In April 1978, a man named Mir Akbar Khyber is found murdered, leading to a massive demonstration in Kabul. Mariam sees outside the window neighbors milling about, including Fariba with another woman, holding a little boy’s name—Tariq, Mariam has heard her say.
Since Mariam is kept largely at home and isolated by Rasheed, her window serves as both a literal and figurative window out into the world—unlike women such as Fariba, who participate actively in society, Mariam remains confined.
Rasheed says that Mir Akbar Khyber had been a communist, and his supporters are blaming his death on the government. Mariam tries to ask who the communists are and what they want, but Rasheed, even though he isn’t quite able to answer, makes fun of Mariam for her lack of knowledge.
Rasheed’s inability to fully explain the political situation is a testament to the complexity of Afghan history and politics, though that doesn’t stop him from making his wife feel small and ashamed.
Mariam is increasingly afraid of Rasheed’s violent moods and increasingly common beatings. In the four years since her first pregnancy, she has miscarried six times, and Rasheed has grown increasingly resentful and sullen each time. Mariam dreads his return home each evening, since he always finds something that she’s done wrong—excuses, she knows, for having failed him in that she hasn’t given him a son.
Mariam has not grown any less fearful since Rasheed asked if she was afraid of him when they were first married—and for good reason. Instead of simply exerting his authority over her, he uses his physical advantage to physically hurt her and psychologically torture her.
On April 27, Mariam awakens to the sound of military planes whooshing past and bombs hitting the ground outside Kabul. On the radio, a man announces himself as Air Force Colonel Abdul Qader and reports that the army has seized the airport, major urban areas, and several government buildings. President Daoud’s forces have been defeated, he says.
Again, Mariam’s ability to witness Afghan national affairs is restricted to what she can perceive from within her home. The last time there was a political coup, it was Jalil telling Mariam about President Daoud’s ascent to power, as she hung onto every word.
Later, Mariam will learn that along with executions of loyalists, the communists had killed twenty members of Daoud Khan’s family along with him, with rumors that he’d been made to watch. On the radio, Abdul Qader announces the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, claiming that a new era of freedom and democracy is at hand. Rasheed says this change will be bad for the rich, but possibly not for people like them.
Abdul Qader’s proclamations of freedom and democracy clash severely with what Mariam will later learn about the brutal tactics used to overthrow the president. Despite Rasheed’s optimism, it is difficult to tell exactly how politics and personal lives will intertwine, and who will benefit.
Down the street, Fariba has just given birth to a baby girl, with jade-green eyes that her son Noor says look like gemstones. Her other son, Ahmad, sings to her. Hakim and Fariba name the baby Laila.
The narrator, setting up the next part of the novel, here intimates how much Afghan experiences can vary, even on the same street.
Back at Mariam’s, Rasheed shoves a ball of rice into his mouth and then spits it out disgustedly, saying she’s undercooked the rice. He overturns the plate onto the floor and storms out. When he returns, he forces pebbles into Mariam’s mouth and commands her to chew—he says that’s what her rice tastes like. He leaves again, and Mariam spits out pebbles, blood, and two broken teeth.
In direct contrast to the earlier scene of calm and joy, here the narrator makes clear just how tyrannical Rasheed has become. He is a true villain now, and there is no more chance that Mariam will hope for a life of love and happiness with him.