Chapters 43-44 Summary

Mariam takes Zalmai upstairs to her bedroom, and the boy bounces his new basketball around the room. Mariam asks him to stop, but Zalmai never respects Mariam as an authority figure, so he continues misbehaving. Zalmai is skeptical of Tariq; when they met him at their front door, Zalmai resorted to childish behavior and shoved his thumb in his mouth. Zalmai asks Mariam who the man is and tells her that he does not like him. Meanwhile, his basketball has rolled into the closet, so he screams for his toy until Laila comes upstairs to soothe him. Mariam waits outside the room and sees Tariq near the bottom of the stairs. She realizes that the story of his death was a rouse and wonders how much Rasheed paid Abdul Sharif to come to their home years ago to tell the lie of Tariq’s death.

Tariq tells Laila stories of his time in prison. One tale involves the Taliban’s forcing Tariq’s cellmate to paint flamingoes in a decent manner. Laila laughs at the image of trousers painted onto the bare legs of the birds, but she hides her smile; she feels ashamed of her yellowing teeth and the gap where a tooth is missing. Laila looks at the signs of age on Tariq—his slimmer frame, new gestures, and dull eyes. She thinks of his parents. When Laila inquires about them, Tariq sadly tells her that both have passed away. Tariq offers Laila a block of cheese made from the milk of his goat, and he tells her about his home in the foothills. Both agree that they no longer recognize anyone from the old days, nor do they recognize the new face of Kabul. Tariq tells Laila about his time spent at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Peshawar. Many children died from dysentery and other diseases. His father died that winter and his mother nearly died of pneumonia.

After a few more stories, Zalmai cries upstairs, and Tariq remarks that the boy must not like him. Laila tells him about Aziza, and Tariq wishes to meet his daughter. Tariq’s face turns grave as he looks at Laila’s face. He asks if Rasheed has hit her. Tariq tells Laila that he wishes he had never left her. Laila asks Tariq to return the following afternoon when Rasheed is at work so she can take him to the orphanage.

Later that evening, Rasheed returns home. Zalmai tells his father that a strange man came to see his mother that afternoon. Rasheed pries the details out of the boy, and Zalmai says that a man with a limp was downstairs talking to Laila. Rasheed knows that the man was Tariq. Laila screams at Rasheed for having lied to her about Tariq’s death, and Rasheed calls her a liar for trying to pass Aziza as his daughter.