The first few days, Mariam mainly stays in her room, watching Rasheed leave for work on his bicycle. She looks through the house, everything reminding her of how she’s been uprooted. She’s barely hungry, and instead stays in bed and watches the women and children in the neighboring houses. She longs for the nights she and Nana would sit outside, or the afternoons reading the Koran with Mullah Faizullah. As the sun goes down, Mariam grows increasingly anxious at Rasheed’s return, and worries he’ll do to her what husbands do to their wives.
Mariam was uprooted from Herat in the midst of the grieving process for Nana, and now has been hoisted into a new life, in which she grieves the life she’s left behind. This grief takes place not only because she is in Kabul, but because the times she recalls at the kolba are gone forever now that Nana has died.
When Rasheed arrives home, he tells her about his day at the shoe shop, and things he’s heard on the street, such as about the American president Richard Nixon, who Mariam has never heard of. One night, instead of saying good night, he tells Mariam she’s been acting absurdly, and orders her to unpack her suitcase and start behaving like a wife.
Like Jalil or Mullah Faizullah, Rasheed—another man—has access to the larger world that Mariam does not. His male privilege also enables him to order Mariam to act in a certain way, “like a wife,” as he says.
The next morning Mariam unpacks and begins to cook lentils, carrots, and potatoes, kneading dough the way Nana showed her to make bread. She heads out for the communal tandoor, following the women and children walking in groups of three or four and complaining about their husbands. Mariam wonders if they’ve all had unlucky marriages, or if this is just a game the wives play. Mariam imagines they’ll somehow know she’s a harami.
Though Mariam has never prepared for “being a wife”, Nana had made sure she understood the practical matters that her station in life required. Nevertheless, she still feels separate and distant from the other wives going to the tandoor, in part because of the profound shame she feels.
A round, light-skinned woman taps Mariam on the shoulder, introducing herself as Fariba and saying she must be Rasheed’s new wife. She says her husband is Hakim, a teacher, and invites her to tea sometime. The other women begin to gather around Mariam and ask her all sorts of questions. Mariam backs away, anxious and feeling trapped, and Fariba tells the other women they’re frightening her. Mariam pushes out of the crowd and up the street, where she trips and falls, scraping her knee. She can’t remember which house is Rasheed’s, and pushes on several doors, increasingly desperate, until she recognizes the yard. She’s never before felt so alone.
Almost immediately, however, Mariam is thrust into the world of female friendship—one with which she is entirely unfamiliar, and which she finds overwhelming. Rather than finding these women a source of comfort, Mariam is nearly as scared of them as she is of Rasheed. Her panic reflects the sense of isolation she feels, unable to confide either in men or in women and committed to bearing her suffering alone.
That night, Rasheed seems pleased to see dinner set out. Mariam is nervous, but Rasheed says that it’s good. Rasheed offers to show Mariam around Kabul the next day. He takes out a blue burqa from his bag, and tells Mariam about the wives of customers who come to his shop wearing makeup and short skirts, and their husbands who think they’re modern intellectuals. Rasheed says they’re spoiling their honor and pride. Hakim and Fariba are one of these couples, he says—it’s embarrassing. Rasheed says that where he comes from, a woman’s face belongs to her husband alone. He gives her the burqa, and Mariam feels suddenly shrunken and small.
The small victory of Mariam’s cooking begins to compensate for the anxiety she felt earlier at the tandoor, as does Rasheed’s offer to accompany her into Kabul. Rasheed’s discourse on the place of women places him firmly in the conservative camp of gender norms, one that, in Kabul, coexists with another way of considering gender relations, in which women are the equals of men. Mariam has had some exposure to both camps, but the requirement of wearing a burqa is not something even Jalil’s family embraced.