Summary and Analysis
Chapter 36 - Laila
It is the spring of 1994 and the day of Laila and Mariam's planned escape. Laila and Mariam wait for Rasheed to leave for work. Shortly after, with Aziza in tow, they catch a taxi to the bus station. Both women are extremely nervous but hopeful. Their first challenge will be to find a man to travel with to Pakistan, as the current law dictates that no woman can travel without the company of a male relative. Their next challenge will be entering Pakistan — Peshawar is already flooded with Afghani refugees.
At the bus station, Laila and Mariam scout for men who look kind-hearted. Laila spots a man traveling with his wife and child and approaches him. Laila tells the man the story she and Mariam have agreed on: that Mariam is her mother and they're both widows traveling to live with an uncle in Peshawar. The man agrees to help and purchases bus tickets for them. But as they queue for the bus, the man turns them over to two soldiers. Mariam, Laila, and Aziza are taken into custody.
At the police station, an officer fiercely interrogates both women, singularly. Flustered and lacking necessary details to make their story seem true, they're returned to Rasheed. Rasheed, overcome with anger, beats Laila and locks her and Aziza in Mariam's bedroom. He beats Mariam brutally and locks her in the tool shed. Then he nails boards to windows of the room Laila and Aziza are in. Trapped in darkness without food or water for three days, Rasheed finally frees both women, warning Laila that if they try to escape again, he'll kill Mariam and Aziza first and make Laila watch before killing her as well.
In this action-packed chapter, Hosseini reinforces the theme of gender disparities by showing not only Mariam and Laila's desperation to flee, but also how ubiquitous the policing of women has become since Laila's childhood in Kabul. Mariam and Laila's desperation emerges at many points throughout the chapter. Laila's willingness to pawn her wedding ring indicates tremendous bravery, considering the danger of traveling alone for a woman. Secondly, their desperation is shown in their faith that any man would be willing to take compassion on them and let them travel with him. While Laila sees kindness in the man's eyes when she approaches him, she remains oblivious to how the world looks through that man's eyes: he may indeed sympathize with Laila and Mariam, but he'd be an idiot to put himself or his own family in danger for two women he's never met before.
The police interrogation highlights the hopelessness of Mariam and Laila's situation. Laila tries to reason with the interrogating officer, reminding him that he said the police stay out of private matters, and that her decision to leave her husband is just that — a private family matter. What Laila fails to see is that logic is not what guides the men who control the city — rather it is fear of losing power and a lack of respect for women's autonomy, neither of which are based on logic.
The brutality Laila and Mariam experience when returned to Rasheed is indicative of the violent, sexist culture in which they live. Rasheed's violence reveals his attitude toward the women: they are his property, to treat as well or as poorly as he wishes. By locking both of them up and depriving them of food, water, and sunlight, he demonstrates his complete control over their fates. His power over them, coupled with the anti-women laws of Kabul, make it impossible for the women to escape. There is no one they can trust but each other. Submission to these rules is their only means of survival.