Mammy begins to have mysterious aches, pains, and lumps, and although doctors find nothing wrong she stays in bed, wearing black and picking at her hair. She does still pray five times a day. It’s up to Laila, though, to complete all the household chores.
Mammy’s claims of physical ailments are meant to stand in for her acute emotional pain—pain which makes little room for other sentiments, even the ability to care for Laila.
Sometimes, Laila lies next to Mammy in bed. One day Mammy tells a story about Ahmad’s talent for architecture and sketches, before crying that both her boys are now shaheed or martyrs. Laila wishes Mammy would notice that she, Laila, is still there, but knows that she can’t compete with them. She says she wishes she could do something for Mammy, who says Laila’s been a good daughter, even though she hasn’t been the best mother.
Again, Laila’s anger at Mammy stems from her love for her, and her desire for Mammy to return this love rather than lavish it on her martyred brothers. Mammy seems for the first time to recognize her inability to care for Laila, though this doesn’t appear to result in any major change.
After hesitating, Laila says she’s been meaning to ask Mammy something. Already, with Hasina, she’s gotten rid of the house’s supply of aspirin and has hidden sharp objects. “You wouldn’t—“ she begins, but Mammy reassures her that she wants to see the day the Soviets are conquered and Afghanistan is free, and her sons’ dreams come true. Though Laila is comforted, she is hurt that she is not the reason Mammy wants to stay alive.
At several points in the novel, Mariam’s and Laila’s experience resonate, despite their divergent childhoods. Here, Laila fears that Mammy, like Nana, will kill herself because of her grief. In this case, Mammy does feel and can articulate her will to live—even if it is not, devastatingly, for Laila.