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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 15

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Assef knelt behind Hassan, put his hands on Hassan's hips and lifted his
bare buttocks. He kept one hand on Hassan's back and undid his own belt buckle
with his free hand. He unzipped his jeans. Dropped his underwear. He positioned
himself behind Hassan. Hassan didn't struggle. Didn't even whimper. He moved
his head slightly and I caught a glimpse of his face. Saw the resignation in it. It
was a look I had seen before. It was the look of the lamb.

TOMORROW IS THE TENTH DAY of Dhul-Hij jah, the last month of the Muslim
calendar, and the first of three days of Eid Al-Adha, or Eid-e-Qorban, as Afghans
call it--a day to celebrate how the prophet Ibrahim almost sacrificed his own son
for God. Baba has handpicked the sheep again this year, a powder white one with
crooked black ears.

We all stand in the backyard, Hassan, Ali, Baba, and I. The mullah recites
the prayer, rubs his beard. Baba mutters, Get on with it, under his breath. He
sounds annoyed with the endless praying, the ritual of making the meat halal.
Baba mocks the story behind this Eid, like he mocks everything religious. But he
respects the tradition of Eid-e-Qorban. The custom is to divide the meat in thirds,
one for the family, one for friends, and one for the poor. Every year, Baba gives it
all to the poor. The rich are fat enough already, he says.

The mullah finishes the prayer. Ameen. He picks up the kitchen knife with
the long blade. The custom is to not let the sheep see the knife. Ali feeds the
animal a cube of sugar--another custom, to make death sweeter. The sheep kicks,
but not much. The mullah grabs it under its jaw and places the blade on its neck.
Just a second before he slices the throat in one expert motion, I see the sheep's
eyes. It is a look that will haunt my dreams for weeks. I don't know why I watch
this yearly ritual in our backyard; my nightmares persist long after the
bloodstains on the grass have faded. But I always watch. I watch because of that
look of acceptance in the animal's eyes. Absurdly, I imagine the animal
understands. 1 imagine the animal sees that its imminent demise is for a higher
purpose. This is the look...

I STOPPED WATCHING, turned away from the alley. Something warm was
running down my wrist. I blinked, saw I was still biting down on my fist, hard

enough to draw blood from the knuckles. I realized something else. I was
weeping. From just around the corner, I could hear Assef's quick, rhythmic

I had one last chance to make a decision. One final opportunity to decide
who I was going to be. I could step into that alley, stand up for Hassan--the way
he'd stood up for me all those times in the past--and accept whatever would
happen to me. Or I could run.

In the end, I ran.

I ran because I was a coward. I was afraid of Assef and what he would do

to me.

I was afraid of getting hurt. That's what I told myself as I turned my back
to the alley, to Hassan. That's what I made myself believe. I actually aspired to
cowardice, because the alternative, the real reason I was running, was that Assef
was right: Nothing was free in this world. Maybe Hassan was the price I had to
pay, the lamb I had to slay, to win Baba. Was it a fair price? The answer floated to
my conscious mind before I could thwart it: He was just a Hazara, wasn't he? I
ran back the way I'd come. Ran back to the all but deserted bazaar. I lurched to a
cubicle and leaned against the padlocked swinging doors. I stood there panting,
sweating, wishing things had turned out some other way.

About fifteen minutes later, I heard voices and running footfalls. I
crouched behind the cubicle and watched Assef and the other two sprinting by,
laughing as they hurried down the deserted lane.
I forced myself to wait ten
more minutes. Then I walked back to the rutted track that ran along the snow-
filled ravine. I squinted in the dimming light and spotted Hassan walking slowly
toward me. I met him by a leafless birch tree on the edge of the ravine.

He had the blue kite in his hands; that was the first thing I saw. And I can't
lie now and say my eyes didn't scan it for any rips. His chapan had mud smudges
down the front and his shirt was ripped just below the collar. He stopped.

Swayed on his feet like he was going to collapse. Then he steadied himself.

Handed me the kite.

"Where were you? I looked for you," I said. Speaking those words was like
chewing on a rock.

Hassan dragged a sleeve across his face, wiped snot and tears. I waited for
him to say something, but we just stood there in silence, in the fading light. I was
grateful for the early-evening shadows that fell on Hassan's face and concealed
mine. I was glad I didn't have to return his gaze. Did he know I knew? And if he
knew, then what would I see if I did look in his eyes? Blame? Indignation? Or,

God forbid, what I feared most: guileless devotion? That, most of all, I couldn't
bear to see.

He began to say something and his voice cracked. He closed his mouth,
opened it, and closed it again. Took a step back. Wiped his face. And that was as
close as Hassan and I ever came to discussing what had happened in the alley. I
thought he might burst into tears, but, to my relief, he didn't, and I pretended I
hadn't heard the crack in his voice. Just like I pretended I hadn't seen the dark
stain in the seat of his pants. Or those tiny drops that fell from between his legs
and stained the snow black.

"Agha sahib will worry," was all he said. He turned from me and limped


IT HAPPENED JUST THE WAY I'd imagined. I opened the door to the smoky
study and stepped in. Baba and Rahim Khan were drinking tea and listening to
the news crackling on the radio. Their heads turned. Then a smile played on my
father's lips. He opened his arms. I put the kite down and walked into his thick
hairy arms. I buried my face in the warmth of his chest and wept. Baba held me
close to him, rocking me back and forth. In his arms, I forgot what I'd done. And
that was good.


For a week, I barely saw Hassan. I woke up to find toasted bread, brewed tea, and
a boiled egg already on the kitchen table. My clothes for the day were ironed and
folded, left on the cane-seat chair in the foyer where Hassan usually did his
ironing. He used to wait for me to sit at the breakfast table before he started
ironing-that way, we could talk. Used to sing too, over the hissing of the iron,
sang old Hazara songs about tulip fields. Now only the folded clothes greeted me.
That, and a breakfast I hardly finished anymore.

One overcast morning, as I was pushing the boiled egg around on my
plate, Ali walked in cradling a pile of chopped wood. I asked him where Hassan

"He went back to sleep," Ali said, kneeling before the stove. He pulled the
little square door open.

Would Hassan be able to play today? Ali paused with a log in his hand. A
worried look crossed his face. "Lately, it seems all he wants to do is sleep. He
does his chores-I see to that-but then he just wants to crawl under his blanket.
Can I ask you something?"

"If you have to."

"After that kite tournament, he came home a little bloodied and his shirt
was torn. I asked him what had happened and he said it was nothing, that he'd
gotten into a little scuffle with some kids over the kite."

I didn't say anything. Just kept pushing the egg around on my plate.

"Did something happen to him, Amir agha? Something he's not telling


I shrugged. "How should I know?

"You would tell me, nay? _Inshallah_, you would tell me if something had

"Like I said, how should I know what's wrong with him?" I snapped.
"Maybe he's sick. People get sick all the time, Ah. Now, am I going to freeze to
death or are you planning on lighting the stove today?"

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 _E1 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


"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."

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