Jalil and his wives—Afsoon, Khadija, and Nargis—sit across from Mariam at a long dark table. They make awkward small talk. Mariam looks through the window and at the cabinet next to it, where there is a framed photo of Jalil and three of his sons.
Everything in Jalil’s home reminds Mariam that she does not fit inthere, from his “true” wives around the table to the picture of his sons.
Khadija tells Mariam that she has a suitor named Rasheed, a friend of Jalil’s business colleague. He’s a Pashtun who lives in Kabul, but speaks Farsi like them. He’s a very sought-after shoemaker, so, Khadija reassures Mariam, he’ll be able to take care of her. Mariam looks desperately at Jalil, but he refuses to look back. Afsoon admits that he’s forty or forty-five, but as a fifteen-year-old Mariam is at a good marrying age. Mariam knows that her fifteen-year-old half-sisters Saideh or Naheed, who both are in school and plan to attend Kabul University, would not be considered of marrying age.
The importance of Rasheed being able to “take care of” Mariam reflects a certain belief regarding gender relations, in which men are responsible for and have control over their wives—especially if the wife has little say in such an arranged marriage. These gender norms, however, clearly depend on the social status of the woman, as Saideh and Naheed’s own trajectories reveal.
Nargis says that Rasheed’s wife died during childbirth, and his son drowned a few years ago, so he’s suffered too. Mariam begs Jalil not to make her go. The wives continue to try to convince her, but she says she’ll live with Mullah Faizullah. Khadija says he’s too old, and Mariam knows she also means he’s too close—they’d still have to deal with the shame of their husband’s mistake.
Though Mariam knows she does not belong with Jalil’s family, she is just as certain that being separated from the few people she continues to trust and rely on can only be worse. But just as Nana was banished to the kolba because of shame and reputation, Mariam will now be sent away as well.
Mariam tries to imagine living in Kabul, 650 kilometers away, and cooking and cleaning for Rasheed. She is particularly terrified of what Nana told her about chores of intimacy that women have to endure with their husbands. Mariam begs Jalil to say no to his wives, but after a long silence, he only asks Mariam meekly not to do this to him. Afsoon brings her back upstairs and locks the door behind her.
Mariam is only fifteen when she must face the prospect of becoming a wife, no longer just a daughter. Jalil’s selfish response to his daughter is difficult to justify, given that he’s the one “doing” something to Mariam—even if his words suggest that he too is unhappy with the decision.