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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 12

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Kite fighters were huddling
with their spool holders, making last minute preparations. From adjacent streets,
I could hear laughter and chatter. Already, rooftops were jammed with
spectators reclining in lawn chairs, hot tea steaming from thermoses, and the
music of Ahmad Zahir blaring from cassette players. The immensely popular
Ahmad Zahir had revolutionized Afghan music and outraged the purists by
adding electric guitars, drums, and horns to the traditional tabla and
harmonium; on stage or at parties, he shirked the austere and nearly morose
stance of older singers and actually smiled when he sang--sometimes even at
women. I turned my gaze to our rooftop, found Baba and Rahim Khan sitting on a
bench, both dressed in wool sweaters, sipping tea.
Baba waved. I couldn't tell if
he was waving at me or Hassan.

"We should get started," Hassan said. He wore black rubber snow boots
and a bright green chapan over a thick sweater and faded corduroy pants.
Sunlight washed over his face, and, in it, I saw how well the pink scar above his
lip had healed.

Suddenly I wanted to withdraw. Pack it all in, go back home. What was I
thinking? Why was I putting myself through this, when I already knew the
outcome? Baba was on the roof, watching me. I felt his glare on me like the heat
of a blistering sun. This would be failure on a grand scale, even for me.

"I'm not sure I want to fly a kite today," I said.

"It's a beautiful day," Hassan said.

I shifted on my feet. Tried to peel my gaze away from our rooftop. "I don't
know. Maybe we should go home."

Then he stepped toward me and, in a low voice, said something that
scared me a little. "Remember, Amir agha. There's no monster, just a beautiful
day." How could I be such an open book to him when, half the time, I had no idea
what was milling around in his head? I was the one who went to school, the one
who could read, write. I was the smart one. Hassan couldn't read a first grade
textbook but he'd read me plenty. That was a little unsettling, but also sort of
comfortable to have someone who always knew what you needed.

"No monster," I said, feeling a little better, to my own surprise.

He smiled. "No monster."

"Are you sure?"

He closed his eyes. Nodded.

I looked to the kids scampering down the street, flinging snowballs. "It is
a beautiful day, isn't it?"

"Let's fly," he said.

It occurred to me then that maybe Hassan had made up his dream. Was
that possible? I decided it wasn't. Hassan wasn't that smart. I wasn't that smart.
But made up or not, the silly dream had lifted some of my anxiety. Maybe I
should take off my shirt, take a swim in the lake. Why not? "Let's do it," I said.

Hassan's face brightened. "Good," he said. He lifted our kite, red with
yellow borders, and, just beneath where the central and cross spars met, marked
with Saifo's unmistakable signature. He licked his finger and held it up, tested the
wind, then ran in its direction--on those rare occasions we flew kites in the
summer, he'd kick up dust to see which way the wind blew it. The spool rolled in
my hands until Hassan stopped, about fifty feet away. He held the kite high over
his head, like an Olympic athlete showing his gold medal. I jerked the string
twice, our usual signal, and Hassan tossed the kite.

Caught between Baba and the mullahs at school, I still hadn't made up my
mind about God. But when a Koran ayat I had learned in my diniyat class rose to
my lips, 1 muttered it. I took a deep breath, exhaled, and pulled on the string.
Within a minute, my kite was rocketing to the sky. It made a sound like a paper
bird flapping its wings. Hassan clapped his hands, whistled, and ran back to me. I
handed him the spool, holding on to the string, and he spun it quickly to roll the
loose string back on.

At least two dozen kites already hung in the sky, like paper sharks
roaming for prey. Within an hour, the number doubled, and red, blue, and yellow
kites glided and spun in the sky. A cold breeze wafted through my hair. The wind
was perfect for kite flying, blowing just hard enough to give some lift, make the
sweeps easier. Next to me, Hassan held the spool, his hands already bloodied by
the string.

Soon, the cutting started and the first of the defeated kites whirled out of
control. They fell from the sky like shooting stars with brilliant, rippling tails,
showering the neighborhoods below with prizes for the kite runners. I could
hear the runners now, hollering as they ran the streets. Someone shouted
reports of a fight breaking out two streets down.

I kept stealing glances at Baba sitting with Rahim Khan on the roof,
wondered what he was thinking. Was he cheering for me? Or did a part of him
enjoy watching me fail? That was the thing about kite flying: Your mind drifted
with the kite.

They were coming down all over the place now, the kites, and I was still
flying. I was still flying. My eyes kept wandering over to Baba, bundled up in his
wool sweater. Was he surprised I had lasted as long as I had? You don't keep
your eyes to the sky, you won't last much longer. I snapped my gaze back to the
sky. A red kite was closing in on me--I'd caught it just in time. I tangled a bit with
it, ended up besting him when he became impatient and tried to cut me from

Up and down the streets, kite runners were returning triumphantly, their
captured kites held high. They showed them off to their parents, their friends.

But they all knew the best was yet to come. The biggest prize of all was still
flying. I sliced a bright yellow kite with a coiled white tail. It cost me another gash
on the' index finger and blood trickled down into my palm. I had Hassan hold the
string and sucked the blood dry, blotted my finger against my jeans.

Within another hour, the number of surviving kites dwindled from maybe
fifty to a dozen. I was one of them. I'd made it to the last dozen. I knew this part
of the tournament would take a while, because the guys who had lasted this long
were good-they wouldn't easily fall into simple traps like the old lift-and-dive,
Hassan's favorite trick.

By three o'clock that afternoon, tufts of clouds had drifted in and the sun
had slipped behind them. Shadows started to lengthen. The spectators on the
roofs bundled up in scarves and thick coats. We were down to a half dozen and I
was still flying. My legs ached and my neck was stiff. But with each defeated kite,'
hope grew in my heart, like snow collecting on a wall, one flake at a time.

My eyes kept returning to a blue kite that had been wreaking havoc for
the last hour.

"How many has he cut?" I asked.

"I counted eleven," Hassan said.

"Do you know whose it might be?"

Hassan clucked his tongue and tipped his chin. That was a trademark
Hassan gesture, meant he had no idea. The blue kite sliced a big purple one and
swept twice in big loops. Ten minutes later, he'd cut another two, sending hordes
of kite runners racing after them.

After another thirty minutes, only four kites remained. And I was still
flying. It seemed I could hardly make a wrong move, as if every gust of wind blew
in my favor. I'd never felt so in command, so lucky It felt intoxicating. I didn't
dare look up to the roof. Didn't dare take my eyes off the sky. I had to
concentrate, play it smart. Another fifteen minutes and what had seemed like a
laughable dream that morning had suddenly become reality: It was just me and
the other guy. The blue kite.

The tension in the air was as taut as the glass string I was tugging with my
bloody hands. People were stomping their feet, clapping, whistling, chanting,
"Boboresh! Boboresh!" Cut him! Cut him! I wondered if Baba's voice was one of

them. Music blasted. The smell of steamed mantu and fried pakora drifted from
rooftops and open doors.

But all I heard--all I willed myself to hear--was the thudding of blood in
my head. All I saw was the blue kite. All I smelled was victory. Salvation.
Redemption. If Baba was wrong and there was a God like they said in school,
then He'd let me win. I didn't know what the other guy was playing for, maybe
just bragging rights. But this was my one chance to become someone who was
looked at, not seen, listened to, not heard. If there was a God, He'd guide the
winds, let them blow for me so that, with a tug of my string, I'd cut loose my pain,
my longing. I'd endured too much, come too far. And suddenly, just like that,
hope became knowledge. I was going to win. It was just a matter of when.

It turned out to be sooner than later. A gust of wind lifted my kite and I
took advantage. Fed the string, pulled up.

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