Every so often, Jalil’s two sons push a wheelbarrow filled with food and cooking supplies up the hill to the kolba. Nana always greets them with her arms crossed and a defiant posture, cursing their mothers and making faces at them. Mariam feels sorry for them. Once she yells an insult at them, just to please Nana, but she always waits in hiding to watch them leave.
The brothers offer Mariam a glimpse into the life that she could have if she were to be fully accepted as one of Jalil’s true children. She remains conflicted between Jalil and Nana, however, toggling between the two as she attempts to please both.
Nana teaches Mariam to cook and sew. She only admits a few visitors: the village leader Habib Khan, her old friend Bibi jo, and especially Mullah Faizullah, the elderly Koran teacher or akhund. He tutors Mariam in prayer and recitation, and teaches her to read. They also sometimes go for walks and Mullah Faizullah enchants Mariam with stories of his youthful travels. He tells her that she can use the Koran for comfort when she needs it.
Mariam’s life is simple, but has its own joys. Mullah Faizullah will remain one of the most significant figures in Mariam’s life, a source of spiritual guidance and wisdom that she will rely upon in her most difficult moments. He also gives her a glimpse into the world beyond the kolba and the village.
One day, Mariam confides that she’d like to go to school—Bibi jo had mentioned that Jalil’s other daughters would be attending. Mullah Faizullah asks Nana, but she says there’s no use. The only skill a girl like Mariam needs, she says is to endure. She claims the kids at school will call Mariam a harami. Besides, Mariam is all Nana has.
Even at this historical moment, when education is available to women, only wealthier girls can actually get an education. Nana, for one, is convinced that the social situation into which one is born will determine the kind of life one can have.