Nine-year-old Laila rose from bed, as she did most mornings, hungry for the sight of her friend Tariq. This morning, however, she knew there would be no Tariq sighting.
– How long will you be gone? – She’d asked when Tariq had told her that his parents were
taking him south, to the city of Ghazni, to visit his paternal uncle.
– Thirteen days
– Thirteen days?
– It’s not so long. You’re making a face, Laila.
– I am not.
– You’re not going to cry, are you?
– I am not going to cry! Not over you. Not in a thousand years.
She’d kicked at his shin, not his artificial but his real one, and he’d playfully whacked
the back of her head. Thirteen days. Almost two weeks. And, just five days in, Laila had learned a fundamental truth about time: Like the accordion on which Tariq’s father sometimes played old Pashto songs, time stretched and contracted depending on Tariq’s absence or presence.