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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 39

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If he wrote you a letter, would I pass it on to you? And did I think you
would write back? I told him what I knew of you from the few phone
conversations I had had with your father, but mostly I did not know how to
answer him. Then he asked me about your father. When I told him, Hassan

buried his face in his hands and broke into tears. He wept like a child for the rest
of that night.

They insisted that I spend the night there. Farzana fixed a cot for me and
left me a glass of well water in case I got thirsty. All night, I heard her whispering
to Hassan, and heard him sobbing.

In the morning, Hassan told me he and Farzana had decided to move to
Kabul with me.

"I should not have come here," I said. "You were right, Hassan jan. You
have a zendagi, a life here. It was presumptuous of me to just show up and ask
you to drop everything. It is me who needs to be forgiven."

"We don't have that much to drop, Rahim Khan," Hassan said. His eyes
were still red and puffy. "We'll go with you. We'll help you take care of the

"Are you absolutely sure?"

He nodded and dropped his head. "Agha sahib was like my second father...
God give him peace."

They piled their things in the center of a few worn rags and tied the
corners together. We loaded the bundle into the Buick. Hassan stood in the
threshold of the house and held the Koran as we all kissed it and passed under it.
Then we left for Kabul. I remember as I was pulling away, Hassan turned to take
a last look at their home.

When we got to Kabul, I discovered that Hassan had no intention of
moving into the house. "But all these rooms are empty, Hassan jan. No one is
going to live in them," I said.

But he would not. He said it was a matter of ihtiram, a matter of respect.
He and Farzana moved their things into the hut in the backyard, where he was
born. I pleaded for them to move into one of the guest bedrooms upstairs, but

Hassan would hear nothing of it. "What will Amir agha think?" he said to me.
"What will he think when he comes back to Kabul after the war and finds that I
have assumed his place in the house?" Then, in mourning for your father, Hassan
wore black for the next forty days.

I did not want them to, but the two of them did all the cooking, all the
cleaning. Hassan tended to the flowers in the garden, soaked the roots, picked off
yellowing leaves, and planted rosebushes. He painted the walls. In the house, he
swept rooms no one had slept in for years, and cleaned bathrooms no one had
bathed in. Like he was preparing the house for someone's return. Do you
remember the wall behind the row of corn your father had planted, Amir jan?
What did you and Hassan call it, "the Wall of Ailing Corn"? A rocket destroyed a
whole section of that wall in the middle of the night early that fall. Hassan rebuilt
the wall with his own hands, brick by brick, until it stood' whole again. I do not
know what I would have done if he had not been there. Then late that fall,
Farzana gave birth to a stillborn baby girl. Hassan kissed the baby's lifeless face,
and we buried her in the backyard, near the sweetbrier bushes. We covered the
little mound with leaves from the poplar trees. I said a prayer for her. Farzana
stayed in the hut all day and wailed--it is a heartbreaking sound, Amir jan, the
wailing of a mother. I pray to Allah you never hear it.

Outside the walls of that house, there was a war raging. But the three of
us, in your father's house, we made our own little haven from it. My vision
started going by the late 1980s, so I had Hassan read me your mother's books.
We would sit in the foyer, by the stove, and Hassan would read me from
_Masnawi_ or _Khayyam_, as Farzana cooked in the kitchen. And every morning,
Hassan placed a flower on the little mound by the sweetbrier bushes.

In early 1990, Farzana became pregnant again. It was that same year, in
the middle of the summer, that a woman covered in a sky blue burqa knocked on
the front gates one morning. When I walked up to the gates, she was swaying on
her feet, like she was too weak to even stand. I asked her what she wanted, but
she would not answer.

"Who are you?" I said. But she just collapsed right there in the driveway. I
yelled for Hassan and he helped me carry her into the house, to the living room.
We lay her on the sofa and took off her burqa. Beneath it, we found a toothless
woman with stringy graying hair and sores on her arms. She looked like she had
not eaten for days. But the worst of it by far was her face. Someone had taken a
knife to it and... Amir jan, the slashes cut this way and that way. One of the cuts
went from cheekbone to hairline and it had not spared her left eye on the way. It
was grotesque. I patted her brow with a wet cloth and she opened her eyes.
"Where is Hassan?" she whispered.

"I'm right here," Hassan said. He took her hand and squeezed it.

Her good eye rolled to him. "I have walked long and far to see if you are as
beautiful in the flesh as you are in my dreams. And you are. Even more." She
pulled his hand to her scarred face. "Smile for me. Please."

Hassan did and the old woman wept. "You smiled coming out of me, did
anyone ever tell you? And I wouldn't even hold you. Allah forgive me, I wouldn't
even hold you."

None of us had seen Sanaubar since she had eloped with a band of singers
and dancers in 1964, just after she had given birth to Hassan. You never saw her,
Amir, but in her youth, she was a vision. She had a dimpled smile and a walk that
drove men crazy. No one who passed her on the street, be it a man or a woman,
could look at her only once. And now...

Hassan dropped her hand and bolted out of the house. I went after him,
but he was too fast. I saw him running up the hill where you two used to play, his
feet kicking up plumes of dust. I let him go. I sat with Sanaubar all day as the sky
went from bright blue to purple. Hassan still had not come back when night fell
and moonlight bathed the clouds. Sanaubar cried that coming back had been a
mistake, maybe even a worse one than leaving. But I made her stay. Hassan
would return, I knew.

He came back the next morning, looking tired and weary, like he had not
slept all night. He took Sanaubar's hand in both of his and told her she could cry
if she wanted to but she needn't, she was home now, he said, home with her
family. He touched the scars on her face, and ran his hand through her hair.

Hassan and Farzana nursed her back to health. They fed her and washed
her clothes. I gave her one of the guest rooms upstairs. Sometimes, I would look
out the window into the yard and watch Hassan and his mother kneeling
together, picking tomatoes or trimming a rosebush, talking. They were catching
up on all the lost years, I suppose. As far as I know, he never asked where she
had been or why she had left and she never told. I guess some stories do not
need telling.

It was Sanaubar who delivered Hassan's son that winter of 1990. It had
not started snowing yet, but the winter winds were blowing through the yards,
bending the flowerbeds and rustling the leaves. I remember Sanaubar came out
of the hut holding her grandson, had him wrapped in a wool blanket. She stood
beaming under a dull gray sky tears streaming down her cheeks, the needle-cold
wind blowing her hair, and clutching that baby in her arms like she never wanted
to let go. Not this time. She handed him to Hassan and he handed him to me and I
sang the prayer of Ayat-ul-kursi in that little boy's ear.

They named him Sohrab, after Hassan's favorite hero from the
_Shahnamah_, as you know, Amir jan. He was a beautiful little boy, sweet as
sugar, and had the same temperament as his father. You should have seen
Sanaubar with that baby, Amir jan. He became the center of her existence. She
sewed clothes for him, built him toys from scraps of wood, rags, and dried grass.
When he caught a fever, she stayed up all night, and fasted for three days. She
burned isfand for him on a skillet to cast out nazar, the evil eye. By the time
Sohrab was two, he was calling her Sasa. The two of them were inseparable.

She lived to see him turn four, and then, one morning, she just did not
wake up.
She looked calm, at peace, like she did not mind dying now. We buried
her in the cemetery on the hill, the one by the pomegranate tree, and I said a
prayer for her too. The loss was hard on Hassan-it always hurts more to have
and lose than to not have in the first place. But it was even harder on little
Sohrab. He kept walking around the house, looking for Sasa, but you know how
children are, they forget so quickly.

By then-that would have been 1995-the Shorawi were defeated and long
gone and Kabul belonged to Massoud, Rabbani, and the Mujahedin.

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