Chapters 16-17 Summary

In Kabul during the spring of 1987, nine-year-old Laila wakes and regrets that she will not see her friend Tariq this morning. Tariq will be gone for two weeks; his parents have taken him south to the city of Ghazni to visit a sick uncle. So Laila begins the morning routine—her mother Fariba storms loudly about the house, while her father Babi waits for the mood to pass. When Mammy finally settles back into bed, Babi calls out to Laila so that the two can ride to school together. Laila loves her father’s quiet ways, and at night, she always finds him reading a book. Babi cannot take care of simple household tasks, but he is well versed in literature and history and can speak at length on the plight of Afghanistan. As Laila climbs onto Babi’s bicycle, she sees an expensive car with Herat license plates parked outside Rasheed’s house. Babi tells his daughter that it is none of their business.

In school, Laila finds it difficult to concentrate because she continues to think about Tariq’s absence and her parents’ fighting. Her teacher Shanzai, whom the students secretly call Khala Rangmaal—Auntie Painter—disrupts Laila’s daydreaming. Shanzai calls Laila Inquilabi Girl—Revolutionary Girl—because she was born on the night of the coup. When asked by her teacher for the names of politically friendly countries, Laila answers correctly, earning her teacher’s favor.

Mammy forgets to pick Laila up after school, so she walks home with two friends—Giti and Hasina. The girls talk about taking on suitors, but Laila is not thinking about suitors: Babi has told her many times that her education is most important. Giti and Hasina turn onto their street, and Laila walks the last three blocks alone. Near her house, a voice behind her mocks her yellow hair, and she turns to see Khadim, a neighborhood boy, pointing a water gun in her face. Khadim sprays Laila with urine from the gun and meanwhile a group of boys arrive and jeer. Laila runs home crying. When she gets there, she finds her mother still in bed; the room smells unclean. Around the room are pictures of Laila’s two brothers, Ahmad and Noor, who are now absent and off fighting the war. Mammy apologizes for not coming to get Laila from school and promises to be there the next day. Laila has heard this before. When Laila asks what is ailing her, Mammy touches her chest and says, “You just don’t know.”