“I was in Peshawar recently, on business, taking orders, goingover inventory, that sort of thing. Also to visit my family. Wehave three daughters,alhamdulellah. I moved them and my wifeto Peshawar after the Mujahideen 长沙桑拿水磨会所 began going at each other’sthroats. I won’t have their names added to theshaheedlist. Normine, to be honest. I’ll be joining them there verysoon,inshallah.
“Anyway, I was supposed to be back in Kabul the Wednesdaybefore last. But, as luck would have it, I came down with anillness. I won’t bother you with it,hamshira, suffice it to say thatwhen I went to do my private business, the simpler of the two,it felt like passing chunks of broken glass. I wouldn’t wish it onHekmatyar himself. My wife, Nadia jan, Allah bless her, shebegged me to see a doctor. But I thought I’d beat it withaspirin and a lot of water. Nadia jan insisted and I said no,back and forth we went. You know the saying^stubborn assneeds a stubborn driver. This time, I’m afraid, the ass won.
That would be me.”He drank the rest of this water and extended the glass 长沙桑拿网 toMariam. “If it’s not too muchzahmat.”Mariam took the glass and went to fill it.
“Needless to say, I should have listened to her. She’s alwaysbeen the more sensible one, God give her a long life. By thetime I made it to the hospital, I was burning with a fever andshaking like abeid tree in the wind. I could barely stand. Thedoctor said I had blood poisoning. She said two or three moredays and I would have made my wife a widow.
“They put me in a special unit, reserved for really sick people,I suppose. Oh,iashakor.” He took the glass from Mariam andfrom his coat pocket produced a large white pill. “Thesize ofthese things.”Laila watched him swallow his pill She was aware that herbreathing had quickened Her legs felt heavy, as though weightshad been tethered to them. She told herself that he wasn’tdone, that he hadn’t told her 长沙桑拿酒店会所anything as yet. But he would goon in a second, and she resisted an urge to get up and leave,leave before he told her things she didn’t want to hear.
Abdul Sharif set


his glass on the table.
“That’s where I met your friend, Mohammad Tariq Walizai.”Laila’s heart sped up. Tariq in a hospital? A special unit?Forreally sick people?
She swallowed dry spit. Shifted on her chair. She had to steelherself. If she didn’t, she feared she would come unhinged. Shediverted her thoughts from hospitals and special units andthought instead about the fact that she hadn’t heard Tariqcalled by his full name since the two of them had enrolled in aFarsi winter course years back. The teacher would call roll afterthe bell and say his name like that-Mohammad Tariq Walizai. Ithad struck her as comically officious then, hearing his full nameuttered.
“What 长沙桑拿论坛交流 happened to him I heard from one of the nurses,”Abdul Sharif resumed, tapping his chest with a fist as if to easethe passage of the pill. “With all the time I’ve spent


inPeshawar, I’ve become pretty proficient in Urdu. Anyway, whatI gathered was that your friend was in a lorry full of refugees,twenty-three of them, all headed for Peshawar. Near theborder, they were caught in cross fire. A rocket hit the lorry.
Probably a stray, but you never know with these people, younever know. There were only six survivors, all of themadmitted to the same unit. Three died within twenty-four hours.
Two of them lived-sisters, as I understood it-and had beendischarged.
Your friend Mr. Walizai was the last. He’d been there foralmost three weeks by the time I arrived.”So he was alive. But how badly had they hurt him? Lailawondered frantically. How badly? Badly enough to be put in aspecial unit, evidently. Laila was aware that she had startedsweating, that her face felt hot. She tried to think of somethingelse,


something pleasant, like the trip to Bamiyan to see theBuddhas with Tariq and Babi. But instead an image of Tariq’sparents presented itself: Tariq’s mother trapped in the lorry,upside down, screaming for Tariq through the smoke, her armsand chest on fire, the wig melting into her scalp…Laila had to take a series of rapid breaths.
“He was in the bed next to mine. There were no walls, onlya curtain between us. So I could see him pretty well.”Abdul Sharif found a sudden need to toy with his weddingband. He spoke more slowly now.
“Your friend, he was badly-very badly-injured, you understand.
He had rubber tubes coming out of him everywhere. At first-“He cleared his throat. “At first, I thought he’d lost both legs inthe attack, but a nurse said no, only the right, the left one wason account of an old injury. There were internal injuries too.
They’d operated three times already. Took out sections ofintestines, I don’t remember what else. And he was burned.
Quite badly. That’s all I’ll say about that. I’m sure you haveyour fair share of nightmares,hamshira. No sense in me addingto them.”Tariq was legless now. He was a torso with twostumps.Legless. Laila thought she might collapse. With deliberate,desperate effort, she sent the tendrils of her mind out of thisroom, out the window, away from this man, over the streetoutside, over the city now, and its flat-topped houses andbazaars, its maze of narrow streets turned to sand castles.
“He was drugged up most of the time. For the pain, youunderstand. But he had moments when the drugs werewearing off when he was clear. In pain but clear of mind Iwould talk to him from my bed. I told him who I was, whereI was from. He was glad, I think, that there was ahamwaiannext to him.
“I did most of the talking. It was hard for him to. His voicewas hoarse, and I think it hurt him to move his lips. So I toldhim about my daughters, and about our house in Peshawarand the veranda my brother-in-law and I are building out inthe back. I told him I had sold the stores in Kabul and that Iwas going back to finish up the paperwork. It wasn’t much.
But it occupied him. At least, I like to think it did.
“Sometimes he talked too. Half the time, I couldn’t make outwhat he was saying, but I caught enough. He described wherehe’d lived.
He talked about his uncle in Ghazni. And his mother’s cookingand his father’s carpentry, him playing the accordion.
“But, mostly, he talked about you,hamshira. He said youwere-how did he put it-his earliest memory. I think that’s right,yes. I could tell he cared a great deal about you.Balay, thatmuch was plain to see. But he said he was glad you weren’tthere. He said he didn’t want you seeing him like that.”Laila’s feet felt heavy again, anchored to the floor, as if all herblood had suddenly pooled down there. But her mind was faraway, free and fleet, hurtling like a speeding missile beyondKabul, over craggy brown hills and over deserts ragged withclumps of sage, past canyons of jagged red rock and oversnowcapped mountains…”When I told him I was going back to Kabul, he asked me tofind you. To tell you that he was thinking of you. That hemissed you. I promised him I would I’d taken quite a liking tohim, you see. He was a decent sort of boy, I could tell.”Abdul Sharif wiped his brow with the handkerchief.
“I woke up one night,” he went on, his interest in thewedding band renewed, “I think it was night anyway, it’s hardto tell in those places. There aren’t any windows. Sunrise,sundown, you just don’t know. But I woke up, and there wassome sort of commotion around the bed next to mine. Youhave to understand that I was full of drugs myself, alwaysslipping in and out, to the point where it was hard to tell whatwas real and what you’d dreamed up. All I remember is,doctors huddled around the bed, calling for this and that,alarms bleeping, syringes all over the ground.
“In the morning, the bed was empty. I asked a nurse. Shesaid he fought valiantly.”Laila was dimly aware that she was nodding. She’d known. Ofcourse she’d known. She’d known the moment she had satacross from this man why he was here, what news he wasbringing.
“At first, you see, at first I didn’t think you even existed,” hewas saying now. “I thought it was the morphine talking. MaybeI evenhopedyou didn’t exist; I’ve always dreaded bearing badnews. But I promised him. And, like I said, I’d become ratherfond of him. So I came by here a few days ago. I askedaround for you, talked to some neighbors. They pointed to thishouse. They also told me what had happened to your parents.
When I heard about that, well, I turned around and left. Iwasn’t going to tell you. I decided it would be too much foryou. For anybody.”Abdul Sharif reached across the table and put a hand on herkneecap. “But I came back. Because, in the end, I think hewould have wanted you to know. I believe that. I’m so sorry. Iwish…”Laila wasn’t listening anymore. She was remembering the daythe man from Panjshir had come to deliver the news ofAhmad’s and Noor’s deaths. She remembered Babi, white-faced,slumping on the couch, and Mammy, her hand flying to hermouth when she heard. Laila had watched Mammy comeundone that day and it had scared her, but she hadn’t feltany true sorrow. She hadn’t understood the awfulness of hermother’s loss. Now another stranger bringing news of anotherdeath. Nowshe was the one sitting on the chair. Was this herpenalty, then, her punishment for being aloof to her ownmother’s suffering?
Laila remembered how Mammy had dropped to the ground,how she’d screamed, torn at her hair. But Laila couldn’t evenmanage that. She could hardly move. She could hardly move amuscle.
She sat on the chair instead, hands limp in her lap, eyesstaring at nothing, and let her mind fly on. She let it fly onuntil it found the place, the good and safe place, where thebarley fields were green, where the water ran clear and thecottonwood seeds danced by the thousands in the air; whereBabi was reading a book beneath an acacia and Tariq wasnapping with his hands laced across his chest, and where shecould dip her feet in the stream and dream good dreamsbeneath the watchful gaze of gods of ancient, sun-bleachedrock.
Chapter 29.
MadamI’m so sorry,” Rasheed said to the girl, taking his bowlofmasiawa and meatballs from Mariam without looking at her.
“I know you were very close….friends. ..the two of you. Alwaystogether, since you were kids. It’s a terrible thing, what’shappened. Too many young Afghan men are dying this way.”He motioned impatiently with his hand, still looking at the girl,and Mariam passed him a napkin.
For years, Mariam had looked on as he ate, the muscles ofhis temples churning, one hand making compact little rice balls,the back of the other wiping grease, swiping stray grains, fromthe corners of his mouth. For years, he had eaten withoutlooking up, without speaking, his silence condemning, as thoughsome judgment were being passed, then broken only by anaccusatory grunt, a disapproving cluck of his tongue, aone-word command for more bread, more water.
Now he ate with a spoon. Used a napkin. Saidlot/an whenasking for water. And talked. Spiritedly and incessantly.
“If you ask me, the Americans armed the wrong man inHekmatyar. All the guns the CIA handed him in the eighties tofight the Soviets. The Soviets are gone, but he still has theguns, and now he’s turning them on innocent people like yourparents. And he calls this jihad. What a farce! What does jihadhave to do with killing women and children? Better the CIAhad 长沙桑拿论坛 armed Commander Massoud.”Mariam’s eyebrows shot up of their own will.CommanderMassoud? In her head, she could hear Rasheed’s rants againstMassoud, how he was a traitor and a communist- But, then,Massoud was a Tajik, of course. Like Laila.
“Now,there is a reasonable fellow. An honorable Afghan. Aman genuinely interested in a peaceful resolution.”Rasheed shrugged and sighed.
“Not that they give a damn in America, mind you. What dothey care that Pashtuns and Hazaras and Tajiks and Uzbeksare killing each other? How many Americans can even tell onefrom the other? Don’t expect help from them, I say. Now thatthe Soviets have collapsed, we’re no use to them. We servedour purpose. To them, Afghanistan is akenarab, a shit hole.
Excuse my language, but it’s true. What do you think, Lailajan?”The girl mumbled something unintelligible and 长沙桑拿微信 pushed ameatball around in her bowl.
Rasheed nodded thoughtfully, as though she’d said the mostclever thing he’d ever heard. Mariam had to look away.
“You know, your father, God give him peace, your father andI used to have discussions like this. This was before you wereborn, of course. On and on we’d go about politics. Aboutbooks too. Didn’t we, Mariam? You remember.”Mariam busied herself taking a sip of water.
“Anyway, I hope I am not boring you with all this talk ofpolitics.”Later, Mariam was in the kitchen, soaking dishes in soapywater, a tightly wound knot in her belly-It wasn’t so muchwhathe said, the blatant lies, the contrived empathy, or even thefact that he had not raised a hand to her, Mariam, since hehad dug the girl out from under those bricks.
It was thestaged delivery. Like a performance. An attempt onhis part,长沙夜网论坛 both sly and pathetic, to impress. To charm.
And suddenly Mariam knew that her suspicions were right.
She understood with a dread that was like a blinding whack tothe side of her head that what she was witnessing was nothingless than a courtship.
* * *When shed at last worked up the nerve, Mariam went to hisroom.
Rasheed lit a cigarette, and said, “Why not?”Mariam knew right then that she was defeated. She’d halfexpected, half hoped, that he would deny everything, feignsurprise, maybe even outrage, at what she was implying. Shemight have had the upper hand then. She might havesucceeded in shaming him. But it stole her grit, his calmacknowledgment, his matter-of-fact tone.
“Sit down,” he said. He was lying on his bed, back to thewall, his thick, long legs splayed on the mattress. “Sit downbefore you faint and cut your head 长沙桑拿推荐 open.”Mariam felt herself drop onto the folding chair beside his bed.
“Hand me that ashtray, would you?” he said.
Obediently, she did.
Rasheed had to be sixty or more now-though Mariam, and infact Rasheed himself did not know his exact age. His hair hadgone white, but it was as thick and coarse as ever. There wasa sag now to his eyelids and the skin of his neck, which waswrinkled and leathery. His cheeks hung a bit more than theyused to. In the mornings, he stooped just a tad. But he stillhad the stout shoulders, the thick torso, the strong hands, theswollen belly that entered the room before any other part ofhim did.