girl, and do somethingelse. Leave your mother be.”Shooed away, Laila felt useless. She bounced from one roomto the next. She puttered around the kitchen for a while. Anuncharacteristically subdued Hasina and her mother came. Sodid Giti and her mother. When Giti saw Laila, she hurriedover, threw her bony arms around her, and gave Laila a verylong, and surprisingly strong, embrace. When she pulled back,tears had pooled in her eyes. “I am so sorry, Laila,” she said.
Laila thanked her. The three girls sat outside in the yard untilone of the women assigned them the task of washing glassesand stacking plates on the table.
Babi too kept walking in and out of the house aimlessly,looking, it seemed, for something to do.
“Keep him away from me.” That was the only time Mammysaid anything all morning.
Babi ended up sitting alone on a folding chair in the hallway,looking desolate and small Then one of the women told him hewas in the way there. He apologized and disappeared into hisstudy.
* * *That apternoon, the men went to a hall in Karteh-Seh thatBabi had rented for thefatiha. The women came to the house.
Laila took her spot beside Mammy, next to the living-roomentrance where it was customary for the family of the deceasedto sit. Mourners removed their shoes at the door, nodded atacquaintances as they crossed the room, and sat on foldingchairs arranged along the walls. Laila saw Wajma, the elderlymidwife who had delivered her. She saw Tariq’s mother too,wearing a black scarf over the wig. She gave Laila a nod anda slow, sad, close-lipped smile.
From a cassette player, a man’s nasal voice chanted versesfrom the Koran. In between, the women sighed and shiftedand sniffled. There were muted coughs, murmurs, and,periodically, someone let out a theatrical, sorrow-drenched sob.