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The Kite Runner: Page 17
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He looked away
and shrugged. We walked back down the way we'd gone up in silence. And for
the first time in my life, I couldn't wait for spring.
MY MEMORY OF THE REST of that winter of 1975 is pretty hazy. I remember I
was fairly happy when Baba was home. We'd eat together, go to see a film, visit
Kaka Homayoun or Kaka Faruq. Sometimes Rahim Khan came over and Baba let
me sit in his study and sip tea with them. He'd even have me read him some of
my stories. It was good and I even believed it would last. And Baba believed it
too, I think. We both should have known better. For at least a few months after
the kite tournament, Baba and I immersed ourselves in a sweet illusion, saw each
other in a way that we never had before. We'd actually deceived ourselves into
thinking that a toy made of tissue paper, glue, and bamboo could somehow close
the chasm between us.
But when Baba was out--and he was out a lot � I closed myself in my room.
I read a book every couple of days, wrote stories, learned to draw horses. I'd hear
Hassan shuffling around the kitchen in the morning, hear the clinking of
silverware, the whistle of the teapot. I'd wait to hear the door shut and only then
I would walk down to eat. On my calendar, I circled the date of the first day of
school and began a countdown.
To my dismay, Hassan kept trying to rekindle things between us. I
remember the last time. I was in my room, reading an abbreviated Farsi
translation of Ivanhoe, when he knocked on my door.
"What is it?"
"I'm going to the baker to buy _naan_," he said from the other side. "I was
wondering if you... if you wanted to come along."
"I think I'm just going to read," I said, rubbing my temples. Lately, every
time Hassan was around, I was getting a headache.
"It's a sunny day," he said.
"I can see that."
"Might be fun to go for a walk."
"I wish you'd come along," he said. Paused. Something thumped against
the door, maybe his forehead. "I don't know what I've done, Amir agha. I wish
you'd tell me. I don't know why we don't play anymore."
"You haven't done anything, Hassan. Just go."
"You can tell me, I'll stop doing it."
I buried my head in my lap, squeezed my temples with my knees, like a
"I'll tell you what I want you to stop doing," I said, eyes pressed shut.
"I want you to stop harassing me. I want you to go away," I snapped. I
wished he would give it right back to me, break the door open and tell me off--it
would have made things easier, better. But he didn't do anything like that, and
when I opened the door minutes later, he wasn't there. I fell on my bed, buried
my head under the pillow, and cried.
HASSAN MILLED ABOUT the periphery of my life after that. I made sure our
paths crossed as little as possible, planned my day that way. Because when he
was around, the oxygen seeped out of the room. My chest tightened and I
couldn't draw enough air; I'd stand there, gasping in my own little airless bubble
of atmosphere. But even when he wasn't around, he was. He was there in the
hand-washed and ironed clothes on the cane-seat chair, in the warm slippers left
outside my door, in the wood already burning in the stove when I came down for
breakfast. Everywhere I turned, I saw signs of his loyalty, his goddamn
Early that spring, a few days before the new school year started, Baba and
I were planting tulips in the garden. Most of the snow had melted and the hills in
the north were already dotted with patches of green grass. It was a cool, gray
morning, and Baba was squatting next to me, digging the soil and planting the
bulbs I handed to him. He was telling me how most people thought it was better
to plant tulips in the fall and how that wasn't true, when I came right out and
said it. "Baba, have you ever thought about getting new servants?"
He dropped the tulip bulb and buried the trowel in the dirt. Took off his
gardening gloves. I'd startled him. "Chi? What did you say?"
"I was just wondering, that's all."
"Why would I ever want to do that?" Baba said curtly.
"You wouldn't, I guess. It was just a question," I said, my voice fading to a
murmur. I was already sorry I'd said it.
"Is this about you and Hassan? I know there's something going on
between you two, but whatever it is, you have to deal with it, not me. I'm staying
out of it."
"I'm sorry, Baba."
He put on his gloves again. "I grew up with Ali," he said through clenched
teeth. "My father took him in, he loved Ali like his own son. Forty years Ali's been
with my family. Forty goddamn years. And you think I'm just going to throw him
out?" He turned to me now, his face as red as a tulip. "I've never laid a hand on
you, Amir, but you ever say that again..." He looked away, shaking his head. "You
bring me shame. And Hassan... Hassan's not going anywhere, do you
I looked down and picked up a fistful of cool soil. Let it pour between my
"I said, Do you understand?" Baba roared.
I flinched. "Yes, Baba.
"Hassan's not going anywhere," Baba snapped. He dug a new hole with
the trowel, striking the dirt harder than he had to. "He's staying right here with
us, where he belongs. This is his home and we're his family. Don't you ever ask
me that question again!"
"1 won't, Baba. I'm sorry."
We planted the rest of the tulips in silence.
I was relieved when school started that next week. Students with new
notebooks and sharpened pencils in hand ambled about the courtyard, kicking
up dust, chatting in groups, waiting for the class captains' whistles. Baba drove
down the dirt lane that led to the entrance.
The school was an old two-story
building with broken windows and dim, cobblestone hallways, patches of its
original dull yellow paint still showing between sloughing chunks of plaster.
Most of the boys walked to school, and Baba's black Mustang drew more than
one envious look. I should have been beaming with pride when he dropped me
off-the old me would have-but all I could muster was a mild form of
embarrassment. That and emptiness. Baba drove away without saying good-bye.
I bypassed the customary comparing of kite-fighting scars and stood in
line. The bell rang and we marched to our assigned class, filed in in pairs. I sat in
the back row. As the Farsi teacher handed out our textbooks, I prayed for a heavy
load of homework.
School gave me an excuse to stay in my room for long hours. And, for a
while, it took my mind off what had happened that winter, what I had let happen.
For a few weeks, I preoccupied myself with gravity and momentum, atoms and
cells, the Anglo-Afghan wars, instead of thinking about Hassan and what had
happened to him. But, always, my mind returned to the alley. To Hassan's brown
corduroy pants lying on the bricks. To the droplets of blood staining the snow
dark red, almost black.
One sluggish, hazy afternoon early that summer, I asked Hassan to go up
the hill with me. Told him I wanted to read him a new story I'd written. He was
hanging clothes to dry in the yard and I saw his eagerness in the harried way he
finished the job.
We climbed the hill, making small talk. He asked about school, what I was
learning, and I talked about my teachers, especially the mean math teacher who
punished talkative students by sticking a metal rod between their fingers and
then squeezing them together. Hassan winced at that, said he hoped I'd never
have to experience it. I said I'd been lucky so far, knowing that luck had nothing
to do with it. I had done my share of talking in class too. But my father was rich
and everyone knew him, so I was spared the metal rod treatment.
We sat against the low cemetery wall under the shade thrown by the
pomegranate tree. In another month or two, crops of scorched yellow weeds
would blanket the hillside, but that year the spring showers had lasted longer
than usual, nudging their way into early summer, and the grass was still green,
peppered with tangles of wildflowers. Below us, Wazir Akbar Khan's white
walled, flat-topped houses gleamed in the sunshine, the laundry hanging on
clotheslines in their yards stirred by the breeze to dance like butterflies.
We had picked a dozen pomegranates from the tree. I unfolded the story
I'd brought along, turned to the first page, then put it down. I stood up and
picked up an overripe pomegranate that had fallen to the ground.
"What would you do if I hit you with this?" I said, tossing the fruit up and
Hassan's smile wilted. He looked older than I'd remembered.
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