Abdul Sharif is thin with a big nose and short, brown hair sticking up from his head. Laila asks if he’s a friend of her parents, and he says no. He says he is a businessman and often travels betwen Kabul and Peshawar. He became sick, and after refusing his wife’s admonishments, finally went to the hospital with blood poisoning. As she listens, Laila grows increasingly anxious. Abdul Sharif continues that at the hospital he met her friend, Mohammad Tariq Walizai.
Even before Abdul Sharif tells Laila anything about why he’s come, she has a subliminal sense that he cannot be bringing good news. The fact that Abdul Sharif mentions Tariq by his full name makes his story more frightening to Laila, by making him sound distant and anonymous. Abdul Sharif’s tale only grows graver once Laila realizes it takes place at a hospital.
One of the nurses told Abdul Sharif that Tariq was in a lorry with other refugees headed for Peshawar when they were hit with a stray rocket. There were only six survivors, three of whom died soon after at the hospital. Tariq was the last still alive, three weeks later. Laila realizes that she’s hot and sweating, and despite her best efforts pictures Tariq’s parents trapped in the lorry.
Laila had pictured Tariq successfully in exile in Pakistan, and her own family going to join them. Now she has to once again modify her ideas based on what she knows: she and Tariq have both been orphaned, and Tariq gravely injured.
Abdul Sharif continues, saying that initially he thought Tariq had lost both legs in the attack, but the nurse told him that the left one was from an older injury. He had internal injuries as well, in addition to bad burns. Laila wills herself not to collapse, unable to imagine Tariq legless. Abdul Sharif tells Laila that the two became friendly, chatting about their families. Tariq mostly talked about Laila, saying she was his earliest memory.
Once again, Laila has to modify the way she imagines Tariq, given that she now knows war has taken away both his legs. What Tariq tells Abdul Sharif reflects the depth of his relationship to Laila, since they’ve weathered extraordinarily difficult childhoods together.
When Abdul Sharif said he was going to Kabul, Tariq had asked him to find Laila and tell her he was thinking of her, and missed her. Abdul Sharif promised to do it. One night not long after, he woke in the middle of the night to see doctors huddled around Tariq’s bed, with alarms bleeping. In the morning, the bed was empty, and when Abdul Sharif asked a nurse, she said that Tariq had fought valiantly.
Finally, Abdul Sharif says what he’s come to tell Laila. Just as she had tried to visualize Tariq wounded, without legs, but alive, she now has to face the fact of his death: his absence not only from her in Kabul, but for good.
Laila realizes she’s nodding—she’s known all along what news this man would bring. Abdul Sharif apologizes, but Laila isn’t listening: instead, she recalls the day the man from Panjshir had come with news about Ahmad’s and Noor’s deaths. Only now does she understand the true sorrow of her mother’s loss. She wonders if this is her punishment for being unable to truly feel her mother’s suffering.
Giti’s death had allowed Laila to begin to understand how loss and grief can affect a person, but only now can she truly comprehend the extent of Mammy’s suffering. And once again, she feels ashamed of this earlier inability, which reveals just how personal and intimate suffering can be.
Laila sits, immobile, her hands in her lap, willing her mind towards a better place, with green barley fields and clear water, with Babi reading under an acacia and Tariq napping, under the ancient stone gods.
Again, Laila returns to the day spent around the Bamiyan Buddhas, a moment of love and contentment under the watchful eyes of one of Afghanistan’s cultural monuments.