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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 35

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his eyes perked up when Khala Jamila teased us about a baby.

"Sometimes, it takes a while," I told Soraya one night.

"A year isn't a while, Amir!" she said, in a terse voice so unlike her.

"Something's wrong, I know it."

"Then let's see a doctor."

DR. ROSEN, a round-bellied man with a plump face and small, even teeth, spoke
with a faint Eastern European accent, some thing remotely Slavic. He had a
passion for trains-his office was littered with books about the history of
railroads, model locomotives, paintings of trains trundling on tracks through
green hills and over bridges. A sign above his desk read, LIFE IS A TRAIN. GET

He laid out the plan for us. I'd get checked first. "Men are easy," he said,
fingers tapping on his mahogany desk. "A man's plumbing is like his mind:
simple, very few surprises. You ladies, on the other hand... well, God put a lot of
thought into making you." I wondered if he fed that bit about the plumbing to all
of his couples.

"Lucky us," Soraya said.

Dr. Rosen laughed. It fell a few notches short of genuine. He gave me a lab
slip and a plastic jar, handed Soraya a request for some routine blood tests. We
shook hands. "Welcome aboard," he said, as he showed us out.


The next few months were a blur of tests on Soraya: Basal body
temperatures, blood tests for every conceivable hormone, urine tests, something
called a "Cervical Mucus Test," ultrasounds, more blood tests, and more urine

Soraya underwent a procedure called a hysteroscopy--Dr. Rosen inserted
a telescope into Soraya's uterus and took a look around. He found nothing. "The
plumbing's clear," he announced, snapping off his latex gloves. I wished he'd stop
calling it that--we weren't bathrooms. When the tests were over, he explained
that he couldn't explain why we couldn't have kids. And, apparently, that wasn't
so unusual. It was called "Unexplained Infertility."

Then came the treatment phase. We tried a drug called Clomiphene, and
hMG, a series of shots which Soraya gave to herself. When these failed, Dr. Rosen
advised in vitro fertilization. We received a polite letter from our HMO, wishing
us the best of luck, regretting they couldn't cover the cost.

We used the advance I had received for my novel to pay for it. IVF proved
lengthy, meticulous, frustrating, and ultimately unsuccessful. After months of
sitting in waiting rooms reading magazines like Good Housekeeping and
Reader's Digest, after endless paper gowns and cold, sterile exam rooms lit by
fluorescent lights, the repeated humiliation of discussing every detail of our sex
life with a total stranger, the injections and probes and specimen collections, we
went back to Dr. Rosen and his trains.

He sat across from us, tapped his desk with his fingers, and used the word
"adoption" for the first time. Soraya cried all the way home.

Soraya broke the news to her parents the weekend after our last visit
with Dr. Rosen. We were sitting on picnic chairs in the Taheris' backyard, grilling
trout and sipping yogurt dogh. It was an early evening in March 1991. Khala
Jamila had watered the roses and her new honeysuckles, and their fragrance
mixed with the smell of cooking fish. Twice already, she had reached across her
chair to caress Soraya's hair and say, "God knows best, bachem. Maybe it wasn't
meant to be."


Soraya kept looking down at her hands. She was tired, 1 knew, tired of it

"The doctor said we could adopt," she murmured.

General Taheri's head snapped up at this. He closed the barbecue lid. "He


"He said it was an option," Soraya said.

We'd talked at home about adoption. Soraya was ambivalent at best. "I
know it's silly and maybe vain," she said to me on the way to her parents' house,
"but I can't help it. I've always dreamed that I'd hold it in my arms and know my
blood had fed it for nine months, that I'd look in its eyes one day and be startled
to see you or me, that the baby would grow up and have your smile or mine.

Without that... Is that wrong?"

"No," I had said.

"Am I being selfish?"

"No, Soraya."

"Because if you really want to do it..."

"No," I said. "If we're going to do it, we shouldn't have any doubts at all
about it, and we should both be in agreement. It wouldn't be fair to the baby


She rested her head on the window and said nothing else the rest of the

Now the general sat beside her. "Bachem, this adoption... thing, I'm not so
sure it's for us Afghans." Soraya looked at me tiredly and sighed.

"For one thing, they grow up and want to know who their natural parents
are," he said. "Nor can you blame them. Sometimes, they leave the home in which
you labored for years to provide for them so they can find the people who gave
them life. Blood is a powerful thing, bachem, never forget that."

"I don't want to talk about this anymore," Soraya said.

"I'll say one more thing," he said. I could tell he was getting revved up; we
were about to get one of the general's little speeches. "Take Amir jan, here. We all
knew his father, I know who his grandfather was in Kabul and his great-
grandfather before him, I could sit here and trace generations of his ancestors for
you if you asked. That's why when his father-God give him peace-came
khastegari, I didn't hesitate. And believe me, his father wouldn't have agreed to
ask for your hand if he didn't know whose descendant you were. Blood is a
powerful thing, bachem, and when you adopt, you don't know whose blood
you're bringing into your house.

"Now, if you were American, it wouldn't matter. People here marry for
love, family name and ancestry never even come into the equation. They adopt
that way too, as long as the baby is healthy, everyone is happy. But we are
Afghans, bachem."

"Is the fish almost ready?" Soraya said. General Taheri's eyes lingered on


He patted her knee. "Just be happy you have your health and a good

"What do you think, Amir jan?" Khala Jamila said.

I put my glass on the ledge, where a row of her potted geraniums were
dripping water. "I think I agree with General Sahib."

Reassured, the general nodded and went back to the grill.

We all had our reasons for not adopting. Soraya had hers, the general his,
and I had this: that perhaps something, someone, somewhere, had decided to
deny me fatherhood for the things I had done. Maybe this was my punishment,
and perhaps justly so. It wasn't meant to be, Khala Jamila had said. Or, maybe, it
was meant not to be.

A FEW MONTHS LATER, we used the advance for my second novel and placed a
down payment on a pretty, two-bedroom Victorian house in San Francisco's
Bernal Heights. It had a peaked roof, hardwood floors, and a tiny backyard which
ended in a sun deck and a fire pit. The general helped me refinish the deck and
paint the walls. Khala Jamila bemoaned us moving almost an hour away,
especially since she thought Soraya needed all the love and support she could
get-oblivious to the fact that her well-intended but overbearing sympathy was
precisely what was driving Soraya to move.

SOMETIMES, SORAYA SLEEPING NEXT TO ME, I lay in bed and listened to the
screen door swinging open and shut with the breeze, to the crickets chirping in
the yard. And I could almost feel the emptiness in Soraya's womb, like it was a
living, breathing thing. It had seeped into our marriage, that emptiness, into our
laughs, and our lovemaking. And late at night, in the darkness of our room, I'd
feel it rising from Soraya and settling between us. Sleeping between us.

Like a newborn child.


June 2001.

I lowered the phone into the cradle and stared at it for a long time. It wasn't until
Aflatoon startled me with a bark that I realized how quiet the room had become.
Soraya had muted the television.

"You look pale, Amir," she said from the couch, the same one her parents
had given us as a housewarming gift for our first apartment. She'd been lying on
it with Aflatoon's head nestled on her chest, her legs buried under the worn
pillows. She was half-watching a PBS special on the plight of wolves in
Minnesota, half-correcting essays from her summer-school class-she'd been
teaching at the same school now for six years. She sat up, and Aflatoon leapt
down from the couch. It was the general who had given our cocker spaniel his
name, Farsi for "Plato," because, he said, if you looked hard enough and long
enough into the dog's filmy black eyes, you'd swear he was thinking wise

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