Excerpt of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
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Mariam was five years old the first time she heard the word harami.
It happened on a Thursday. It must have, because Mariam remembered that she
had been restless and preoccupied that day, the way she was only on Thursdays,
the day when Jalil visited her at the kolba. To pass the time until the moment
that she would see him at last, crossing the knee-high grass in the clearing and
waving, Mariam had climbed a chair and taken down her mother's Chinese tea set.
The tea set was the sole relic that Mariam's mother, Nana, had of her own
mother, who had died when Nana was two. Nana cherished each blue-and-white
porcelain piece, the graceful curve of the pot's spout, the hand-painted finches
and chrysanthemums, the dragon on the sugar bowl, meant to ward off evil.
It was this last piece that slipped from Mariam's fingers, that fell to the
wooden floorboards of the kolba and shattered.
When Nana saw the bowl, her face flushed red and her upper lip shivered, and
her eyes, both the lazy one and the good, settled on Mariam in a flat,
unblinking way. Nana looked so mad that Mariam feared the jinn would enter her
mother's body again. But the jinn didn't come, not that time. Instead, Nana
grabbed Mariam by the wrists, pulled her close, and, through gritted teeth,
said, "You are a clumsy little harami. This is my reward for everything I've
endured. An heirloom-breaking, clumsy little harami."
At the time, Mariam did not understand. She did not know what this word
haramibastardmeant. Nor was she old enough to appreciate the injustice, to see
that it is the creators of the harami who are culpable, not the harami, whose
only sin is being born. Mariam did surmise, by the way Nana said the word, that
it was an ugly, loathsome thing to be a harami, like an insect, like the
scurrying cockroaches Nana was always cursing and sweeping out of the kolba.
Later, when she was older, Mariam did understand. It was the way
Nana uttered the wordnot so much saying it as spitting it at herthat made
Mariam feel the full sting of it. She understood then what Nana meant, that a
harami was an unwanted thing; that she, Mariam, was an illegitimate person who
would never have legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as
love, family, home, acceptance.
Jalil never called Mariam this name. Jalil said she was his little flower. He
was fond of sitting her on his lap and telling her stories, like the time he
told her that Herat, the city where Mariam was born, in 1959, had once been the
cradle of Persian culture, the home of writers, painters, and Sufis.
"You couldn't stretch a leg here without poking a poet in the ass," he
laughed. Jalil told her the story of Queen Gauhar Shad, who had raised the
famous minarets as her loving ode to Herat back in the fifteenth century. He
described to her the green wheat fields of Herat, the orchards, the vines
pregnant with plump grapes, the city's crowded, vaulted bazaars.
"There is a pistachio tree," Jalil said one day, "and beneath it, Mariam jo,
is buried none other than the great poet Jami." He leaned in and whispered,
"Jami lived over five hundred years ago. He did. I took you there once, to the
tree. You were little. You wouldn't remember."
It was true. Mariam didn't remember. And though she would live the first
fifteen years of her life within walking distance of Herat, Mariam would never
see this storied tree. She would never see the famous minarets up close, and she
would never pick fruit from Herat's orchards or stroll in its fields of wheat.
But whenever Jalil talked like this, Mariam would listen with enchantment. She
would admire Jalil for his vast and worldly knowledge. She would quiver with
pride to have a father who knew such things.
Excerpt from A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, by arrangement
with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright (c) 2007
by ATSS Publications, LLC.