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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 16

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"I haven't seen much of Hassan the last few days," Baba said. "That's all it
is, then, a cold?" I couldn't help hating the way his brow furrowed with worry.

"Just a cold. So are we going Friday, Baba?"

"Yes, yes," Baba said, pushing away from the desk. "Too bad about Hassan.
I thought you might have had more fun if he came."

"Well, the two of us can have fun together," I said. Baba smiled. Winked.
"Dress warm," he said.

IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN just the two of us-that was the way, I wanted it--but by
Wednesday night, Baba had managed to invite another two dozen people. He
called his cousin Homayoun--he was actually Baba's second cousin--and
mentioned he was going to Jalalabad on Friday, and Homayoun, who had studied
engineering in France and had a house in Jalalabad, said he'd love to have
everyone over, he'd bring the kids, his two wives, and, while he was at it, cousin
Shafiqa and her family were visiting from Herat, maybe she'd like to tag along,
and since she was staying with cousin Nader in Kabul, his family would have to
be invited as well even though Homayoun and Nader had a bit of a feud going,
and if Nader was invited, surely his brother Faruq had to be asked too or his
feelings would be hurt and he might not invite them to his daughter's wedding
next month and...

We filled three vans. I rode with Baba, Rahim Khan, Kaka Homayoun--
Baba had taught me at a young age to call any older male Kaka, or Uncle, and any
older female, Khala, or Aunt. Kaka Homayoun's two wives rode with us too--the
pinch-faced older one with the warts on her hands and the younger one who
always smelled of perfume and danced with her eyes closed-as did Kaka
Homayoun's twin girls. I sat in the back row, carsick and dizzy, sandwiched
between the seven-year-old twins who kept reaching over my lap to slap at each
other. The road to Jalalabad is a two-hour trek through mountain roads winding
along a steep drop, and my stomach lurched with each hairpin turn. Everyone in
the van was talking, talking loudly and at the same time, nearly shrieking, which
is how Afghans talk. I asked one of the twins-Fazila or Karima, I could never tell
which was which-if she'd trade her window seat with me so I could get fresh air
on account of my car sickness. She stuck her tongue out and said no. I told her
that was fine, but I couldn't be held accountable for vomiting on her new dress. A
minute later, I was leaning out the window. I watched the cratered road rise and
fall, whirl its tail around the mountainside, counted the multicolored trucks
packed with squatting men lumbering past. I tried closing my eyes, letting the
wind slap at my cheeks, opened my mouth to swallow the clean air. I still didn't
feel better. A finger poked me in the side. It was Fazila/Karima.

What?" I said.

"I was just telling everyone about the tournament," Baba said from behind
the wheel. Kaka Homayoun and his wives were smiling at me from the middle
row of seats.

"There must have been a hundred kites in the sky that day?" Baba said. "Is
that about right, Amir?"

"I guess so," I mumbled.

"A hundred kites, Homayoun jan. No _laaf_. And the only one still flying at
the end of the day was Amir's. He has the last kite at home, a beautiful blue kite.
Hassan and Amir ran it together."

"Congratulations," Kaka Homayoun said. His first wife, the one with the
warts, clapped her hands. "Wah wah, Amir jan, we're all so proud of you!" she
said. The younger wife joined in. Then they were all clapping, yelping their
praises, telling me how proud I'd made them all. Only Rahim Khan, sitting in the
passenger seat next to Baba, was silent. He was looking at me in an odd way.

"Please pull over, Baba," I said.


"Getting sick," I muttered, leaning across the seat, pressing against Kaka
Homayoun's daughters.

Fazila/Karima's face twisted. "Pull over, Kaka! His face is yellow! I don't
want him throwing up on my new dress!" she squealed.

Baba began to pull over, but I didn't make it. A few minutes later, I was
sitting on a rock on the side of the road as they aired out the van. Baba was
smoking with Kaka Homayoun who was telling Fazila/Karima to stop crying;
he'd buy her another dress in Jalalabad. I closed my eyes, turned my face to the
sun. Little shapes formed behind my eyelids, like hands playing shadows on the
wall. They twisted, merged, formed a single image: Hassan's brown corduroy
pants discarded on a pile of old bricks in the alley.

KARA HOMAYOUN'S WHITE, two-story house in Jalalabad had a balcony
overlooking a large, walled garden with apple and persimmon trees. There were
hedges that, in the summer, the gardener shaped like animals, and a swimming
pool with emerald colored tiles.
I sat on the edge of the pool, empty save for a
layer of slushy snow at the bottom, feet dangling in. Kaka Homayoun's kids were
playing hide-and-seek at the other end of the yard. The women were cooking and
I could smell onions frying already, could hear the phht-phht of a pressure
cooker, music, laughter. Baba, Rahim Khan, Kaka Homayoun, and Kaka Nader
were sitting on the balcony, smoking. Kaka Homayoun was telling them he'd
brought the projector along to show his slides of France. Ten years since he'd
returned from Paris and he was still showing those stupid slides.

It shouldn't have felt this way. Baba and I were finally friends. We'd gone
to the zoo a few days before, seen Marjan the lion, and I had hurled a pebble at
the bear when no one was watching. We'd gone to Dadkhoda's Kabob House
afterward, across from Cinema Park, had lamb kabob with freshly baked _naan_
from the tandoor. Baba told me stories of his travels to India and Russia, the
people he had met, like the armless, legless couple in Bombay who'd been
married forty-seven years and raised eleven children. That should have been fun,
spending a day like that with Baba, hearing his stories. I finally had what I'd
wanted all those years. Except now that I had it, I felt as empty as this unkempt
pool I was dangling my legs into.

The wives and daughters served dinner-rice, kofta, and chicken _qurma_-
-at sundown. We dined the traditional way, sitting on cushions around the room,
tablecloth spread on the floor, eating with our hands in groups of four or five
from common platters. I wasn't hungry but sat down to eat anyway with Baba,
Kaka Faruq, and Kaka Homayoun's two boys. Baba, who'd had a few scotches
before dinner, was still ranting about the kite tournament, how I'd outlasted
them all, how I'd come home with the last kite. His booming voice dominated the
room. People raised their heads from their platters, called out their
congratulations. Kaka Faruq patted my back with his clean hand. I felt like
sticking a knife in my eye.

Later, well past midnight, after a few hours of poker between Baba and
his cousins, the men lay down to sleep on parallel mattresses in the same room
where we'd dined. The women went upstairs. An hour later, I still couldn't sleep.
I kept tossing and turning as my relatives grunted, sighed, and snored in their
sleep. I sat up. A wedge of moonlight streamed in through the window.

"I watched Hassan get raped," I said to no one. Baba stirred in his sleep.
Kaka Homayoun grunted. A part of me was hoping someone would wake up and
hear, so I wouldn't have to live with this lie anymore. But no one woke up and in
the silence that followed, I understood the nature of my new curse: I was going
to get away with it.

I thought about Hassan's dream, the one about us swimming in the lake.
There is no monster, he'd said, just water. Except he'd been wrong about that.
There was a monster in the lake. It had grabbed Hassan by the ankles, dragged
him to the murky bottom. I was that monster.

That was the night I became an insomniac.

I DIDN'T SPEAK TO HASSAN until the middle of the next week. I had just half-
eaten my lunch and Hassan was doing the dishes. I was walking upstairs, going to
my room, when Hassan asked if I wanted to hike up the hill. I said I was tired.
Hassan looked tired too-he'd lost weight and gray circles had formed under his
puffed-up eyes. But when he asked again, I reluctantly agreed.

We trekked up the hill, our boots squishing in the muddy snow. Neither
one of us said anything. We sat under our pomegranate tree and I knew I'd made
a mistake. I shouldn't have come up the hill. The words I'd carved on the tree
trunk with Ali's kitchen knife, Amir and Hassan: The Sultans of Kabul... I couldn't
stand looking at them now.

He asked me to read to him from the _Shahnamah_ and I told him I'd
changed my mind. Told him 1 just wanted to go back to my room.

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