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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 11

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IN THE WINTER OF 1975, 1 saw Hassan run a kite for the last time.

Usually, each neighborhood held its own competition. But that year, the
tournament was going to be held in my neighborhood, Wazir Akbar Khan, and
several other districts--Karteh-Char, Karteh-Parwan, Mekro-Rayan, and Koteh-
Sangi-had been invited. You could hardly go anywhere without hearing talk of
the upcoming tournament. Word had it this was going to be the biggest
tournament in twenty-five years.

One night that winter, with the big contest only four days away, Baba and
I sat in his study in overstuffed leather chairs by the glow of the fireplace. We
were sipping tea, talking. Ali had served dinner earlier-potatoes and curried
cauliflower over rice-and had retired for the night with Hassan. Baba was
fattening his pipe and I was asking him to tell the story about the winter a pack
of wolves had descended from the mountains in Herat and forced everyone to
stay indoors for a week, when he lit a match and said, casually, "I think maybe
you'll win the tournament this year. What do you think?"

I didn't know what to think. Or what to say. Was that what it would take?
Had he just slipped me a key? I was a good kite fighter. Actually, a very good one.
A few times, I'd even come close to winning the winter tournament-once, I'd
made it to the final three. But coming close wasn't the same as winning, was it?
Baba hadn't _come close_. He had won because winners won and everyone else
just went home. Baba was used to winning, winning at everything he set his mind
to. Didn't he have a right to expect the same from his son? And just imagine. If I
did win...

Baba smoked his pipe and talked. I pretended to listen. But I couldn't
listen, not really, because Baba's casual little comment had planted a seed in my
head: the resolution that I would win that winter's tournament. I was going to
win. There was no other viable option. I was going to win, and I was going to run
that last kite. Then I'd bring it home and show it to Baba. Show him once and for
all that his son was worthy. Then maybe my life as a ghost in this house would
finally be over. I let myself dream: I imagined conversation and laughter over

dinner instead of silence broken only by the clinking of silverware and the
occasional grunt. I envisioned us taking a Friday drive in Baba's car to Paghman,
stopping on the way at Ghargha Lake for some fried trout and potatoes. We'd go
to the zoo to see Marjan the lion, and maybe Baba wouldn't yawn and steal looks
at his wristwatch all the time. Maybe Baba would even read one of my stories. I'd
write him a hundred if I thought he'd read one. Maybe he'd call me Amir jan like
Rahim Khan did. And maybe, just maybe, I would finally be pardoned for killing
my mother.

Baba was telling me about the time he'd cut fourteen kites on the same
day. I smiled, nodded, laughed at all the right places, but I hardly heard a word he
said. I had a mission now. And I wasn't going to fail Baba. Not this time.

IT SNOWED HEAVILY the night before the tournament. Hassan and I sat under
the kursi and played panjpar as wind-rattled tree branches tapped on the
window. Earlier that day, I'd asked Ali to set up the kursi for us-which was
basically an electric heater under a low table covered with a thick, quilted

Around the table, he arranged mattresses and cushions, so as many as
twenty people could sit and slip their legs under. Hassan and I used to spend
entire snowy days snug under the kursi, playing chess, cards-mostly panjpar.

I killed Hassan's ten of diamonds, played him two jacks and a six. Next
door, in Baba's study, Baba and Rahim Khan were discussing business with a
couple of other men-one of them I recognized as Assef's father. Through the wall,
I could hear the scratchy sound of Radio Kabul News.

Hassan killed the six and picked up the jacks. On the radio, Daoud Khan
was announcing something about foreign investments.

"He says someday we'll have television in Kabul," I said.


Daoud Khan, you ass, the president

Hassan giggled. "I heard they already have it in Iran," he said. I sighed.
"Those Iranians..." For a lot of Hazaras, Iran represented a sanctuary of sorts--I
guess because, like Hazaras, most Iranians were Shi'a Muslims. But I
remembered something my teacher had said that summer about Iranians, that
they were grinning smooth talkers who patted you on the back with one hand
and picked your pocket with the other. I told Baba about that and he said my
teacher was one of those jealous Afghans, jealous because Iran was a rising
power in Asia and most people around the world couldn't even find Afghanistan
on a world map. "It hurts to say that," he said, shrugging. "But better to get hurt
by the truth than comforted with a lie."

"I'll buy you one someday," I said.

Hassan's face brightened. "A television? In truth?"

"Sure. And not the black-and-white kind either. We'll probably be grown-
ups by then, but I'll get us two. One for you and one for me."

"I'll put it on my table, where I keep my drawings," Hassan said.

His saying that made me kind of sad. Sad for who Hassan was, where he
lived. For how he'd accepted the fact that he'd grow old in that mud shack in the
yard, the way his father had. I drew the last card, played him a pair of queens and
a ten.

Hassan picked up the queens. "You know, I think you're going to make
Agha sahib very proud tomorrow."

"You think so?"

Inshallah_," he said.

"_Inshallah_," I echoed, though the "God willing" qualifier didn't sound as
sincere coming from my lips. That was the thing with Hassan. He was so
goddamn pure, you always felt like a phony around him.

I killed his king and played him my final card, the ace of spades. He had to
pick it up. I'd won, but as I shuffled for a new game, I had the distinct suspicion
that Hassan had let me win.

"Amir agha?"


"You know... I _like_ where I live." He was always doing that, reading my


"It's my home."

"Whatever," I said. "Get ready to lose again."


The next morning, as he brewed black tea for breakfast, Hassan told me he'd had
a dream. "We were at Ghargha Lake, you, me, Father, Agha sahib, Rahim Khan,
and thousands of other people," he said. "It was warm and sunny, and the lake
was clear like a mirror. But no one was swimming because they said a monster
had come to the lake. It was swimming at the bottom, waiting."

He poured me a cup and added sugar, blew on it a few times. Put it before
me. "So everyone is scared to get in the water, and suddenly you kick off your
shoes, Amir agha, and take off your shirt. 'There's no monster,' you say. 'I'll show
you all.' And before anyone can stop you, you dive into the water, start
swimming away. I follow you in and we're both swimming."

"But you can't swim."

Hassan laughed. "It's a dream, Amir agha, you can do anything. Anyway,
everyone is screaming, 'Get out! Get out!' but we just swim in the cold water. We
make it way out to the middle of the lake and we stop swimming. We turn
toward the shore and wave to the people. They look small like ants, but we can
hear them clapping. They see now. There is no monster, just water. They change
the name of the lake after that, and call it the 'Lake of Amir and Hassan, Sultans
of Kabul,' and we get to charge people money for swimming in it."

"So what does it mean?" I said.

He coated my _naan_ with marmalade, placed it on a plate. "I don't know. I
was hoping you could tell me."

"Well, it's a dumb dream. Nothing happens in it."

"Father says dreams always mean something."

I sipped some tea. "Why don't you ask him, then? He's so smart," I said,
more curtly than I had intended. I hadn't slept all night. My neck and back were
like coiled springs, and my eyes stung. Still, I had been mean to Hassan. I almost
apologized, then didn't. Hassan understood I was just nervous. Hassan always
understood about me.

Upstairs, I could hear the water running in Baba's bathroom.

THE STREETS GLISTENED with fresh snow and the sky was a blameless blue.
Snow blanketed every rooftop and weighed on the branches of the stunted
mulberry trees that lined our street. Overnight, snow had nudged its way into
every crack and gutter. I squinted against the blinding white when Hassan and I
stepped through the wrought-iron gates. Ali shut the gates behind us. I heard
him mutter a prayer under his breath--he always said a prayer when his son left
the house.

I had never seen so many people on our street. Kids were flinging
snowballs, squabbling, chasing one another, giggling.

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