After breakfast the next morning, Mother sends Parvana back to the market with Father’s writing things. Parvana is excited; if she can make money, she might not have to do housework ever again. She spreads her blanket where Father always sat, next to a wall of a house. There’s a window, painted black, above her spot. She remembers how Father said that if they sit in the same spot every day, people will remember them and come to them. Today, her name is Kaseem. She’s Father’s nephew, come to help since Father is ill—saying he’s ill is safer than admitting he’s in jail. Parvana spreads her blanket and waits for customers.
As the boy Kaseem, Parvana has to take on more responsibility than she ever has before—but when she realizes she’ll get to make money and evade housework, her newfound responsibility doesn’t seem so bad. With this, the novel begins to show that as Parvana gets practice making decisions for herself and being independent as Kaseem, she’ll find a satisfying new sense of agency that’s greater than she ever expected to get before.
No one stops for the first hour. Men walk by and look at Parvana, and she fears someone will realize she’s a girl. When someone finally stops, Parvana trembles with fear. It’s a Taliban soldier. In Pashtu, he asks if she reads letters. Parvana says she reads and writes in Dari and Pashtu. The soldier pulls something out of his pocket and sits down beside her. He hands her an old letter to read. The stamp is German and it’s addressed to Fatima Azima. The soldier says she was his wife. The writer, Fatima’s aunt, writes that she won’t be around for Fatima’s wedding, but she’s glad to be in Germany away from the fighting. She knows Fatima’s father will have chosen a good husband and wishes Fatima happiness and sons. She asks that Fatima keep the letter once Fatima and her husband return to Afghanistan.
This is a terrifying experience for Parvana. The Taliban, in her mind, aren’t normal men with letters from loved ones—they’re cutthroat, bloodthirsty soldiers who oppress, hurt, and kill people. This letter, however, helps Parvana see that the women in relationships with these soldiers share many of the same concerns Parvana and her family does. This writer left Afghanistan, just like many of Parvana’s friends and family members did, presumably to escape the conflict and bombings in Afghanistan.
The soldier is silent. Parvana asks if she should read the letter again, but the soldier shakes his head and takes the letter back. Parvana notices a tear in the soldier’s eye. He says that his wife is dead. He found the letter in her things and wanted to know what it said. Remembering what Father did, Parvana asks if she should write a reply. The soldier shakes his head and pays Parvana. He walks away. Parvana is confused. To her, the Taliban are just men who beat women and arrest people like Father. She wonders if they feel sorrow, too. It’s very confusing. She thinks about the soldier throughout the day.
In this moment, the Taliban soldier begins to look a little more human to Parvana. This doesn’t excuse the Taliban’s actions, but it highlights Parvana’s growing maturity and more nuanced understanding of the world. She begins to understand that families and love bind people together, no matter what their political or religious ideology may be.
Just before lunch, a man stops and asks the price for the red shalwar kameez. Mother didn’t tell Parvana what to ask, but Parvana remembers how Mother used to argue with vendors to get a lower price. Parvana thinks of all the hard work that her aunt put into the shalwar kameez and names a price. She and the customer haggle and finally agree on a price. It feels so good to make money that Parvana almost doesn’t regret selling it. Parvana stays for a few more hours until she realizes she has to go to the bathroom. Since there’s nowhere to safely go in the market, she packs up her things. She whispers to the sky for Father to come back and movement from the window above catches her eye. She heads home, proud of herself.
Parvana has grown a lot over the course of her one day in the market. She’s started to understand that everyone, no matter how seemingly evil they are, is human; she’s learned that she’s capable of passing as a boy; and she’s learned that it’s satisfying to make money and support her family even if doing so is a major risk. Through these leaps, she becomes more comfortable with her identity as Kaseem and in her newfound freedom. This doesn’t mean she’s entirely independent, but she’s now more capable of acting independently.