(Continued from Part 3)
Noushin scrubbed her wet clothes on the flat river stone, glancing occasionally at Sholeh and Sharuz, their wet, plump bodies glistening in the sun. Noushin wasn't worried about the twins, the water was shallow, the sun was warm, and there was no one about to complain about their nakedness. She was a bit concerned, however, about Niki, the goat, who did not seem pleased at being dressed in Sholeh's best clothes. "Tuck it up higher," she called to them. "She might trip."
At sixteen, Noushin had little patience for overbearing busybodies, and her widowed status brought some measure of independence as a compensation for the poverty.
Although she could not say that she had come to love Akbar in the few weeks of their married life, her grief when he was killed in the massive air strikes of '05 was sincere. He died without knowing the secret she herself scarcely knew or comprehended. The twins were born a month to the day before her fourteenth birthday, and Noushin was not sure if the backbreaking, assiduous struggle to care for them, and keep them alive and healthy, was motivated by true maternal love or the simple desire to have playmates again.
According to the customs in her remote village, technically in Iran, some said, though so close to the Afghan border that the topic was a frequent subject of the kind of lively debate occasioned by a question of local interest whose answer makes absolutely no difference to local life, she should have stayed with Akbar's family and raised her children with the help and interference of dozens of in-laws, but Akbar was the only son, his mother had died when he was born, and his sisters had spread out across the globe, married with families of their own.
She could have gone with her father-in-law to live with his youngest daughter in Turkmenistan, but the ravages of war, and the question of whether an aged blind man would count as a valid chaperone for several days' journey in the company of the sisters' husband and the half-dozen Turkmen brothers and cousins he had brought with him rendered the invitation lukewarm, and her politely regretful decline of it less of a scandal than her acceptance would have been.
So she stayed in her little mud-walled enclosure, barely more than a cave, and managed to provide enough basic care, and avoid enough social opprobrium, to at last have her longed-for playmates, though she had little time to play with them, she made a face at the pile of clothes still unwashed. She wanted to dress up the goat, too.