Over the next three years, Tariq’s father has a series of strokes, Tariq is issued a new leg by the Red Cross, and Hasina is made to marry a cousin in Lahore. Every few weeks, Babi comes home with news of the Soviet Union crumbling. Najibullah tries to claim he’s a devout Muslim, but the Mujahideen refuse to work with him.
For Laila, the years pass in a series of milestones that are more personal than political, even as world politics continues to play a significant role in internal Afghan affairs, as the Soviet Union’s fall impacts the government’s negotiations.
In April 1992, when Laila turns fourteen, Najibullah finally surrenders and the jihad is over—the comrades of Ahmad and Noor have triumphed. Mammy knows the names of all the leaders of each faction, separated by ethnicity and alliance. Her hero is the Tajik commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, or the Lion of Panjshir. She nails up a poster of him in the house—a portrait that would soon become ubiquitous in Kabul.
The goal Mammy had once expressed to Laila—of seeing the Mujahideen triumph and the last of the communists depart—is finally at hand. Her loyalty to Massoud is ethnic at heart, even while Laila and Tariq feel that their different ethnic sects affect their relationship very little.
The day after Najibullah’s surrender, Mammy stops wearing black, cleans the house, and invites all the neighbors over for a big lunch. As she prepares, she asks Laila how Tariq is doing—almost a man now, she says. She tells Lails it was charming when they were little kids running around, but now Laila needs to worry about her reputation. Laila claims they’re just friends, but she admits to herself that for the first time, she feels a bit strange when they’re in public together—scrutinized.
Briefly, Mammy seems to return to the Fariba of Laila’s now-distant memories, who is social and fun-loving. With this shift comes a renewed sense of motherly responsibility, linked closely to the gender norms that regulate and limit relationships between boys and girls in Kabul, especially as they grow older.
In fact, Laila has fallen head over heels in love with Tariq. She pictures them in bed together at night, though she feels guilty when she thinks of him that way. She knows the neighbors gossip: recently, Rasheed passed by and referred to them as Laili and Majnoon, the lovers of a twelfth-century romantic poem by Nezami, or a Farsi “Romeo and Juliet,” though written centuries earlier.
Laila and Tariq’s childhood friendship has, as Mammy may have suspected, developed into more adult feelings. Mammy is not the only one to harbor suspicions, as Mariam’s Rasheed seems also to be aware that the two may be more than friends.
Nevertheless, it irritates Laila that Mammy has criticized her, when she’s been aloof and distant for so many years. Still, she doesn’t want to ruin the mood, so she tells Mammy that she sees her point.
To Laila, motherly advice seems empty without long-term love and care to back it up. But Mammy is in these moods rarely enough that Laila does not dare to fight.
At the party, the men discuss the Mujahideen’s plan: govern through an Islamic Jihad Council and then another leadership council for several months, as a loya jirga or grand council of leaders would form an interim government, leading up to democratic elections.
It is telling that it is only the men who discuss politics, or even seem to know what is going on in internal Afghan affairs (this despite Babi’s personal insistence on Laila’s education).
The women gather inside to chat, and Laila helps with the cooking with Giti. Giti is not as quiet as before—she’s been trying to catch the eye of an eighteen-year-old soccer player named Sabir. They’ve met secretly for tea a few times in another part of Kabul, and Giti says he’s going to ask for her hand. Laila asks about school, but Giti just looks at her. Hasina always said that she and Giti would be married by the time they’re twenty, but that they’d see Laila on the front page of the newspaper one day.
Laila is not the only one to be developing romantic feelings—Giti, after all, is a teenager too. However, these feelings will have quite different practical repercussions, according to the way the families of Giti, Hasina, and Laila consider the role and place of a woman and the importance of marrying their daughters off.
Every once in awhile, Tariq wanders in to taste the food before being shooed out by the women. Laila tries not to look at him so as not to add to the gossip, but she recalls a recent dream, in which their faces were together beneath a green veil. Tariq is taller than Laila now, with broad shoulders and muscular arms from lifting a pair of old, rusty weights in his backyard.
The party is pretty well delineated between the men’s and women’s territories. Tariq’s brief entrances, however, allow the boundaries to bend slightly, only adding to Laila’s daydreams about a possible romantic relationship with her childhood friend.
After lunch, Tariq motions to Laila discreetly and slips out the door. A few minutes later, she follows, finding him up the street humming an old Pashto song and smoking—a habit picked up from the cocky, self-sure friends of his whom Laila hates. Laila tells him his mother would kill him if she knew about his smoking, but he knows she won’t tell. Laila asks him to give one to her, but he refuses, saying it’s bad for her. He only does it to look good for girls, he says. “What girls anyway?” Laila replies, though she insists she’s not jealous. Tariq laughs that the neighbors are probably talking about them right at that moment.
No longer is Tariq simply a mischievous boy wearing a fur Russian hat: he has picked up adult habits in addition to his increasingly adult body. Laila seems to be trying to flirt with Tariq even while insisting on maintaining their platonic, years-old relationship through jokes and banter. Tariq’s comment about the neighbors, though, helps to establish a kind of intimacy between the two.
Tariq tells Laila that her hair is getting longer, and looks nice. She teases him about the girls he’s chasing after, but he says he only has eyes for her. She can’t tell whether he’s mocking or being serious. She’s about to say something else when they hear screaming coming from the house. In the yard two men are wrestling on the ground, and a few others are trying to pull them apart. Apparently one of them, a Pashtun, had called Ahmad Shah Massoud a traitor for negotiating with the Soviets in the 1980s, and the other, a Tajik had demanded he apologize. A few others, including Tariq, join in, until the yard is a mass of arms and legs and punches.
The relationship between Tariq and Laila is just at the verge of shifting from childlike playfulness to more adult seriousness, when it’s suddenly interrupted. Tariq is Pashtun and Laila Tajik, but this difference has never seemed important to either of them. Here, though, it becomes clear how seriously many people do take the ethnic divisions of Afghanistan—divisions that are clear even to Tariq, who joins in.
Soon afterward, politics starts to unravel in Afghanistan. Several factions complain that they’re being excluded, and tensions begin to rise. The Mujahideen now lack a common enemy, and begin to turn on each other. Rockets begin to fall on Kabul, and Mammy changes back into black and retreats into her room.
The personal tensions revealed at Mammy’s party seem to both foreshadow and symbolize the broader political antagonisms taking place in Afghanistan, in the vacuum left by the Soviets. The one goal in which Mammy placed all her hopes now seems to be disintegrating.