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The Kite Runner


The Kite Runner: Page 38


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"You sounded like your father just now. I miss him
so much. But it is God's will, Amir jan. It really is." He paused. "Besides, there's
another reason I asked you to come here. I wanted to see you before I go, yes, but
something else too."



"Anything."



"You know all those years I lived in your father's house after you left?"



'Yes.




I wasn't alone for all of them. Hassan lived there with me.



"Hassan," I said. When was the last time I had spoken his name? Those
thorny old barbs of guilt bore into me once more, as if speaking his name had
broken a spell, set them free to torment me anew. Suddenly the air in Rahim
Khan's little flat was too thick, too hot, too rich with the smell of the street.



"I thought about writing you and telling you before, but I wasn't sure you
wanted to know. Was I wrong?"



The truth was no. The lie was yes. I settled for something in between. "I
don't know."



He coughed another patch of blood into the handkerchief. When he bent
his head to spit, I saw honey-crusted sores on his scalp. "I brought you here
because I am going to ask something of you. I'm going to ask you to do something
for me. But before I do, I want to tell you about Hassan. Do you understand?"



"Yes," I murmured.



"I want to tell you about him. I want to tell you everything. You will
listen?"



I nodded.



Then Rahim Khan sipped some more tea. Rested his head against the wall
and spoke.




SIXTEEN




There were a lot of reasons why I went to Hazarajat to find Hassan in 1986. The
biggest one, Allah forgive me, was that I was lonely. By then, most of my friends
and relatives had either been killed or had escaped the country to Pakistan or
Iran. I barely knew anyone in Kabul anymore, the city where I had lived my
entire life. Everybody had fled. I would take a walk in the Karteh Parwan section-
-where the melon vendors used to hang out in the old days, you remember that
spot?--and I wouldn't recognize anyone there. No one to greet, no one to sit
down with for chai, no one to share stories with, just Roussi soldiers patrolling
the streets. So eventually, I stopped going out to the city.



I would spend my days in your father's house, up in the study, reading
your mother's old books, listening to the news, watching the communist
propaganda on television. Then I would pray natnaz, cook something, eat, read
some more, pray again, and go to bed. I would rise in the morning, pray, do it all
over again.



And with my arthritis, it was getting harder for me to maintain the house.
My knees and back were always aching--I would get up in the morning and it
would take me at least an hour to shake the stiffness from my joints, especially in
the wintertime. I did not want to let your father's house go to rot; we had all had
many good times in that house, so many memories, Amir jan. It was not right--
your father had designed that house himself; it had meant so much to him, and
besides, I had promised him I would care for it when he and you left for Pakistan.
Now it was just me and the house and... I did my best. I tried to water the trees
every few days, cut the lawn, tend to the flowers, fix things that needed fixing,
but, even then, I was not a young man anymore.



But even so, I might have been able to manage. At least for a while longer.
But when news of your father's death reached me... for the first time, I felt a
terrible loneliness in that house. An unbearable emptiness.



So one day, I fueled up the Buick and drove up to Hazarajat. I remembered
that, after Ali dismissed himself from the house, your father told me he and
Hassan had moved to a small village just outside Bamiyan. Ali had a cousin there
as I recalled. I had no idea if Hassan would still be there, if anyone would even
know of him or his whereabouts. After all, it had been ten years since Ali and
Hassan had left your father's house. Hassan would have been a grown man in
1986, twenty-two, twenty-three years old. If he was even alive, that is-the




Shorawi, may they rot in hell for what they did to our watan, killed so many of
our young men. I don't have to tell you that.



But, with the grace of God, I found him there. It took very little searching-
all I had to do was ask a few questions in Bamiyan and people pointed me to his
village. I do not even recall its name, or whether it even had one. But I remember
it was a scorching summer day and I was driving up a rutted dirt road, nothing
on either side but sunbaked bushes, gnarled, spiny tree trunks, and dried grass
like pale straw. I passed a dead donkey rotting on the side of the road. And then I
turned a corner and, right in the middle of that barren land, I saw a cluster of
mud houses, beyond them nothing but broad sky and mountains like jagged
teeth.



The people in Bamiyan had told me I would find him easily-he lived in
the only house in the village that had a walled garden. The mud wall, short and
pocked with holes, enclosed the tiny house-which was really not much more
than a glorified hut. Barefoot children were playing on the street, kicking a
ragged tennis ball with a stick, and they stared when I pulled up and killed the
engine. 1 knocked on the wooden door and stepped through into a yard that had
very little in it save for a parched strawberry patch and a bare lemon tree. There
was a tandoor in the corner in the shadow of an acacia tree and I saw a man
squatting beside it. He was placing dough on a large wooden spatula and
slapping it against the walls of the _tandoor_. He dropped the dough when he
saw me. I had to make him stop kissing my hands.



"Let me look at you," I said. He stepped away. He was so tall now-I stood
on my toes and still just came up to his chin. The Bamiyan sun had toughened his
skin, and turned it several shades darker than I remembered, and he had lost a
few of his front teeth. There were sparse strands of hair on his chin. Other than
that, he had those same narrow green eyes, that scar on his upper lip, that round
face, that affable smile. You would have recognized him, Amir jan. I am sure of it.



We went inside. There was a young light-skinned Hazara woman, sewing
a shawl in a corner of the room. She was visibly expecting. "This is my wife,
Rahim Khan," Hassan said proudly. "Her name is Farzana jan." She was a shy
woman, so courteous she spoke in a voice barely higher than a whisper and she
would not raise her pretty hazel eyes to meet my gaze. But the way she was
looking at Hassan, he might as well have been sitting on the throne at the _Arg_.



"When is the baby coming?" I said after we all settled around the adobe
room. There was nothing in the room, just a frayed rug, a few dishes, a pair of
mattresses, and a lantern.




"_Inshallah_, this winter," Hassan said. "I am praying for a boy to carry on
my father's name."



"Speaking of Ah, where is he?"



Hassan dropped his gaze. He told me that Ali and his cousin--who had
owned the house-had been killed by a land mine two years before, just outside
of Bamiyan. A land mine. Is there a more Afghan way of dying, Amir jan? And for
some crazy reason, I became absolutely certain that it had been Ali's right leg-
his twisted polio leg-that had finally betrayed him and stepped on that land
mine.
I was deeply saddened to hear Ah had died. Your father and I grew up
together, as you know, and Ah had been with him as long as I could remember. I
remember when we were all little, the year Ah got polio and almost died. Your
father would walk around the house all day crying.



Farzana made us shorwa with beans, turnips, and potatoes. We washed
our hands and dipped fresh _naan_ from the tandoor into the shorwa-it was the
best meal I had had in months. It was then that I asked Hassan to move to Kabul
with me. I told him about the house, how I could not care for it by myself
anymore. I told him I would pay him well, that he and his _khanum_ would be
comfortable. They looked to each other and did not say anything. Later, after we
had washed our hands and Farzana had served us grapes, Hassan said the village
was his home now; he and Farzana had made a life for themselves there.



"And Bamiyan is so close. We know people there. Forgive me, Rahim
Khan. I pray you understand."



"Of course," I said. "You have nothing to apologize for. I understand."



It was midway through tea after shorwa that Hassan asked about you. I
told him you were in America, but that I did not know much more. Hassan had so
many questions about you. Had you married? Did you have children? How tall
were you? Did you still fly kites and go to the cinema? Were you happy? He said
he had befriended an old Farsi teacher in Bamiyan who had taught him to read
and write.

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