It’s the hottest day of the year, and Laila is lying on the living-room couch, listening to her parents upstairs and torn between shame and guilt at what she did with Tariq, and the thought that it was not sinful but natural and beautiful. She tries to remember a particular detail from that night, but finds that time is blurring the edges. In the future, the narrator states, when Laila is a grown woman, she will not miss him with as sharp and constant an ache as she does now—except for once in awhile, when a slight, trivial detail will reawaken that night.
Again, Laila’s feelings for Tariq are just as strong as her understanding of the shame associated with breaching cultural norms. This is another moment at which the narrator intercedes to signal the broader arc of the story to the reader—we now know that Tariq’s absence will be a constant, though duller, source of grief for Laila into the future.
Babi calls to Laila from upstairs, saying that Mammy has agreed to leave. The three of them sit on the bed as rockets fall outside. Babi says they’ll go to Pakistan first to apply for visas, and Laila is thrilled—Pakistan is where Tariq’s family is.
Laila had committed herself to staying with Babi out of love and loyalty for him, but now it seems as though she will not have to choose between him and Tariq.
Three days earlier, Laila had slipped outside for some fresh air when, with a loud crack, some stray shrapnel whizzed by next to her, sending splinters onto her face. It was this small hole in the gate that finally convinced Mammy she could lose her one last child as well. She looks resigned, but embraces Babi.
Though Laila’s family has certainly heard about the many atrocities taking place in Kabul, such suffering can seem remote and not entirely real, as we’ve learned with Ahmad’s and Noor’s deaths, unless they strike closer to home.
That night, Laila has a dream of her and Tariq sitting on a quilt on a beach, watching sailboats. They hear a noise like a chant, and she tells him about what Babi, years before, had called singing sand—the friction of grain against grain.
Many of Babi’s stories and lessons have a magical, even dreamlike quality to them—a quality that meshes well with Laila’s desire to dream of a possible, though remote, future with Tariq.
Babi says that they should only take what’s absolutely necessary, and they start to gather and separate possessions into piles. Babi struggles to choose what to bring from his book collection. He tells Laila that it’s strange to think he’ll be leaving Kabul, where he’s lived, studied, and taught. He recites two lines of a seventeenth-century poem by Saib-e-Tabrizi, which talks about Kabul as the city where a “thousand splendid suns” hide behind its walls. He starts weeping, and Laila reassures him that they’ll return to Kabul.
Babi defines himself based on his intellectualism and book-learning, so leaving his books behind means leaving behind a piece of himself. Saib-e-Tabrizi’s poem, though, as a piece of Afghanistan’s literary heritage, will stay with him. The poem suggests that there is a true Kabul beneath all the violence and destruction—a real Afghanistan hidden behind the walls of fighting.
On the third day, Laila carries boxes of books from the house to the yard, where they’ll take everything to a pawnshop. Mammy tells Laila to come up when she’s done sorting everything in the yard, and they’ll have lunch. Lails pictures the beach from her dream again, this time with the singing growing louder and louder, flooding her ears. Suddenly, she realizes that the sound is a whistling. She looks up at the sky, and hears a giant roar and sees a flash of white. She is thrown into the air and tumbles to the ground, crashing against the wall. The last thing she remembers seeing is a bloody body part crash to the ground beside her.
Once again, the constant bombing and ensuing suffering does not always seem quite real to Laila, for whom daily reality melds easily into her daydreams and hopes for the future. This time, though, the suffering does not take place elsewhere, as has happened before: Laila bears direct witness to the death of her parents, seeing what a child should never have to witness and only barely escaping alive herself.
When she comes to, she becomes conscious of a man and woman feeding her, giving her pills. She wonders where Tariq is. In another flash of consciousness, she sees herself and Babi sitting high up, looking out over fields of barley. With another pink pill, everything fades into silence.
As is often the case, in her most difficult moments Laila recalls the day trip to the Bamiyan Valley, where she was surrounded by people she loved in a landscape where she felt at home.