Rasheed is lying over Laila, and she begins to see stars. As darkness falls, she vaguely makes out the faces of her children. But suddenly, the darkness starts to lift, and Mariam is shaking her, asking If she’s alright. It burns to breathe, but Laila continues to inhale, and then is coughing, gasping. She sits up and sees Rasheed lying on his back, unblinking. Then she sees the shovel, and lets out a deep groan. She starts trembling and stammering. Mariam, though, seems thoughtful. She tells Laila to sit down. They have to move him, she says—Zalmai can’t see him like this.
For Laila, the last few moments have brought her perilously close to death, though they have not constituted the kind of radical turning point that they were for Mariam. Although Laila is strong-minded too, here it is Mariam who keeps it together for Laila’s sake. As always, she thinks of Laila’s children first.
They wrap Rasheed in a bedsheet and carry him into the yard, though at one point Laila collapses and cries. They leave him in the toolshed, and Mariam says she needs to tend to Laila’s wounds. She tells Laila she needs the night to devise a plan. Mariam, still calm, says that she, Laila, Tariq, and the children will leave Kabul and go somewhere remote and safe. Mariam says they’ll go to a small village, maybe with a grass field or lake with trout, where they can lead peaceful, quiet lives. Laila is grateful that Mariam has taken charge, and trusts her that there is a way out.
Following the action-packed climax of the previous chapter, the protagonists are left to pick up the pieces of Mariam’s choice. Once more, Mariam takes on the role not just of a friend but of a mother figure. And once again she takes care of Laila physically. She consoles her and helps her to visualize a peaceful, hopeful future where Laila is now only able to see despair.
Laila finds Zalmai waiting for Rasheed to say his prayers with them. He asks where his father is, and Laila tells him he’s gone away—the first of many times she’ll have to tell this lie. She is stricken with shame. Zalmai asks if Baba has left because of what he, Zalmai, said, about Laila and the man downstairs, but as she starts to reassure him she sees he’s asleep.
While Laila understands the sacrifice that Mariam has made for her, she also knows that this sacrifice has certain costs, and that she will never be able to fully overcome the shame at taking away Zalmai’s father.
When Laila wakes up, the fog from the night before has lifted. She goes into Mariam’s room and says she knows what Mariam means to do. The story about the remote village, she sees now, was a lie meant to soothe. But Mariam says she meant it—for Laila. Laila starts stammering, pleading with Mariam. But Mariam tells her they’ll find them sooner or later, and she won’t have Laila and Tariq living like fugitives too, especially with their children. It isn’t fair, Laila says. But it is, Mariam responds—she’s killed their husband, so it isn’t right that she run. She can never face Zalmai’s grief.
Mariam’s motherly care for Laila soothed her at the time, but with a new day Laila is truly no longer a child herself, and must face the consequences of Mariam’s actions. Knowing that she and her family are responsible for what Mariam has done, she cannot bring herself to agree with Mariam—even though she knows that she would have made a similar sacrifice if she had been in Mariam’s place.
Mariam says that there’s nothing more she wants than for Laila and her children to have a future. Laila and her children have made her happier than she ever could have imagined. But Laila can’t bring herself to agree—she rambles on with childish storybook fantasies about the new life they could make for themselves, until she finally buries herself against Mariam’s shoulder and cries.
Mariam has been more of a parent to Laila’s children than Rasheed ever was. Unable to fully face what will happen to Mariam, Laila again reverts to a childlike state, allowing Mariam to comfort her and, one more time, take on the role of caretaker.
Mariam packs a lunch for Aziza and Zalmai, and tells Laila to kiss Aziza for her. Laila says she wants to see Mariam before she testifies, and will explain to them that it wasn’t their fault. As Laila and Zalmai leave, Laila looks back to see Mariam, with her white scarf, blue sweater, and sunlight across her face. She’ll never see Mariam again.
Up until the final moment, Laila deludes herself into thinking that there is a way out for Mariam and not just for her. The final description of Mariam will be the way Laila will remember her friend, just as she remembers Babi from the day at the Bamiyan Valley.