Finally, in April 2003, the drought has ended. Laila and Tariq have rented a house in Deh-Mazang, and Tariq has built a slide and swing set in the yard. Aziza turned ten last week, and they took her to Cinema Park to see Titanic, which is now playing in the open.
While the inhabitants of Kabul had been able to subvert the strict rules of the Taliban, it is now gratifying for Kabulis to be able to enjoy simple joys without fearing punishment.
Aziza and Laila wake up at five every morning for prayers—Aziza’s way of staying close to Mariam. Tariq now works with a French NGO that fits land mine survivors with prosthetic limbs. Laila heads out with Aziza and Zalmai. The streets are busy with rickshaws and UN trucks. Flowers are potted in the empty shells of old rockets—“rocket flowers,” they’re called—and music can again be heard at the street corners. Laila wishes that, like Jalil’s letter, Kabul’s rebirth hadn’t arrived too late for Mammy and Babi.
The Kabul of 2003 bears little resemblance to the bombed-out shell that Mariam and Laila once attempted to escape. However, there remain reminders of the past—Kabulis do not want to forget the devastation of the rockets, just as Aziza does not want to forget Mariam, and their small acts serve to pay homage to those who suffered before Kabul’s revitalization.
As they cross the street, a black Land Cruiser blows by, splashing them. The warlords have been allowed back to Kabul—Laila’s parents’ murderers live in fancy homes and have important ministry jobs. But she thinks of Mariam, and commits to not be resentful. She has to move on, and continue to hope.
Though the previous section painted an idyllic image of Kabul, Laila knows that remnants of past ethnic tensions and the unfairness of power in Afghanistan remain.
They arrive at the orphanage, greeting Zaman. There is new playground equipment and much of the interior has been renovated. A newspaper in Kabul published a piece recently about the renovation. As she looks at the picture of Zaman, Tariq, Laila, and another attendant behind the children, Laila thinks about Giti and Hasina, and Hasina’s prediction that they’d be seeing Laila’s photo in a newspaper some day.
The last time Laila was at the orphanage, Aziza was attempting to stay strong even while suffering hunger and poverty. Now, it is suggested that Laila has put Mariam’s inheritance to a use she would have wanted. Laila thus pays tribute to both her memory and that of Giti and Hasina.
The walls are covered with posters and artwork by the orphans—some of it depictions of men with AK-47s or refugee camp tents. The children run to greet Laila, sometimes calling her Mother. In the classroom, she tells the children to open their Farsi books, while she moves to the window, lost in thought.
Again, while Kabul may be changing, the memories of war and trauma remain. All Laila can do is attempt to move forward, preparing the next generation of Afghans to rebuild their country through her role as teacher.
When they first returned to Kabul, Laila hated that she didn’t know where Mariam was buried. Now, though, she knows Mariam is present in the orphanage, in the children’s laughter and in the verses Aziza can recite.
This is another hint that Laila has used the inheritance money for the orphanage, but her thoughts also reflect how none of this would have been possible without Mariam’s sacrifice.
Laila realizes Aziza has been calling to her while she’s been thinking. As she’s walking to her desk in the front of the classroom, she feels a slight movement in her belly. The night before, they’d played the naming game over dinner. Laila had only let the children debate names for a boy—if it’s a girl, Laila already knows what her name will be.
Laila’s pregnancy with Aziza allowed her to keep what she thought was only a memory of Tariq alive. Now, she hopes to honor Mariam’s memory, and death, through the promise of life, by naming her third child after Mariam.