Laila adores lying next to Aziza and watching her, whispering stories about her father Tariq. Sometimes she notices that Rasheed looks at Aziza oddly. One night he asks what things were like between Laila and “Majnoon,” the cripple. He asks if they ever did anything out of order, and Laila, her heart pounding, says that Tariq was just a friend. People gossiped, Rasheed says, but Laila just glares at him.
Before the deaths of Laila’s parents, Rasheed had teased Laila and Tariq by invoking this 12th-century Romeo and Juliet-esque poem. Now, Rasheed is using knowledge of their intimacy as a weapon against Laila, though neither of them can prove or disprove Laila’s secret.
Laila shivers to think what would happen if Rasheed knew that each week since Aziza’s birth, she’s been stealing from him, little by little. She plans to run away next spring or summer to Peshawar.
Laila is naturally determined and stubborn (like Babi). And as a mother, she is willing to do anything for her daughter, from marrying Rasheed to running away.
Two days later, Laila finds a stack of girl baby clothes outside her room, neatly folded. That night, Rasheed mentions the rumors of alliances shifting once again, and warns that if the commander Dostum switches sides, the war will become a true bloodbath.
The baby clothes are a token of friendship from Mariam, subtle but powerful. Just as the characters (and the reader) have gotten used to a certain set of political alliances in Afghanistan, they threaten to shift again.
Later that night, when Rasheed is asleep, Laila goes down to the kitchen, where Mariam is cleaning trout. She thanks Mariam for the clothes, and Mariam says she had no use for them. They start to talk about tricks of cooking and sewing. Finally, Mariam admits that before the other night, when Laila tried to stop Rasheed from hitting her, no one had ever stood up for her before. Laila looks into Mariam’s eyes and realizes that she is seeing not an enemy but a woman who has suffered greatly, and has endured it all.
Mariam’s small expression of friendship is equaled by Laila’s gratitude. Of course, the two of them have far more in common than either had admitted—not only are they both responsible for Rasheed’s household, but they both must endure his tyranny—and it is unsurprising that they find so much to talk about. By looking into Mariam’s eyes, Laila begins to understand the validity of others’ suffering, not just her own.
Laila proposes that they two have a cup of chai in the yard. They end up having three cups, as gunfire is heard over the hills. Then Aziza wakes up crying, and Rasheed yells for Laila. But the two exchange a look of trust, and Laila knows that they’re no longer adversaries.
In the midst of trying times, both personally and politically, Mariam and Laila begin to cultivate a true friendship, one based on mutual trust and shared experiences.