Then Tariq remarked that her hair was getting longer.
“It’s nice,” he said.
Laila hoped she wasn’t blushing. “You changed the subject.’‘
“The empty-headed girls who think you’re sexy.”
“That I only have eyes for you.”
Mariam lay on the couch, hands tucked between her knees, watched the whirlpool of snow twisting and spinning outside the window. She remembered Nana saying once that each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. That all the sighs drifted up the sky, gathered into clouds, then broke into tiny pieces that fell silently on the people below. As a reminder of how people like us suffer, she’d said. How quietly we endure all that falls upon us.
“Of all earthly pleasures, Laila’s favorite was lying next to Aziza, her baby’s face so close that she could watch her big pupils dilate and shrink. Laila loved running her finger over Aziza’s pleasing, soft skin, over the dimpled knuckles, the folds of fat at her elbows. Sometimes she lay Aziza down on her chest and whispered into the soft crown of her head things about Tariq, the father who would always be a stranger to Aziza, whose face Aziza would never know. Laila told her of his aptitude for solving riddles, his trickery and mischief, his easy laugh.
“He had the prettiest lashes, thick like yours. A good chin, a fine nose, and a round forehead. Oh, your father was handsome, Aziza. He was perfect. Perfect, like you are.”
In the coming days and weeks, Laila would scramble frantically to commit it all to memory, what happened next. Like an art lover running out of a burning museum, she would grab whatever she could, a look, a whisper, a moan to salvage from perishing, to preserve. But time is the most forgiving of fires, and she couldn’t, in the end, save it all.