The Taliban smash pre-Islamic statues at the Kabul Museum, shut down the university, and burn books, including all the classic Afghan poets. Marco Polo Restaurant is turned into an interrogation center. Cinemas are shut down, and Laila remembers having gone to see melodramatic Hindi films with Tariq. Mariam wonders what’s happened to Jalil’s cinema.
Many of Kabul’s major cultural and intellectual centers and artifacts—for Laila, elements of the true Afghanistan—are now masked by the Afghanistan that the Taliban are attempting to construct.
Rasheed doesn’t mind the Taliban. Every Wednesday he listens to the names of the condemned on the Voice of Shari’a radio, and then watches the spectacle of punishments at Ghazi Stadium while drinking a Pepsi. At night, he tells Laila of the hangings and beheadings he’s seen. Laila calls the Taliban savages, but Rasheed counters that compared to the fifty thousand killed by Mujahideen, “eye for an eye” isn’t a bad law.
The novel portrays Rasheed—a cruel, brute misogynist—as the typical kind of person who would welcome the Taliban, even participating in its culture of violent spectacle. Nevertheless, Rasheed isn’t wrong to bring up the destruction wrought by the Mujahideen—though for Laila, the one does not justify the other.
Rasheed tells Laila that he’s noticed Aziza has an interesting eye color—it’s neither his nor hers. He says it would be perfectly legal for him to give Aziza away, or to tell the Taliban that he has his suspicions about her. Laila calls him despicable, and Rasheed taunts her for using big words and thinking she’s so clever, when in fact she can’t keep herself off the streets without him.
By waiting until Aziza is a bit older, and Laila is entirely dependent on him, Rasheed can fully revel in his power over her—especially now that he is backed up by the unequal gender norms promoted by the Taliban. Independent by nature, Laila feels ashamed and angry at her need to rely on her husband.
Rasheed’s words make Laila sick, especially since she knows they’re true. But her queasiness persists, until it becomes something that she finds familiar. She is pregnant again, though this time she’s dismayed.
The first time she was pregnant, Laila was thrilled to retain a vestige of Tariq; now, she cannot imagine giving birth to Rasheed’s child.
Not long after, Laila snaps a metal spoke off an old bicycle wheel. She lies on her back on the bedroom floor, legs parted. She cannot imagine loving this child—but ultimately, she can’t force herself to do it. She cannot accept the law of the Mujahideen, that sometimes innocent life needs to be sacrificed in war.
Laila finds the idea of caring for Rasheed’s child so repellent that she comes very close to aborting it. However, her inability to do so shows that destruction, while powerful, does not always prevail over love.