In the end, it came down to a simple thing: They weren’t her children, he and Pari. Most people loved their own. It couldn’t be helped that he and his sister didn’t belong to her. They were another woman’s leftovers.
Father was different. Father had hardness in him. His eyes looked out on the same world as Mother’s had, and saw only indifference. Endless toil. Father’s world was unsparing. Nothing good came free. Even love. You paid for all things. And if you were poor, suffering was your currency.
Abdullah, who spent hours every week lugging buckets of water from Shadbagh’s communal well, marveled at a life where water was just a twist of the hand away.
It blistered the eyes, beauty like hers.
And then there was Parwana, shuffling next to her, with her flat chest and sallow complexion. Her frizzy hair, her heavy, mournful face, and her thick wrists and masculine shoulders. A pathetic shadow, torn between her envy and the thrill of being seen with Masooma, sharing in the attention as a weed would, lapping up water meant for the lily upstream.
All her life, Parwana had made sure to avoid standing in front of a mirror with her sister. It robbed her of hope to see her face beside Masooma’s, to see so plainly what she had been denied. But in public, every stranger’s eye was a mirror. There was no escape.
How will she bear the days when Masooma’s absence feels like a far heavier burden than her presence ever had? How will she learn to tread around the edges of the big gaping hole where Masooma had once been?
I berated them for gossiping like a sewing circle of old women and reminded them that without people like Mr. Wahdati the likes of us would be back in our villages collecting cow dung.
I rarely heard him address her by anything other than aziz, which means “beloved,”“darling,” and yet never did the couple seem more distant from each other than when he said it, and never did this term of endearment sound so starched as when it came from Mr. Wahdati’s lips.
She always addressed me in this manner, her words sharp and angular.
I was not altogether surprised to learn that she had taken her own life. I know now that some people feel unhappiness the way others love: privately, intensely, and without recourse.
The uncle is a silent, inscrutable presence in the room.
Being around her mother always reminded Pari that her own looks were woven of common cloth. At times, it was Maman herself who did the reminding, though it always came hidden in a Trojan horse of compliments.
Maman was incapable of either starting or ending a relationship without excess.
Whether I approve or not is irrelevant. This is France, Monsieur Boustouler, not Afghanistan. Young people don’t live or die by the stamp of parental approval.
She would wrestle with this, now and for all days to come. It would be the dripping faucet at the back of her mind.
But Gholam had already moved on. This was often the pattern of their conversations, Gholam choosing what they would talk about, launching into a story with gusto, roping Adel in, only to lose interest and leave both the story and Adel dangling.
And when he did, there would be no going back because adulthood was akin to what his father had once said about being a war hero: once you became one, you died one.
Mamá believed in loyalty above all, even at the cost of self-denial. Especially at the cost of self-denial.
It surprises me that she remembers. All my life, I have had the feeling that the words I say to Mamá vanish unheard in space, as if there is static between us, a bad connection.
But Madaline was one of those people to whom elegance came effortlessly as though it were a genetic skill, like the ability to curl your tongue into the shape of a tube.
Like a person walking down a crowded street in a foreign city catching within earshot a snippet of her native tongue.
This is what rankles, what pollutes Mamá’s kindness, her rescues and her acts of courage. The indebtedness that shadows them. The demands, the obligations she saddles you with. The way she uses these acts as currency, with which she barters for loyalty and allegiance.
The rope that pulls you from the flood can become a noose around your neck.
My skin is the yellow of a sari, and it feels like invisible hands are peeling it raw.
She said this with a thudding finality that sealed off all channels of rebuttal.
I learned that the world didn’t see the inside of you, that it didn’t care a whit about the hopes and dreams, and sorrows, that lay masked by skin and bone. It was as simple, as absurd, and as cruel as that.
Beauty is an enormous, unmerited gift given randomly, stupidly.
It took the dog minutes to give Thalia her face, and a lifetime for her to mold it into an identity. She would not let me undo it all with my scalpel. It would be like inflicting a fresh wound over the old one.
“James Parkinson. George Huntington. Robert Graves. John Down. Now this Lou Gehrig fellow of mine. How did men come to monopolize disease names too?”
“I think your father just flashed me his inner Pashtun.”
He wrinkles his nose in a way that makes him look like a wet, fearful rodent, and I resent him when he makes this face. I resent him for being the way he is. I resent him for the narrowed borders of my existence, for being the reason my best years are draining away from me.
He said that if culture was a house, then language was the key to the front door, to all the rooms inside. Without it, he said, you ended up wayward, without a proper home or a legitimate identity.
As the years had swept past, I had outgrown her, the way I had outgrown favorite pajamas and stuffed animals I had once clung to. But now I thought of her once more and of the ties that bound us. If what had been done to her was like a wave that had crashed far from shore, then it was the backwash of that wave now pooling around my ankles, then receding from my feet.
It was in the tender, slightly panicky way he spoke these words that I knew my father was a wounded person, that his love for me was as true, vast, and permanent as the sky, and that it would always bear down upon me. It was the kind of love that, sooner or later, cornered you into a choice: either you tore free or you stayed and withstood its rigor even as it squeezed you into something smaller than yourself.
I feel a tilting, something clicking into place. Something ripped apart long ago being sealed again.
Tashakor Mr Hosseini 🙂