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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 32

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You both
have our blessings."

Everyone applauded, and with that signal, heads turned toward the
hallway. The moment I'd waited for.

Soraya appeared at the end. Dressed in a stunning wine-colored
traditional Afghan dress with long sleeves and gold trimmings. Baba's hand took
mine and tightened. Khanum Taheri burst into fresh tears. Slowly, Soraya came
to us, tailed by a procession of young female relatives.

She kissed my father's hands. Sat beside me at last, her eyes downcast.

The applause swelled.

ACCORDING TO TRADITION, Soraya's family would have thrown the engagement
party the Shirini-khori-or "Eating of the Sweets" ceremony. Then an
engagement period would have followed which would have lasted a few months.
Then the wedding, which would be paid for by Baba.

We all agreed that Soraya and I would forgo the Shirini-khori. Everyone
knew the reason, so no one had to actually say it: that Baba didn't have months
to live.

Soraya and I never went out alone together while preparations for the
wedding proceeded-since we weren't married yet, hadn't even had a Shirini-
khori, it was considered improper. So I had to make do with going over to the
Taheris with Baba for dinner. Sit across from Soraya at the dinner table. Imagine
what it would be like to feel her head on my chest, smell her hair.
Kiss her. Make
love to her.

Baba spent $35,000, nearly the balance of his life savings, on the
awroussi, the wedding ceremony. He rented a large Afghan banquet hall in
Fremont-the man who owned it knew him from Kabul and gave him a
substantial discount. Baba paid for the chilas, our matching wedding bands, and
for the diamond ring I picked out. He bought my tuxedo, and my traditional
green suit for the nika-the swearing ceremony. For all the frenzied preparations

that went into the wedding night--most of it, blessedly, by Khanum Taheri and
her friends--! remember only a handful of moments from it.

I remember our nika. We were seated around a table, Soraya and I
dressed in green-the color of Islam, but also the color of spring and new
beginnings. I wore a suit, Soraya (the only woman at the table) a veiled long-
sleeved dress. Baba, General Taheri (in a tuxedo this time), and several of
Soraya's uncles were also present at the table. Soraya and I looked down,
solemnly respectful, casting only sideways glances at each other. The mullah
questioned the witnesses and read from the Koran. We said our oaths. Signed the
certificates. One of Soraya's uncles from Virginia, Sharif jan, Khanum Taheri's
brother, stood up and cleared his throat. Soraya had told me that he had lived in
the U.S. for more than twenty years. He worked for the INS and had an American
wife. He was also a poet. A small man with a birdlike face and fluffy hair, he read
a lengthy poem dedicated to Soraya, jotted down on hotel stationery paper. "Wah
wah, Sharif jan!" everyone exclaimed when he finished.

I remember walking toward the stage, now in my tuxedo, Soraya a veiled
pan in white, our hands locked. Baba hobbled next to me, the general and his
wife beside their daughter. A procession of uncles, aunts, and cousins followed as
we made our way through the hall, parting a sea of applauding guests, blinking at
flashing cameras. One of Soraya's cousins, Sharif jan's son, held a Koran over our
heads as we inched along. The wedding song, ahesta boro, blared from the
speakers, the same song the Russian soldier at the Mahipar checkpoint had sung
the night Baba and I left Kabul: Make morning into a key and throw it into the
well, Go slowly, my lovely moon, go slowly. Let the morning sun forget to rise in
the east, Go slowly, my lovely moon, go slowly.

I remember sitting on the sofa, set on the stage like a throne, Soraya's
hand in mine, as three hundred or so faces looked on. We did Ayena Masshaf,
where they gave us a mirror and threw a veil over our heads, so we'd be alone to
gaze at each other's reflection. Looking at Soraya's smiling face in that mirror, in
the momentary privacy of the veil, I whispered to her for the first time that I
loved her. A blush, red like henna, bloomed on her cheeks.

I picture colorful platters of chopan kabob, sholeh-goshti, and wild-orange
rice. 1 see Baba between us on the sofa, smiling. I remember sweat-drenched
men dancing the traditional attan in a circle, bouncing, spinning faster and faster
with the feverish tempo of the tabla, until all but a few dropped out of the ring
with exhaustion. I remember wishing Rahim Khan were there.

And I remember wondering if Hassan too had married. And if so, whose
face he had seen in the mirror under the veil? Whose henna-painted hands had
he held?

AROUND 2 A.M., the party moved from the banquet hall to Baba's apartment. Tea
flowed once more and music played until the neighbors called the cops. Later
that night, the sun less than an hour from rising and the guests finally gone,
Soraya and I lay together for the first time. All my life, I'd been around men. That
night, I discovered the tenderness of a woman.

IT WAS SORAYA who suggested that she move in with Baba and me.

"I thought you might want us to have our own place," I said.

"With Kaka jan as sick as he is?" she replied. Her eyes told me that was no
way to start a marriage. 1 kissed her. "Thank you."

Soraya dedicated herself to taking care of my father. She made his toast
and tea in the morning, and helped him in and out of bed. She gave him his pain
pills, washed his clothes, read him the international section of the newspaper
every afternoon, She cooked his favorite dish, potato shorwa, though he could
scarcely eat more than a few spoonfuls, and took him out every day for a brief
walk around the block. And when he became bedridden, she turned him on his
side every hour so he wouldn't get a bedsore.

One day, I came home from the pharmacy with Baba's morphine pills. Just
as I shut the door, I caught a glimpse of Soraya quickly sliding something under
Baba's blanket. "Hey, I saw that! What were you two doing?" I said.

Nothing," Soraya said, smiling.

"Liar." I lifted Baba's blanket. "What's this?" I said, though as soon as I
picked up the leather-bound book, I knew. I traced my fingers along the gold-
stitched borders. I remembered the fire works the night Rahim Khan had given it
to me, the night of my thirteenth birthday, flares sizzling and exploding into
bouquets of red, green, and yellow.

"I can't believe you can write like this," Soraya said.

Baba dragged his head off the pillow. "1 put her up to it. I hope you don't


I gave the notebook back to Soraya and left the room. Baba hated it when I


A MONTH AFTER THE WEDDING, the Taheris, Sharif, his wife Suzy, and several
of Soraya's aunts came over to our apartment for dinner. Soraya made sabzi
challow-white rice with spinach and lamb. After dinner, we all had green tea and
played cards in groups of four. Soraya and I played with Sharif and Suzy on the
coffee table, next to the couch where Baba lay under a wool blanket. He watched
me joking with Sharif, watched Soraya and me lacing our fingers together,
watched me push back a loose curl of her hair. I could see his internal smile, as
wide as the skies of Kabul on nights when the poplars shivered and the sound of
crickets swelled in the gardens.

Just before midnight, Baba asked us to help him into bed. Soraya and 1
placed his arms on our shoulders and wrapped ours around his back. When we
lowered him, he had Soraya turn off the bedside lamp. He asked us to lean in,
gave us each a kiss.

"I'll come back with your morphine and a glass of water, Kaka jan," Soraya


Not tonight," he said. "There is no pain tonight.

"Okay," she said. She pulled up his blanket. We closed the door. Baba
never woke up.

THEY FILLED THE PARKING SPOTS at the mosque in Hayward. On the balding
grass field behind the building, cars and SUVs parked in crowded makeshift
rows. People had to drive three or four blocks north of the mosque to find a spot.

The men's section of the mosque was a large square room, covered with
Afghan rugs and thin mattresses placed in parallel lines. Men filed into the room,
leaving their shoes at the entrance, and sat cross-legged on the mattresses. A
mullah chanted surrahs from the Koran into a microphone. I sat by the door, the
customary position for the family of the deceased. General Taheri was seated
next to me.

Through the open door, I could see lines of cars pulling in, sunlight
winking in their windshields. They dropped off passengers, men dressed in dark
suits, women clad in black dresses, their heads covered with traditional white

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