One morning the next spring, in 1993, Mariam watches from the window as Rasheed, overly attentive, accompanies “the girl,” as Mariam continues to think of Laila, through the gate. The next evening, they return, Rasheed brusque and sullen, telling Mariam to get dinner ready. Laila enters afterword, struggling to hold the baby and her bag of belongings. Mariam watches her struggle but turns back to the kitchen rather than helping.
By seeing the events unfold through Mariam’s perspective, we are similarly forced to examine and interpret signs, like the shift from Rasheed’s attentiveness to his sullen, morose attitude once the baby is brought back. Though Mariam certainly isn’t on Rasheed’s side, neither can she bring herself to care for Laila as she once innocently did.
Rasheed complains constantly about the crying for the first few months, saying he wishes he could just send the “thing” down the river like Moses. He never uses the baby’s real name, Aziza, or the “Cherished One.” Some nights Mariam hears them arguing, about how the baby, a girl, has stolen Laila’s attentions, or how she refuses to start sleeping with him again. Mariam takes a perverse pleasure in all of it.
Learning that Laila has had a baby girl rather than a boy, we understand better why Rasheed—who refused to acknowledge this possibility—no longer lavishes attention on Laila as he once did. Rasheed’s apparent love for her was no more than desire at what she could bring him.
Mariam finds the girl’s enthusiasm annoying, but also impressive. Rasheed is not nearly as enthralled by Aziza, and rolls his eyes at Laila. Mariam recalls that earlier, in his eyes, Laila could do no wrong, but instead of feeling vindicated she feels sorry for her.
Mariam perhaps recalls how Rasheed’s attitude towards her changed drastically after she was unable to give him a baby boy or any child—they now share this scorn.
One night, Rasheed says that he’s heard on the radio that one in four Afghan children will die before the age of five, so Laila shouldn’t get so attached. She storms upstairs, and later that night Mariam hears them bickering again. All at once, Rasheed storms into his room, accusing Mariam of teaching the girl to deny him. Mariam, even after all these years, shivers with fright at Rasheed’s rage. He swings his belt at Mariam, as Laila cries out and lunges at him. She hangs on to him, pleading, before Rasheed lets off, having made his point, and stomps back into his room.
Laila’s unconditional love for her child contrasts with Rasheed’s attitude: for him the baby is no more than an irritating object—though one that gives his wife the courage to refuse to sleep with him. For the first time, Laila makes a dramatic act of solidarity with Mariam by attempting to defend her from Rasheed—though after all, it was because of her refusal that Rasheed had gone after Marium.
In the middle of the night, Mariam goes downstairs for a cup of water, and nearly trips over the girl and the baby lying on the floor atop a quilt. Mariam gazes at the baby for the first time, and it squeals happily back at her, smiling. Mariam pulls the multiple layers of blankets off, realizing the baby must be hot. She tries to sneak back up to bed, but the baby coos for her, and she returns, letting her finger be grabbed until the baby falls asleep.
Until this moment, the baby had, for Mariam, been not much more than a nuisance. But as a kind, caring person at heart, Mariam cannot help but feel warmly towards Aziza once she actually has a moment to interact with her. The start of Mariam’s close relationship with Aziza begins with this example of care.