Mariam tries on the burqa and is unnerved by the suffocating fabric and her inability to see peripherally. She and Rasheed take a bus to a park, and to a kebab house near the Haji Yaghoub mosque. It’s Mariam’s first time in a restaurant, and although she’s initially anxious, she is comforted both by Rasheed’s presence and by the anonymity of the burqa, which seems to hide her shameful past. Rasheed buys her her first ice cream, which she devours, and shows her Chicken Street where rich businessmen, diplomats, and members of the royal family live. They walk past all sorts of shops, and sometimes Rasheed enters to say hello, while Mariam remains off to the side.
The physical limitations imposed by the burqa are meant to suggest other limitations as well, restricting women’s freedom intellectually as well. Nevertheless, Hosseini also presents an alternative way of considering the burqa, as a way for women to feel anonymous and therefore liberated in a different way. Nonetheless, in Mariam’s case, Rasheed remains the controlling half of the couple, and Mariam the dutiful wife on his arm.
Mariam is fascinated by the women in this neighborhood, who seem independent and carefree, accompanying children with shiny shoes and bicycles—nothing like the children in her neighborhood who roll old bicycle tires for fun. These women make Mariam realize how little she knows.
Even within one city, the possibilities for women differ wildly depending on which notions of gender relations prevail, within families, social groups, and even neighborhoods.
Rasheed taps Mariam on her shoulder and shows her a maroon shawl he’s bought for her. He asks her if she likes it, and looks away shyly. Mariam realizes how much this true gift contrasts with Jalil’s halfhearted, insincere gifts, and she says the shawl is beautiful.
Mariam continues to reinterpret Jalil’s earlier actions based on what she now understands about him—though confident, even now, that she will not make the same mistake with Rasheed.
That night, Rasheed enters her room and lies down on her bed. Mariam starts shivering as he begins to touch her and removes their clothes. As he rolls on top of her, she feels a sudden, sharp pain, gritting her teeth until he’s done. Rasheed says there is no shame in this for married people. He leaves her and she tries to cope with the pain alone.
Here, the sexual act is portrayed as something painful rather than pleasant, a chore to be endured rather than an act of love. This suffering is distinct from the “shame” that Rasheed says does not apply to married couples, but it is no less painful as a result.