Laila finally regains consciousness and realizes that it was Mariam and Rasheed taking care of her. Rasheed found her after the explosion and has been paying for her medical care.
Now that she has woken up, Laila feels immense guilt over the loss of her parents.
Then, unexpectedly, there's a knock at the door. It's a man named Abdul Sharif requesting to speak with Laila.
Abdul Sharif is visibly sick, regularly fumbling for his "sulfa pills" (3.28.2).
Sharif tells Laila that he recently fell ill on a business trip to Pakistan. He was sent to an intensive care unit where he befriended a poor young man who had recently lost a leg, in addition to the leg that he had already lost when he was younger. That man was Tariq.
According to Sharif, Tariq died soon after. His last wish was for Sharif to visit Kabul and tell Laila what had happened to him.
Laila, though devastated, shows no sign of distress and goes numb, going back to her memory of her day visiting the Buddhas with Babi and Tariq.
Rasheed tries to console Laila by praising her and her family, despite the fact that he has talked mad trash about them on numerous occasions. He goes on and on, so elaborately that Mariam realizes he's hitting on Laila.
Mariam asks Rasheed about it later, and he tells her that he wants to make Laila his second wife. Mariam isn't into this, obviously, but Rasheed doesn't give her an alternative.
Later that night, Mariam goes to Laila's room and tells her what Rasheed said. Without a moment's hesitation, Laila says yes.
The next day, Rasheed presents Laila with a ring—purchased, we must add, with the funds he got from selling Mariam's ring. When Laila resists, he grabs her by the throat and demands that she put it on.
It turns out that Laila said yes to Rasheed's proposal because she's pregnant with Tariq's child. Her plan is to stay with Rasheed until she can save enough money to escape to Pakistan. Pretty sneaky, sis.
Laila and Rasheed get married soon after. Laila spends the night with Rasheed so that he will believe that the child is his.
There's a cold war going on between the two wives. Laila stays in her room all day, while Mariam continues doing the daily chores that she's done for years.
At dinner, Rasheed praises Laila and insults Mariam, comparing Laila to fancy "Benz" (we would have gone with Bugatti, but maybe that's just us) and Mariam to a low-grade "Volga" (3.317). He tells Laila that she can't leave the house without his company.
Days later, Laila finally reaches out to Mariam, starting with small talk and then going on to apologize for the things that Rasheed says.
Furious, Mariam accuses Laila of stealing her husband and demands that Laila do half of the chores. Laila tries to respond, but Mariam tells her that she doesn't want to speak to her.
Laila thinks back to the gossip about Rasheed that she had heard as a kid. Rasheed had been a drunk back then. The word was that he had even been drunk when his son drowned. This runs through Laila's mind as she tells him that she's pregnant.
The winter of 1992 comes and goes, and the war intensifies.
Finally, the tension between Mariam and Laila explodes. A small fight gets out of hand, and they end up cursing each other out. Laila runs upstairs to her room, and the baby kicks for the first time.
Laila and Rasheed return from the hospital, and it's immediately apparent to Mariam that Rasheed is unhappy. It turns out that Laila has given birth to a girl, named Aziza, much to Rasheed's dismay.
Aziza causes tension between Laila and Rasheed from the word "go." They begin to argue constantly.
After one particularly rough argument, Rasheed runs into Mariam's room, accusing Mariam of turning Laila against him. He goes to strike Mariam, but Laila grabs him and wrestles with him until he gives up and goes to bed.
Later that night, Mariam goes downstairs to get some water. She finds Laila and Aziza sleeping on the floor downstairs. Aziza wakes up, smiles at Mariam, and grabs her fingers.
Aziza starts crying whenever Mariam turns away, so Mariam ends up spending all night lying beside the newborn.
Two days later, Laila wakes to find new hand-sewn clothes for Aziza in a neat pile outside her door.
After dinner, Laila thanks Mariam for the clothes, and Mariam thanks Laila for standing up for her. Laila invites Mariam to come outside with her and drink some chai tea. The two women share a moment together and the tension between them disappears.
Laila and Mariam bond after that night. The two women now do all of their chores together. Their chai tea date becomes a nightly ritual. At the same time, Mariam and Aziza start to get attached to each other.
It's now 1994. The different military factions have changed sides once again (trust us, you do not want to play Risk with these guys), and the fighting has intensified.
Then, one night, as Laila braids Mariam's hair, Mariam suddenly breaks down and tells Laila her life story. Laila tells Mariam about her plan to escape to Pakistan with Aziza, and she asks Mariam to leave with them the following spring.
It's the day of Laila and Mariam's planned escape. Laila has been stealing small amounts of money from Rasheed over the years, and she uses the cash to hire a cab to the bus station.
There's only one wrinkle—new laws forbid women from traveling without a male companion. Laila and Mariam will be arrested if they try to buy tickets.
Laila approaches a kind-looking young man with a wife and young child, telling him that her husband has died and that she needs to get to Pakistan. He agrees.
However, the man doesn't buy them tickets at all—he reports them to the authorities. Mariam, Laila, and Aziza are arrested when they try to board, and they're sent right to the police station.
Mariam and Laila try to lie, but the police discover their identities and contact Rasheed.
Rasheed is furious when he brings them home. He punches Laila and locks her in her room before going downstairs and beating Mariam.
Once he's finished, Rasheed returns to Laila's room and nails boards over the windows. He leaves Laila and Aziza locked in the room for a whole day without food and water before finally unlocking the door and threatening to finish the job if she tries to escape again.
It's 1996. The war is still raging, but a new militia called the Taliban has entered the scene and quickly defeated its foes.
The Taliban was formed two years earlier by a man named Mullah Omar, who gathered up young Afghan men from refugee camps in Pakistan and created an army supposedly founded on religious principles.
After years and years of war, the people of Afghanistan are relieved at the prospect of an end to the fighting. There are celebrations in the streets for the first time in years when the Taliban take Kabul.
Things go bad immediately. First, the former president Najibullah is brutally executed, which deeply upsets Mariam and Laila. The next day, the Taliban makes a public announcement declaring the country's new moral laws.
All media—films, books, paintings, music, television—are banned. Women are forbidden from leaving the home unattended or without the burqa. Women are also banned from attending school.
Laila can't believe it.
The Taliban begin their censorship campaign. They destroy televisions, burn books, and shutter movie theaters. They even turn Ghazi Stadium into a modern-day coliseum where criminals (adulterous women, men who won't grow beards) are sentenced to public execution.
Laila scolds Rasheed for going to Ghazi Stadium to watch executions. In response, Rasheed implies that he knows that Aziza is not his child. Laila would be sentenced to death if he told the authorities.
It turns out that Laila is pregnant with another child—and this one is definitely Rasheed's. Laila almost gives herself an abortion, but she decides against it when she thinks about the love she has for Aziza.
Nine months later, Laila is about to give birth, but she's stopped at the front door of the hospital. The guards inform her that there is a "women-only" hospital across town that she must go to.
The women's hospital is overcrowded, dirty, and underfunded. Only female doctors are allowed to work there, and they're even forced to wear burqas during operations. Fortunately, they don't follow that last regulation.
The doctor tells Laila that she needs a Cesarean section, but the hospital has no anesthetic to give her. With Mariam at her side, Laila undergoes the procedure fully conscious.
Two years later, Mariam and Laila are digging a hole in the yard while Aziza and Zalmai, Laila's new son, play beside them.
Laila is relieved that she loves Zalmai just as much as she loves Aziza. Zalmai loves his mother too, but he also totally admires Rasheed.
Rasheed showers Zalmai with affection. One night, he brings home a TV and VCR that he bought at the black market specifically for Zalmai.
Rasheed does this even though money is tighter than ever. Things have gotten so bad that Rasheed suggests sending Aziza to the streets to beg for extra money.
Laila gets so angry that she punches Rasheed. Rasheed leaves the room, but Laila's victory is short lived; he returns and threatens her with a gun.
The Taliban begin to raid people's homes for illegal items, like TVs or music. In fact, Laila and Mariam are digging a hole in the backyard to bury the TV until those raids die down.
That night, Laila has a dream that she is burying Aziza alive in the backyard. She tells Aziza that she only needs to keep her hidden away until the Taliban stop the raids. It's no Twin Peaks dream sequence, but it's pretty creepy.
It's the year 2000, and Kabul is in the midst of a drought. For the people of the city, the only bright spot is the movie Titanic, which has somehow made its way to every illegally owned VCR in the city.
That summer, a fire burns Rasheed's shop to the ground. The family has to sell everything, including the TV, to stay afloat. Rasheed works several restaurant jobs but gets fired from each very quickly. He becomes even more violent toward Laila and Mariam.
In desperation, Rasheed takes Mariam to the Intercontinental Hotel so she can contact Jalil for money. When they arrive, Rasheed talks to a doorman who looks suspiciously familiar to Mariam.
Mariam calls the mayor's office in Herat and asks about Jalil. It turns out that Jalil has been dead for years and was even dying when he visited Mariam in Kabul—the Mercedes-Benz that Laila saw in Chapter 16 was actually Jalil's. Mariam had refused to see him then, but she now regrets it.
It's April 2001, and the family is at its most desperate. Rasheed is making Laila send Aziza to a nearby orphanage because they can no longer afford to care for her.
Although Laila is devastated, she's comforted by Zaman, the orphanage director, who shows clear concern for the children under his protection. Aziza is crushed when they leave, but Laila promises her that they will visit her all the time.
At first, Rasheed agrees to accompany Mariam and Laila on their visits to the orphanage. That doesn't last long, however.
With no escort, Laila is forced to take her chances walking the streets alone. She is often beaten badly by the Taliban, but it never stops her from trying again. During her actual visits, she can't help but notice how shaken Aziza seems. She's even developed a stutter.
One day, Rasheed actually does escort Laila, Mariam, and Zalmai to the orphanage for a scheduled outing.
Rasheed has to leave early, so Laila, Mariam, and Zalmai return home by themselves. When they arrive, Zalmai freaks out because there's a man standing at their front door.
It takes Laila a moment to realize who it is, but she loses it when she does figure it out. It's Tariq.
Zalmai, still upset, is upstairs with Mariam while Laila and Tariq talk downstairs.
Mariam realizes that the doorman at the Intercontinental was none other than Abdul Sharif, the man who had come by to inform Laila of Tariq's death.
Rasheed is turning out to be like a villain from an episode of Scooby Doo.
Laila and Tariq are catching up downstairs. These days, Tariq lives in Murree, Pakistan. It's a vacation town for the wealthy, so life is stable and quiet for people like Tariq.
Tariq and his family ended up at a refugee camp in Pakistan after leaving Kabul. They stayed there for a year, and Tariq's father passed away during the first winter. His mother then fell ill, and Tariq became desperate for money.
Tariq got hooked into a hashish-smuggling operation but was caught by the police and sent to prison. He tells Laila that he sent her countless letters during that time.
Tariq spent seven years in jail and was released in 2000. He made his way to Murree and got a job at a hotel as a janitor and handyman.
Laila tells Tariq that Aziza is his daughter. Tariq is overjoyed, and he tells Laila that he will meet her the following day so that they can visit Aziza together.
Rasheed returns home later that night, and Zalmai unknowingly tells him about Tariq's visit. Rasheed sends Zalmai upstairs and locks him in his room.
Rasheed returns downstairs and hits Laila in the face with his belt without saying a word. Laila tries to fight back, but Rasheed begins to beat her badly.
Then something unusual happens: Mariam joins the fray, clawing at Rasheed's face and pulling his hair.
Rasheed doesn't know how to respond at first, but he quickly lunges towards Mariam. Laila defends Mariam, and Rasheed ends up on top of her again. He's choking her now, and it looks like he's going to kill her.
Mariam goes to the toolshed in the backyard and grabs the shovel. She returns and gets Rasheed's attention, hitting him in the temple when he turns around.
Mariam knows that Rasheed will kill both of them if she doesn't do something. Then, with one more swing, and every bit of power she has left, she ends Rasheed's life.
Laila regains consciousness and sees Rasheed's body. She panics, but Mariam remains remarkably calm. Mariam sits Laila down and tells her that they need to move the body to the toolshed so Zalmai doesn't see it.
That night, Laila is freaking out and trying to think of a way for them to escape the predicament. Mariam is quiet but says that she will spend the night thinking of a plan.
Laila goes to Zalmai's room and tells him that Rasheed has gone away. Zalmai is devastated.
The next morning, Mariam tells Laila that she must go with Tariq to Pakistan. Mariam has to stay and take the punishment so the authorities won't go out looking for Laila. Laila is crushed and cries in Mariam's lap.
The next morning, Laila and Zalmai part ways with Mariam for the last time.
Mariam has been sent to a women's prison. Her crime has given her a bit of notoriety, and the other women treat her with reverence.
Mariam had confessed to murdering Rasheed at the trial. She was insulted by several of the judges, but one older man treated her with some mild respect.
Mariam only stays at the prison for ten days. On the last day, she is sent to Ghazi Stadium where she's executed in front of thousands of onlookers.