In January 1989, when Laila is ten, she joins her parents and Hasina to watch the departure of one of the last Soviet convoys. Mammy holds a photo of Ahmad and Noor over her head. Tariq taps Laila and Hasina on the shoulder, dressed in a giant Russian fur hat, for the occasion, he says. Tariq’s father recently had a heart attack, so Laila is happy to see him in a good mood for the first time in awhile.
Finally, Mammy can feel as though her and her sons’ suffering was not for nothing. The Soviets’ withdrawal is intimately personal for her, though less so for Laila and Tariq, who use the departure as an excuse for playful banter and excursions.
On the bus ride home, a man argues to Babi that the Soviets will continue to send weapons to Najibullah, their puppet in Kabul. Mammy mutters prayers to herself over and over again.
Najibullah’s presence helps to muddy any sense of a clear-cut transition from one kind of government in Afghanistan to the next.
That day, Laila and Tariq go to Cinema Park to see a Soviet film dubbed, very badly, into Farsi, which sets them into hysterics. At the wedding scene near the end, Tariq whispers that he’ll never get married, and Laila, though disappointed, joins in making fun of over-the-top weddings. As Laila watches the couple kiss, she feels incredibly self-conscious, and feels like Tariq is watching her. He shifts in his seat and lets loose another dumb joke—they both laugh, but nervously this time.
There are still remnants of Soviet culture that remain in Afghanistan, melding with traditional Afghan languages and customs to at times humorous effect. Tariq and Laila are still wary of making their feelings for each other explicit, and instead fall back on the casual, joky atmosphere of their childhood friendship.