Chapters 18-20 Summary
Weeks pass, yet Tariq does not return from Ghazni. Laila fears the worst and considers that Tariq has once again fallen victim to a landmine like he did when he was five. That time he lost a leg, and Laila now believes that he may have lost his life. But a few nights later she sees a flashing yellow light from down the street, signaling that her friend has returned. The next day, Laila visits Tariq and is shocked at his newly shaven head. When Laila enters the family room, Tariq’s father calls her “our aroos (daughter-in-law),” and Tariq’s mother scolds her husband. Laila is invited to stay for a meal, and the family speak of their trip to visit Tariq’s sick uncle. Laila loves eating meals at Tariq’s house because the conversation is easy and the family always eats together. Babi once told Laila that there is much tension between their ethnic groups: the Pashtuns, Tariq’s people, and the Tajiks, Laila’s. However, Laila never feels any tension when in Tariq’s home. After eating, Tariq invites Laila to play a game of cards, and the two go to his bedroom. Laila confesses that she missed him while he was away, and Tariq is embarrassed.
When Tariq and Laila are outside, Laila sees Khadim and tells Tariq about the urine spray from the water gun. Tariq unstraps his prosthetic leg and hops towards Khadim. After Tariq gives Khadim a swift beating, Khadim never bothers Laila again.
Back at home, Laila and Babi eat dinner without Mammy, who remains in bed. Babi tells Laila that women have always had it hard in their country but that at least under the communists, women had more rights. Then, they are interrupted by a knock at the door. A man arrives bearing the tragic news that Laila’s two brothers, Ahmad and Noor, have been killed in battle. The next morning, mourners arrive at the home. Laila finds it difficult to feel Mammy’s grief, for she barely knew her elder brothers.
After the death of her sons, Mammy’s physical ailments plague her body even though the doctors find no illness. She remains in bed most of the day, and she always wears black. Mammy does not, however, miss her five daily namaz prayers. Laila ends up taking on more chores around the house, but Mammy takes little notice—Laila’s presence has been overshadowed by the memory of her brothers. Laila worries that her mother might do something to hurt herself or to take her life, so she hides dangerous items like aspirin and razor blades from sight. Mammy admits that she thought of committing suicide on the night that the messenger arrived. Now, though, she wants to live to see the free Afghanistan for which Ahmad and Noor had been fighting.