Rasheed slumped into his chair and glanced down with a look of distaste at the food placed in front of him by his wife. After the loss of his unborn child he found it nearly impossible to summon any kind feelings he once had for Mariam. He recalled the moment he first saw her, the way she sparked a small sense of hope inside him that she may be able to give him his son back, his life back. Then he remembered the look of disappointment on her face as she stepped into his home for the first time, as if she was expecting a palace and his face twisted into a bitter grimace. How dare she? How dare a harami like her pass judgement on him, a successful businessman?
“What’s the matter?”, Mariam’s voice snapped Rasheed out of his resentful recollection of memories. Something about the apologetic tone in her voice made his stomach turn. Why did she have to be so… unsatisfactory? So pathetic? Why did she meet every criticism he gave her with a weak, meaningless apology. Her questions about the war irritated him; her lack of any sort of intelligence irritated him, but mostly, her inability to fulfil a woman’s only duty enraged him. She could not even carry a child, she could not fulfil her purpose as his wife. Rasheed had given her everything she could ever need and what did he get in return? Bad food, and nothing else.
He threw his plate on the ground in a haze of rage and watched as she scrambled to clean it up, keeping her head down. Rasheed remembered all the other tasteless, rock-hard mouthfuls of rice he’d had to chew throughout their marriage. The rice was much like Mariam - he had no other alternative, he just had to put up with its presence.
“Get up,” he ordered. “Come here, get up”.
Rasheed wasn’t sure what he was going to do yet, all he knew was that he was angry, angrier than he’d ever felt in his long, miserable life. He wanted her too feel the pain he felt of losing not only his son but all the babies she could not carry; he wanted her to understand how it feels to live with someone so ungrateful and useless; but most of all, at that moment Rasheed wanted Mariam to taste the undercooked, disgusting rice he had to endure every single meal.
He opened the front door and scanned the floor. His eyes landed on a pile of pebbles which he snatched up. Storming back into the living room he stalked directly towards Mariam and ceased her, noticing how she was shaking. A wash of enjoyment passed over him, a feeling of importance that he was in complete control of her fate. Mostly, Rasheed felt an overwhelming sense of power. And he liked it. All the years of gossip he overheard from the stupid women in his neighbourhood commenting on how his son’s death was all his fault came flooding back to him. Images of women walking around his shop without wearing a burqa in short, obscene skirts with their weak, futile husbands on their arms. For Rasheed in this moment, Mariam was an embodiment of all he had endured throughout his life, all his moments of self-hatred and anger towards other Afghans who were ignorant to the sacred words of the Qu'ran, the women who showed their skin in public, the Soviet invasion and relentless sound of rockets, keeping him awake all night and distracting him all day. He shoved the pebbles in Mariam’s hand and watched her face crumble in fear.
“Put these in your mouth.”
Mariam stammered something he couldn’t quite make out, nor cared to hear.
“Put. These. In your mouth.”
Her eyes washed over with sheer terror as she worked out what was to come. She pleaded with him, begged for mercy and forgiveness. He pried her mouth open and forced the pebbles into it. Mariam hopelessly tried to resist to which he found amusing, watching her useless attempt to overpower him.
Another desperate plea. He felt a sweat on his brow and his hand tightening its grip on her jaw.
For a split second Rasheed felt a small amount of regret, did she really deserve this particular punishment? However, the sound of her cracking teeth reminded him of his shattered life, why should she not share it? They were married after all, he thought maliciously. Why should she only share in his wealth?
Rasheed strode up the stairs to his bedroom with his head held high, as if on a cloud of superiority. He didn’t look back at Mariam, only heard her muffled whimpering. As he lit his cigarette he replayed the look of terror on Mariam’s face and the sound of her teeth breaking. He felt an air of satisfaction, much like after you’ve swatted a fly which has been bothering you all through the hot, humid day.
Original Image by Elizabeth Debonnaire.
DISCLAIMER: The above is adapted from Khaled Hosseini's 'A Thousand Splendid Suns', Chapter 15, illustrating in more vivid detail the emotions felt by Rasheed and Mariam, lending the reader a greater sense of the whole of Hosseini's masterpiece than reading Chapter 15 alone (on which this piece is based) might convey.