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The Kite Runner: Page 34
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Fresh tears squeezed out between her lids. "I actually said
that to him, that I wished he were dead.
"When he brought me home, my mother threw her arms around me and
she was crying too. She was saying things but I couldn't understand any of it
because she was slurring her words so badly. So my father took me up to my
bedroom and sat me in front of the dresser mirror. He handed me a pair of
scissors and calmly told me to cut off all my hair. He watched while I did it.
"I didn't step out of the house for weeks. And when I did, I heard whispers
or imagined them everywhere I went. That was four years ago and three
thousand miles away and I'm still hearing them."
"Fuck 'em," I said.
She made a sound that was half sob, half laugh. "When I told you about
this on the phone the night of khastegari, I was sure you'd change your mind."
"No chance of that, Soraya."
She smiled and took my hand. "I'm so lucky to have found you. You're so
different from every Afghan guy I've met."
"Let's never talk about this again, okay?"
I kissed her cheek and pulled away from the curb. As I drove, I wondered
why I was different. Maybe it was because I had been raised by men; I hadn't
grown up around women and had never been exposed firsthand to the double
standard with which Afghan society sometimes treated them. Maybe it was
because Baba had been such an unusual Afghan father, a liberal who had lived by
his own rules, a maverick who had disregarded or embraced societal customs as
he had seen fit.
But I think a big part of the reason I didn't care about Soraya's past was
that I had one of my own. I knew all about regret.
SHORTLY AFTER BABA'S DEATH, Soraya and I moved into a one-bedroom
apartment in Fremont, just a few blocks away from the general and Khala
Soraya's parents bought us a brown leather couch and a set of Mikasa
dishes as housewarming presents. The general gave me an additional present, a
brand new IBM typewriter. In the box, he had slipped a note written in Farsi:
Amir jan, I hope you discover many tales on these keys.
General Iqbal Taheri
I sold Baba's VW bus and, to this day, I have not gone back to the flea market. I
would drive to his gravesite every Friday, and, sometimes, I'd find a fresh
bouquet of freesias by the headstone and know Soraya had been there too.
Soraya and I settled into the routines-and minor wonders-of married
life. We shared toothbrushes and socks, passed each other the morning paper.
She slept on the right side of the bed, I preferred the left. She liked fluffy pillows,
I liked the hard ones. She ate her cereal dry, like a snack, and chased it with milk.
I got my acceptance at San Jose State that summer and declared an
English major. I took on a security job, swing shift at a furniture warehouse in
Sunnyvale. The job was dreadfully boring, but its saving grace was a
considerable one: When everyone left at 6 P.M. and shadows began to crawl
between aisles of plastic-covered sofas piled to the ceiling, I took out my books
It was in the Pine-Sol-scented office of that furniture warehouse
that I began my first novel.
Soraya joined me at San Jose State the following year and enrolled, to her
father's chagrin, in the teaching track.
"I don't know why you're wasting your talents like this," the general said
one night over dinner. "Did you know, Amir jan, that she earned nothing but A's
in high school?" He turned to her. "An intelligent girl like you could become a
lawyer, a political scientist. And, _Inshallah_, when Afghanistan is free, you could
help write the new constitution. There would be a need for young talented
Afghans like you. They might even offer you a ministry position, given your
I could see Soraya holding back, her face tightening. "I'm not a girl, Padar.
I'm a married woman. Besides, they'd need teachers too."
"Anyone can teach."
"Is there any more rice, Madar?" Soraya said.
After the general excused himself to meet some friends in Hayward, Khala
Jamila tried to console Soraya. "He means well," she said. "He just wants you to
"So he can boast about his attorney daughter to his friends. Another
medal for the general," Soraya said.
"Such nonsense you speak!"
"Successful," Soraya hissed. "At least I'm not like him, sitting around while
other people fight the Shorawi, waiting for when the dust settles so he can move
in and reclaim his posh little government position. Teaching may not pay much,
but it's what I want to do! It's what I love, and it's a whole lot better than
collecting welfare, by the way."
Khala Jamila bit her tongue. "If he ever hears you saying that, he will
never speak to you again."
"Don't worry," Soraya snapped, tossing her napkin on the plate. "I won't
bruise his precious ego."
IN THE SUMMER of 1988, about six months before the Soviets withdrew from
Afghanistan, I finished my first novel, a father-son story set in Kabul, written
mostly with the typewriter the general had given me. I sent query letters to a
dozen agencies and was stunned one August day when I opened our mailbox and
found a request from a New York agency for the completed manuscript. I mailed
it the next day. Soraya kissed the carefully wrapped manuscript and Khala Jamila
insisted we pass it under the Koran. She told me that she was going to do nazr for
me, a vow to have a sheep slaughtered and the meat given to the poor if my book
"Please, no nazn, Khala jan," I said, kissing her face. "Just do _zakat_, give
the money to someone in need, okay? No sheep killing."
Six weeks later, a man named Martin Greenwalt called from New York
and offered to represent me. I only told Soraya about it. "But just because I have
an agent doesn't mean I'll get published. If Martin sells the novel, then we'll
A month later, Martin called and informed me I was going to be a
published novelist. When I told Soraya, she screamed.
We had a celebration dinner with Soraya's parents that night. Khala
Jamila made kofta-meatballs and white rice-and white ferni. The general, a
sheen of moisture in his eyes, said that he was proud of me. After General Taheri
and his wife left, Soraya and I celebrated with an expensive bottle of Merlot I had
bought on the way home-the general did not approve of women drinking
alcohol, and Soraya didn't drink in his presence.
"I am so proud of you," she said, raising her glass to mine. "Kaka would
have been proud too."
"I know," I said, thinking of Baba, wishing he could have seen me.
Later that night, after Soraya fell asleep--wine always made her sleepy--I
stood on the balcony and breathed in the cool summer air. I thought of Rahim
Khan and the little note of support he had written me after he'd read my first
story. And I thought of Hassan. Some day, _Inshallah_, you will be a great writer,
he had said once, and people all over the world will read your stories. There was
so much goodness in my life. So much happiness. I wondered whether I deserved
any of it.
The novel was released in the summer of that following year, 1989, and
the publisher sent me on a five-city book tour. I became a minor celebrity in the
Afghan community. That was the year that the Shorawi completed their
withdrawal from Afghanistan. It should have been a time of glory for Afghans.
Instead, the war raged on, this time between Afghans, the Mujahedin, against the
Soviet puppet government of Najibullah, and Afghan refugees kept flocking to
Pakistan. That was the year that the cold war ended, the year the Berlin Wall
came down. It was the year of Tiananmen Square. In the midst of it all,
Afghanistan was forgotten. And General Taheri, whose hopes had stirred awake
after the Soviets pulled out, went back to winding his pocket watch.
That was also the year that Soraya and 1 began trying to have a child.
THE IDEA OF FATHERHOOD unleashed a swirl of emotions in me. I found it
frightening, invigorating, daunting, and exhilarating all at the same time. What
sort of father would I make, I wondered. I wanted to be just like Baba and I
wanted to be nothing like him.
But a year passed and nothing happened. With each cycle of blood, Soraya
grew more frustrated, more impatient, more irritable. By then, Khala Jamila's
initially subtle hints had become overt, as in "Kho dega!" So! "When am I going to
sing alahoo for my little nawasa?" The general, ever the Pashtun, never made any
queries--doing so meant alluding to a sexual act between his daughter and a
man, even if the man in question had been married to her for over four years.
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