Khadim, a troublemaker in the neighborhood, is pointing a red and green water gun at Laila. He mocks her and asks what she’ll do to stop him—have her crippled friend Tariq save her? He pumps the trigger and warm water sprays onto Laila’s hair, face, and hands. The boys tell her to smell her hands and Laila, smelling urine, lets out a yelp. She races home to wash her hair, thinking she might throw up.
The hint of danger at the end of the preceding paragraph—quite possible given that Afghanistan is at war—yields right away to a childhood prank. Despite the lack of true danger, though, Laila’s close friendship with Tariq certainly complicates her life.
Laila knows the boys wouldn’t have dared to do it if Tariq was there—but also that it wouldn’t have happened had Mammy showed up. She grows angry at her mother’s abandonment. On Mammy’s good days, she bathes, puts on makeup, and takes Laila shopping before greeting Babi happily upon his return. She bakes and invites other women over for tea and pastries, and tells affectionate stories about Babi, making Laila realize that things were different before, back when Mammy and Babi still slept in the same room.
Laila’s mental flashback also helps to link up the Fariba we saw in Part I with Mammy, now unable to withstand the pressure of having her sons go off to war. This Mammy—who seems to care little about Laila’s welfare—is shown to be not her true personality, but warped by war and suffering such that she has grown unable to love anyone but her two sons.
At these tea parties, the women’s conversation often turns to matchmaking for Ahmad and Noor, who are away fighting. Laila barely remembers them, since she was two years old when they left. Mammy always refuses any suggestion as unworthy of her boys. These conversations make Laila think of Tariq.
Laila was never able to develop a relationship with her brothers, who left when she has small. The only way she can understand Mammy’s unwavering love for them is by thinking of her own feelings for Tariq.
After these reminiscences, Laila slowly enters Mammy’s room, where she is greeted by a smell of unwashed linen, leftover meals, and clothes strewn over the floor. The walls are covered with pictures of Ahmad and Noor, and under the bed Mammy keeps a shoebox with old newspaper clippings and pamphlets from insurgent groups fighting against the Soviets.
Mammy’s emotional undoing is reflected in the physical clutter and disorder of her room. At the same time, there is a common theme to the madness: the political rationale for which her sons are fighting against the Soviets.
Laila tells Mammy to wake up, and she slowly emerges from under layers of blankets. She asks Laila perfunctory questions about school, before saying she has a headache. Suddenly angry again, Laila tells her mother that a boy shot piss from a water gun onto her hair. Mammy only responds vaguely, and Laila says that she was supposed to pick her up. Mammy asks if she washed, and when Laila says yes, Mammy says that everything’s fine. Mammy promises she won’t forget tomorrow, even though Laila says she said that yesterday. Mammy claims Laila doesn’t know how she’s suffering.
Laila clearly loves her mother and is eager for her attention—her anger at Mammy is no more than the counterpoint to this desire, as revealed by the way in which Laila tries to provoke Mammy’s outrage and sympathy by telling her the story. For Mammy, though, her own suffering is so great that anyone else’s pain pales in comparison, and she cannot bring herself to feel Laila’s own suffering deeply.