Summary and Analysis
When Tariq doesn't return from visiting family on the date he's supposed to, Laila begins to worry, remembering that it was on his last trip to the south when he stepped on a land mine and lost his leg. Finally, after an eternal two weeks, Laila sees Tariq's flashlight signals in the darkness and she's able to go to bed with a calm heart.
The next morning Laila heads for Tariq's house. Tariq's parents greet her affectionately, and the four of them enjoy a small snack together. Tariq's mother insists that Laila stay for lunch. Laila loves sharing meals with Tariq's family because they all eat together and clearly enjoy each other's company, unlike in her house — where often, Laila eats alone. While Tariq's mother makes lunch, Laila and Tariq retreat to his room to play cards. Laila tells Tariq she missed him and he grimaces, making her realize that boys do not like to articulate their friendships the way she and her female friends do.
Later that afternoon, Laila and Tariq walk to the zoo, and when they pass Khadim, Laila tells Tariq about the water gun incident. Furious, Tariq storms over to Khadim, removes his artificial leg and proceeds to beat Khadim with it.
By showing Tariq and his family, Hosseini is able to contrast how this family deals with grief differently than Fariba and Hakim. While their sons are still at war, Fariba and Hakim's relationship is jeopardized not by what they've lost, but simply by the possibility of loss. Fariba shuts down and alienates Hakim, and leaves him to be the only nurturing parent in their daughter's life. Tariq's parents, having suffered their son's loss of a leg, have handled the tragedy better. They feel lucky that Tariq survived at all and by being supportive and loving, Tariq has recovered emotionally as well as physically from his trauma. His ability to defend Laila with his artificial leg is proof of his comfort in his own skin.
Additionally, Laila's relationship with Tariq and his family provides her with necessary relief from the atmosphere at her home. She enjoys being part of a family that jokes with each other, eats together, and shows affection. Through these contacts, Laila is able to remain independent and assured of her self-worth despite her mother's neglect.