Laila confides to Tariq that she hates the whistling—or rather, the brief moments between when it starts and the impact of the bombs that make the whistle as they fall. Often it’s at dinner, and she and Babi clench their teeth and wait, frozen, before hearing a blast fall elsewhere. Sometimes, at night, the light of rocket fire is so bright that she can’t sleep. Each morning, the Mujahideen set down their guns to pray, before going back out to fight.
As a new chapter begins, the political tensions that were slowly gaining steam have now fully erupted into war. Merely living in Kabul is now dangerous, as each whistle of a falling bomb suggests imminent peril. The devout prayer of the Mujahideen is juxtaposed ironically with their love of violence.
Laila sees Massoud’s men everywhere, roaming the streets and stopping people for questioning. Tariq buys a gun, telling Laila that three sisters were raped and killed in Karteh-Seh last week. Laila doesn’t go out much anymore, so it’s Tariq who brings back news to her. He says that militiamen in the mountains are working on their aim by shooting civilians at random below. He explains to her the constantly shifting boundaries of warlords’ territory in Kabul. Now, Mammy’s heroes are called warlords, or else Mujahideen but ironically, scornfully.
Laila originally knew of Massoud as Mammy’s hero—a position now complicated, at least for Laila, by his apparent brutality. When Ahmad and Noor were fighting, the family could still claim that they were battling for a cause: now the violence seems far more gratuitous, simply war for the sake of war. But “Mammy’s heroes” are still complex figures given their start as freedom fighters.
Laila asks Tariq if he has it in him to kill with the gun. He says that he would for her. Their fingers brush against each other, and Tariq leans in to kiss Laila. At that moment, Laila doesn’t care at all about Mammy’s warnings—she can’t think of anything better than kissing Tariq beneath a tree in the midst of all the killing and war.
Tariq and Laila are, finally, more than simply childhood friends—though it is notable that the beginning of their romantic relationship takes place in the context of danger and war. Laila’s feelings for him are such that she is able to at least briefly put aside any feelings of shame.
That June, in 1992, the Pashtun faction fights the Hazaras in West Kabul, and each side attacks civilians of the other ethnicity as well. Girls are raped and bodies found tied to trees. Babi tries to convince Mammy to leave Kabul, but she insists that the fighting is temporary and that they’ll work it out. She claims it would be a betrayal of Ahmad and Noor, though Babi says it’s not them doing the betraying.
While Laila, a Tajik, and Tariq, a Pashtun, are kissing, the conflict between these same ethnic identities is growing elsewhere in Kabul. Mammy cannot seem to understand how the noble cause for which her sons sacrificed themselves has now disintegrated into infighting.
Babi even has Laila drop out of school because of the danger, and becomes her tutor himself. With rockets falling outside, they discuss the works of Hafez or the poet Ustad Khalilullah Khalili. Babi is in his element teaching, but Laila still finds it difficult to concentrate—she’s distracted by the thought of Tariq, and the now three kisses they’ve shared.
Babi may not always be practical, but he is stubborn, and continues to stress the importance of Laila’s education and the significance of instructing her in Afghanistan’s cultural heritage—even if her own intellectual interests are clouded by love.
One day that June, Giti is walking home from school with two classmates when a stray rocket strikes them. Her right foot, still in its sock and sneaker, wouldn’t be found until two weeks later. At her funeral, Laila is stunned, unable to wrap her head around the fact that Giti is gone. She hadn’t been able to cry at her brothers’ funeral, but now the tears begin to fall.
Such brutal details help to paint a vivid portrait of the suffering in Kabul, in which no one’s family or friends are spared. Death is no longer an abstract notion for Laila, as it was at her brothers’ funeral, but now she recognizes its proximity.