After Rasheed extracts the final parts of the story from Zalmai, he accompanies him upstairs. Zalmai shoots a sorrowful, contrite glance at Mariam and Laila before leaving. Mariam can see how Rasheed is thinking—as he was toiling as a lowly baggage handler, his wives were conspiring behind his back.
As when she felt sympathy for the Mujahideen occupying Tariq’s old home, Mariam is able to see the humanity in all sides of battle, even though she remains unceasingly loyal to Laila.
Rasheed returns with a belt, and swings it at Laila, hitting her temple. He lashes her again and again. Laila tries to defend herself, and Mariam cries out pleadingly at Rasheed. Mariam claws at his face and hair, and Rasheed turns on her. Mariam recalls the first time they looked at each other under the wedding veil—his eyes indifferent, hers apologetic. She realizes how foolish she’d been. She’s done nothing to deserve his malice and physical assaults. She’s endured it and taken care of him all the same.
Rasheed has beaten both his wives before, but this time seems different: he is more vicious, and both Laila and Mariam are more willing to defend themselves and each other. For the first time, Mariam understands that she had accepted the view of herself as a shameful harami: now she sees herself as the strong, enduring woman she is.
As Rasheed approaches Mariam with his belt, Laila picks up a drinking glass from the ground, and hits it against the side of his face. Blood pours from his cheek and her hands. Rasheed turns back around snarling, and pins Laila under him on the ground, his hands wrapping around her neck. Mariam sees that he means to suffocate her. She races out of the room to the toolshed, where she grabs the shovel. When she returns, Laila’s face is turning blue, and she’s stopped struggling. Mariam has seen Rasheed take so much from her in the past 27 years—he can’t take Laila too.
While Rasheed has threatened to kill Laila before, this is the first time he seems like he’ll carry through with it—he is described almost as a feral creature. Mariam’s actions stem from intuition and immediate reaction rather than from measured thought, as is understandable for the situation: her fierce loyalty and friendship for Laila leads her to do anything for her.
Mariam raises the shovel, says his name, so that he’ll see, and when he looks up, she hits him across the temple. Rasheed touches his head and his gaze almost seems to soften—maybe, Mariam thinks, he sees something in her face of all her self-sacrifice and strength. But then he begins to sneer, and Mariam realizes that it is futile not to finish now—she knows that Rasheed will want to murder them both. She raises the shovel high above her head, and as she brings it down, she realizes that for the first time, she is deciding her life path herself.
Even just before the final blow, Mariam is willing to accept any subtle show of regret or compassion in Rasheed’s eyes—but she sees none. Murdering Rasheed is, to her, the only way she can protect Laila and her family. Though she knows she will have to face the consequences of her action, she takes solace in the fact that her act stems from her own desires and feelings rather than those of another.