It’s August 1992, and Tariq and Laila are sitting in her living room, as he tells her that he and his family are leaving Afghanistan—tomorrow. His father’s heart can’t take it anymore, he says. Laila knows that almost everyone she knows has left, for Iran, Islamabad, or elsewhere. But she starts to weep, swiping his hand away when he tries to comfort her. She starts slapping at him, pulling at his hair, until they end up face to face and then, somehow, kissing.
Though several years have passed, the situation in Kabul has not improved. At the Bamiyan Valley, Laila had wanted to stay in Afghanistan since she felt close ties to everyone around her—now, after Giti’s death and the departure of others, the person most important to her will no longer be there to weather the difficulties of war with her.
In the days and weeks afterward, Laila will struggle to commit all of what happens next to memory. Though some of it will be lost to time, she will retain a few details from the first time they have sex: the feel of his body, the fear of discovery, and the way he looks at her.
Love in the novel becomes more urgent and necessary with the backdrop of war: Laila and Tariq know they may never see each other again, and desperately seek a way to show their feelings for each other one last time.
Afterward, they redress hastily, unable to believe what they’ve just done. She suddenly feels shame and guilt. Tariq tells her to come with him, that he wants to marry her. They could marry today, he says. But she remembers Babi above the Buddha statues telling her how much he treasures her, and she knows that she’s all he has. She tells Tariq she can’t, even when he says he loves her. Ultimately, she has to make him leave, making him promise to go without good-byes. He promises to come back for her.
Though Laila has been able to push aside her mother’s warnings, she is still affected by the social norms that consider sex before marriage a deeply shameful scandal—both shame and happiness mingle and coexist for her. At the same time, Laila’s love for Babi prevents her from entirely acting on her feelings for Tariq and joining him in leaving.