Now Mariam and Laila do their chores together, keeping an eye on Aziza in her bassinet. Mariam grows to enjoy the cups of chai that they share each night. Aziza adores Mariam, whom Laila calls Khala Mariam—Aziza’s aunt. Mariam is shocked by how much Aziza loves her, and how guilelessly. She feels like she’s finally found a true connection in her life.
For the first time in a chapter narrated by Mariam, Laila is referred to by name rather than as “the girl.” Never having had a child herself, Mariam is new to the particular form of love that comes from an infant—one that she often doubted she would have.
In January 1994, Dostum does switch sides, joining Hekmatyar and firing on Massoud and Rabbin’s forces in Kabul. There is looting, murder, and rape of civilians, and Mariam hears of men who would kill their own wives or daughters out of honor if they’d been raped by the militia.
Filtered through Mariam’s perspective, the general terror of the infighting gains greater immediacy in terms of the violence done against women: in this case, “honor” is invoked merely as the counterpoint to shame.
Mariam wonders if there’s fighting like this in Herat as well, and if Mullah Faizullah and Bibi jo are still alive and coping. She wonders about Jalil also, hoping he’s safe and away from all the killing.
Though Mariam had left Herat refusing to ever see Jalil again, the adoration she once felt for him has not entirely disappeared.
For a week, even Rasheed stays home because of the violence. He says that the Mujahideen are forcing young boys to join them, dragging them off the streets. He waves his gun and boasts that he’ll chase them away. Aziza is at his feet, clutching his leg, and he shakes her off brusquely. She crawls back to Mariam, looking to be comforted, though Mariam can’t give her any reassurances about fathers.
Rasheed’s blustering claims are portrayed as over-the-top, even ridiculous. When his daughter looks for a concrete example of his love—which he seems so willing to show through violence—he brushes her off. Mariam, unfortunately, has witnessed similar behavior with Jalil.
One day that winter, Laila asks to braid Mariam’s hair as Aziza is curled up asleep on the floor. Mariam starts telling Laila about Jalil, Nana, and Mullah Faizullah, about her humiliation at Jalil’s house and Nana’s suicide. After she’s explained everything, Laila says she has something to tell Mariam too.
Up until this point, Mariam’s and Laila’s former lives have remained separate—even narrated in separate voices. Their trust now leads them to share stories of their individual grief, in addition to the suffering they both share.
That night, Mariam doesn’t sleep. She’s spent these years hopeless, numb to everything happening around her—until Laila and Aziza (another harami, she now knows) entered her life. Despite her anguished past, Mariam wonders if there are better years awaiting her. Laila has asked her to join them in escaping. She thinks of Mullah Faizullah telling her that it is God’s will for her to tend to any flowers of hope that might bloom in her life.
When Mariam first left for Kabul, she still hoped that she’d find love and belonging somewhere. Though romantic love has proved a disappointment, her friendship with Laila may be a way for her to both experience a different kind of love, and finally overcome the shame of her social position.