THAT NIGHT I asked Baba if we could go to Jalalabad on Friday. He was rocking on the leather swivel chair behind his desk, reading a newspaper. He put it down, took off the reading glasses I disliked so much--Baba wasn’t old, not at all, and he had lots of years left to live, so why did he have to wear those stupid glasses?
“Why not!” he said. Lately, Baba agreed to everything I asked. Not only that, just two nights before, he’d asked me if I wanted to see _El Cid_ with Charlton Heston at Cinema Aryana. “Do you want to ask Hassan to come along to Jalalabad?”
Why did Baba have to spoil it like that? “He’s mazreez,” I said. Not feeling well.
“Really?” Baba stopped rocking in his chair. “What’s wrong with him?”
I gave a shrug and sank in the sofa by the fireplace. “He’s got a cold or something. Ali says he’s sleeping it off.”
“I haven’t seen much of Hassan the last few days,” Baba said. “That’s all it is, then, a cold?” I couldn’t help hating the way his brow furrowed with worry.
“Just a cold. So are we going Friday, Baba?”
“Yes, yes,” Baba said, pushing away from the desk. “Too bad about Hassan. I thought you might have had more fun if he came.”
“Well, the two of us can have fun together,” I said. Baba smiled. Winked. “Dress warm,” he said.
IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN just the two of us--that was the way, I wanted it--but by Wednesday night, Baba had managed to invite another two dozen people. He called his cousin Homayoun--he was actually Baba’s second cousin--and mentioned he was going to Jalalabad on Friday, and Homayoun, who had studied engineering in France and had a house in Jalalabad, said he’d love to have everyone over, he’d bring the kids, his two wives, and, while he was at it, cousin Shafiqa and her family were visiting from Herat, maybe she’d like to tag along, and since she was staying with cousin Nader in Kabul, his family would have to be invited as well even though Homayoun and Nader had a bit of a feud going, and if Nader was invited, surely his brother Faruq had to be asked too or his feelings would be hurt and he might not invite them to his daughter’s wedding next month and...
We filled three vans. I rode with Baba, Rahim Khan, Kaka Homayoun--Baba had taught me at a young age to call any older male Kaka, or Uncle, and any older female, Khala, or Aunt. Kaka Homayoun’s two wives rode with us too--the pinch-faced older one with the warts on her hands and the younger one who always smelled of perfume and danced with her eyes close--as did Kaka Homayoun’s twin girls. I sat in the back row, carsick and dizzy, sandwiched between the seven-year-old twins who kept reaching over my lap to slap at each other. The road to Jalalabad is a two-hour trek through mountain roads winding along a steep drop, and my stomach lurched with each hairpin turn. Everyone in the van was talking, talking loudly and at the same time, nearly shrieking, which is how Afghans talk. I asked one of the twins--Fazila or Karima, I could never tell which was which--if she’d trade her window seat with me so I could get fresh air on account of my car sickness. She stuck her tongue out and said no. I told her that was fine, but I couldn’t be held accountable for vomiting on her new dress. A minute later, I was leaning out the window. I watched the cratered road rise and fall, whirl its tail around the mountainside, counted the multicolored trucks packed with squatting men lumbering past. I tried closing my eyes, letting the wind slap at my cheeks, opened my mouth to swallow the clean air. I still didn’t feel better. A finger poked me in the side. It was Fazila/Karima.
“What?” I said.
“I was just telling everyone about the tournament,” Baba said from behind the wheel. Kaka Homayoun and his wives were smiling at me from the middle row of seats.