Laila recalls a gathering years earlier on one of Mammy’s good days. Their neighbor Wajma had told the others how Rasheed’s son died: Rasheed used to drink sharab and was drunk that day, passed out on a chair. Later that day, they found the boy in the water.
Laila had briefly crossed paths with Rasheed in the past, though she could never have expected that Rasheed’s past suffering would be relevant to her own life.
Laila is thinking about this story when she tells Rasheed about the baby. He immediately cycles to the mosque to pray for a boy. Rasheed cheerfully, cruelly tells Mariam, who looks devastated. Mariam snaps that Laila is still responsible for chores. Laila is about to respond sharply before remembering that Mariam is the only innocent one in the household.
After six miscarriages and the shame of having to allow Laila into her home, Mariam now has the added grief of knowing that Laila has given Rasheed what she could not.
As fall turns to winter, Rasheed comes home with news of ever-shifting alliances: Sayyaf is fighting the Hazaras, who are fighting Massoud, who is fighting the Pakistan-supported Hekmatyar. Fires engulf western Kabul, embassies close and schools collapse. Laila dreams about the free, open Kabul of her childhood. But then her thoughts turn to Tariq, she pictures him pierced through with tubes on a hospital bed far from home, and she feels nauseous.
Though some of these factions are familiar to the reader—Sayyaf’s men had occupied Tariq’s old home, while Massoud was Mammy’s hero—it is difficult to keep track of the shifting ethnic alliances. Laila continues to think of the true Kabul as safe and idyllic, though it’s difficult to retain that image when she knows how little that Kabul has remained.
Sometimes she feels like a shipwreck survivor, drifting amidst miles of water. She ambles through the house before running into Mariam, and then feels guilty and ashamed.
Like Mariam, Laila no longer feels that there is a place she can belong and feel loved—a sentiment exacerbated by the shame she feels at accepting Rasheed’s proposal.
One day, Rasheed takes her to his shoe shop. She has to concentrate while wearing the burqa so as not to trip and fall, but she does appreciate the anonymity, and the inability for any old acquaintance to recognize her. Rasheed talks of his hopes for their son, and how he will resemble his father, filling Laila with fear.
Just as Mariam had felt a certain sense of security in the anonymity of the burqa, Laila takes refuge in this physical covering, even as she fears that Rasheed will uncover her secret.
Rasheed asks how things are with Mariam, and she doesn’t tell him about their first real fight a few days earlier, when Mariam accused her of hiding a long wooden spoon. For the first time, Laila yelled back back, and they ended up hurling insults at each other. They haven’t spoken since. But for Laila, there had been something satisfying in letting loose all her pent-up anger and grief. She had raced upstairs, missing her parents desperately. Suddenly, the baby had kicked for the first time.
While Mariam and Laila have for the most part managed the simmering tensions in the household, their first fight allows them to explicitly voice the pain and resentment that each of them feels. For Laila, at least, the imminent arrival of her child allows her to retain some kind of hope for the future.