Rasheed tells the girl he’s very sorry, and knows the two of them were close friends. Mariam watches him, recalling how for years he’s eaten with his hands, in silence, only letting forth one-word grunts when he needs something. Now he’s polite, using a spoon and napkin, and talking constantly.
Over the years, Mariam has grown accustomed to enduring her husband’s brutish ways and utter scorn for his wife—she does not yet fully understand why his attitude has shifted.
Rasheed says that the CIA armed the wrong faction in the fight against the Soviets, and now the Soviets are gone and innocent people are being killed—they should have armed “Commander Massoud.” Mariam is shocked, recalling Rasheed’s rants against Massoud as a communist traitor, but then realizes that Massoud, like Laila, is a Tajik.
Rasheed has often railed against particular political groups or leaders, while dismissing Mariam’s opinions as a woman. Here, though, he seems less interested in the political details than in currying favor with Laila.
Later, as Mariam is washing the dishes, she thinks about what a performance Rasheed has put on. She realizes with dread that she’s been witnessing a courtship.
Though Mariam is resigned to living with a man who is cruel to her, accepting that her husband is courting a young girl is the height of shame.
When she finally confronts Rasheed, he simply says, “Why not?” and Mariam knows she’s defeated. Rasheed is at least sixty, now with thick white hair and saggy skin, but still with the broad shoulders and strong hands of earlier years. Mariam says she’s never asked him for anything before this. Rasheed counters that Laila can’t just stay there—he’s not the Red Cross. He says it’s common for men to take more than one wife, but Mariam says she won’t allow it. In that case, Rasheed says, he’ll turn her out onto the streets—who knows what’ll happen to her then. After graphically describing the chances of rape and murder that await her, not to mention the bleak Peshawar refugee camps, he claims that this is for the best.
Rather than being ashamed himself of his actions, Rasheed knows that as a man whose wife does not have family or other supporters, he can do whatever he’d like. His threats to Mariam take advantage of her kindness and goodness—the fact that Mariam would do whatever she could not to condemn Laila to a life on the streets or in a refugee camp, even if that means accepting Laila as Rasheed’s second wife.
That night, Mariam tells the girl about Rasheed’s proposal. For a long time, she says nothing, but then tells Mariam that her answer is yes.
It now makes even more sense why Mariam refuses to call Laila by her name.