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The Kite Runner


The Kite Runner: Page 13


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Looped my kite on top of the blue one.

I held position. The blue kite knew it was in trouble. It was trying desperately to
maneuver out of the jam, but I didn't let go. I held position. The crowd sensed the
end was at hand. The chorus of "Cut him! Cut him!" grew louder, like Romans
chanting for the gladiators to kill, kill!



"You're almost there, Amir agha! Almost there!" Hassan was panting.



Then the moment came. I closed my eyes and loosened my grip on the
string. It sliced my fingers again as the wind dragged it. And then... I didn't need
to hear the crowd's roar to know I didn't need to see either. Hassan was
screaming and his arm was wrapped around my neck.



"Bravo! Bravo, Amir agha!"



I opened my eyes, saw the blue kite spinning wildly like a tire come loose
from a speeding car. I blinked, tried to say something. Nothing came out.
Suddenly I was hovering, looking down on myself from above. Black leather coat,
red scarf, faded jeans. A thin boy, a little sallow, and a tad short for his twelve
years. He had narrow shoulders and a hint of dark circles around his pale hazel
eyes. The breeze rustled his light brown hair. He looked up to me and we smiled
at each other.



Then I was screaming, and everything was color and sound, everything
was alive and good. I was throwing my free arm around Hassan and we were




hopping up and down, both of us laughing, both of us weeping. "You won, Amir
agha! You won!"



"We won! We won!" was all I could say. This wasn't happening. In a
moment, I'd blink and rouse from this beautiful dream, get out of bed, march
down to the kitchen to eat breakfast with no one to talk to but Hassan. Get
dressed. Wait for Baba. Give up. Back to my old life.
Then I saw Baba on our roof.
He was standing on the edge, pumping both of his fists. Hollering and clapping.
And that right there was the single greatest moment of my twelve years of life,
seeing Baba on that roof, proud of me at last.



But he was doing something now, motioning with his hands in an urgent
way. Then I understood. "Hassan, we--"



"I know," he said, breaking our embrace. "_Inshallah_, we'll celebrate later.
Right now, I'm going to run that blue kite for you," he said. He dropped the spool
and took off running, the hem of his green chapan dragging in the snow behind
him.



"Hassan!" I called. "Come back with it!"



He was already turning the street corner, his rubber boots kicking up
snow. He stopped, turned. He cupped his hands around his mouth. "For you a
thousand times over!" he said. Then he smiled his Hassan smile and disappeared
around the corner. The next time I saw him smile unabashedly like that was
twenty-six years later, in a faded Polaroid photograph.



I began to pull my kite back as people rushed to congratulate me. I shook
hands with them, said my thanks. The younger kids looked at me with an
awestruck twinkle in their eyes; I was a hero. Hands patted my back and tousled
my hair. I pulled on the string and returned every smile, but my mind was on the
blue kite.



Finally, I had my kite in hand. I wrapped the loose string that had
collected at my feet around the spool, shook a few more hands, and trotted home.
When I reached the wrought-iron gates, Ali was waiting on the other side. He
stuck his hand through the bars. "Congratulations," he said.




I gave him my kite and spool, shook his hand. "Tashakor, Ah jan.



"1 was praying for you the whole time."



"Then keep praying. We're not done yet."



I hurried back to the street. I didn't ask Ah about Baba. I didn't want to see
him yet. In my head, I had it all planned: I'd make a grand entrance, a hero,
prized trophy in my bloodied hands. Heads would turn and eyes would lock.
Rostam and Sohrab sizing each other up. A dramatic moment of silence. Then the
old warrior would walk to the young one, embrace him, acknowledge his
worthiness. Vindication. Salvation. Redemption. And then? Well... happily ever
after, of course. What else? The streets of Wazir Akbar Khan were numbered and
set at right angles to each other like a grid. It was a new neighborhood then, still
developing, with empty lots of land and half-constructed homes on every street
between compounds surrounded by eight-foot walls. I ran up and down every
street, looking for Hassan. Everywhere, people were busy folding chairs, packing
food and utensils after a long day of partying. Some, still sitting on their rooftops,
shouted their congratulations to me.



Four streets south of ours, I saw Omar, the son of an engineer who was a
friend of Baba's. He was dribbling a soccer ball with his brother on the front lawn
of their house. Omar was a pretty good guy. We'd been classmates in fourth
grade, and one time he'd given me a fountain pen, the kind you had to load with a
cartridge.



"I heard you won, Amir," he said. "Congratulations."



"Thanks. Have you seen Hassan?"



"Your Hazara?"



I nodded.



Omar headed the ball to his brother. "I hear he's a great kite runner." His
brother headed the ball back to him. Omar caught it, tossed it up and down.




"Although I've always wondered how he manages. I mean, with those tight little
eyes, how does he see anything?"



His brother laughed, a short burst, and asked for the ball. Omar ignored

him.



"Have you seen him?"



Omar flicked a thumb over his shoulder, pointing southwest. "I saw him
running toward the bazaar awhile ago."



"Thanks." I scuttled away.



By the time I reached the marketplace, the sun had almost sunk behind
the hills and dusk had painted the sky pink and purple. A few blocks away, from
the Haji Yaghoub Mosque, the mullah bellowed azan, calling for the faithful to
unroll their rugs and bow their heads west in prayer. Hassan never missed any of
the five daily prayers. Even when we were out playing, he'd excuse himself, draw
water from the well in the yard, wash up, and disappear into the hut. He'd come
out a few minutes later, smiling, find me sitting against the wall or perched on a
tree. He was going to miss prayer tonight, though, because of me.



The bazaar was emptying quickly, the merchants finishing up their
haggling for the day. I trotted in the mud between rows of closely packed
cubicles where you could buy a freshly slaughtered pheasant in one stand and a
calculator from the adjacent one. I picked my way through the dwindling crowd,
the lame beggars dressed in layers of tattered rags, the vendors with rugs on
their shoulders, the cloth merchants and butchers closing shop for the day. I
found no sign of Hassan.



I stopped by a dried fruit stand, described Hassan to an old merchant
loading his mule with crates of pine seeds and raisins. He wore a powder blue
turban.



He paused to look at me for a long time before answering. "I might have
seen him."




Which way did he go?



He eyed me up and down. "What is a boy like you doing here at this time
of the day looking for a Hazara?" His glance lingered admiringly on my leather
coat and my jeans-cowboy pants, we used to call them. In Afghanistan, owning
anything American, especially if it wasn't secondhand, was a sign of wealth.



"I need to find him, Agha."



"What is he to you?" he said. I didn't see the point of his question, but I
reminded myself that impatience wasn't going to make him tell me any faster.



"He's our servant's son," 1 said.



The old man raised a pepper gray eyebrow. "He is? Lucky Hazara, having
such a concerned master. His father should get on his knees, sweep the dust at
your feet with his eyelashes."



"Are you going to tell me or not?"



He rested an arm on the mule's back, pointed south. "I think I saw the boy
you described running that way. He had a kite in his hand. A blue one."



"He did?" I said. For you a thousand times over, he'd promised. Good old
Hassan.



Good old reliable Hassan. He'd kept his promise and run the last kite for
me.



"Of course, they've probably caught him by now," the old merchant said,
grunting and loading another box on the mule's back.



Who?




"The other boys," he said. "The ones chasing him. They were dressed like
you." He glanced to the sky and sighed. "Now, run along, you're making me late
for nainaz."



But I was already scrambling down the lane.



For the next few minutes, I scoured the bazaar in vain. Maybe the old
merchant's eyes had betrayed him. Except he'd seen the blue kite. The thought of
getting my hands on that kite... I poked my head behind every lane, every shop.
No sign of Hassan.



I had begun to worry that darkness would fall before I found Hassan
when I heard voices from up ahead.

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