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The Kite Runner: Page 40
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infighting between the factions was fierce and no one knew if they would live to
see the end of the day. Our ears became accustomed to the whistle of falling
shells, to the rumble of gunfire, our eyes familiar with the sight of men digging
bodies out of piles of rubble. Kabul in those days, Amir jan, was as close as you
could get to that proverbial hell on earth. Allah was kind to us, though. The Wazir
Akbar Khan area was not attacked as much, so we did not have it as bad as some
of the other neighborhoods.
On those days when the rocket fire eased up a bit and the gunfighting was
light, Hassan would take Sohrab to the zoo to see Marjan the lion, or to the
cinema. Hassan taught him how to shoot the slingshot, and, later, by the time he
was eight, Sohrab had become deadly with that thing: He could stand on the
terrace and hit a pinecone propped on a pail halfway across the yard. Hassan
taught him to read and write-his son was not going to grow up illiterate like he
had. I grew very attached to that little boy-I had seen him take his first step,
heard him utter his first word. I bought children's books for Sohrab from the
bookstore by Cinema Park--they have destroyed that too now--and Sohrab read
them as quickly as I could get them to him. He reminded me of you, how you
loved to read when you were little, Amir jan. Sometimes, I read to him at night,
played riddles with him, taught him card tricks. I miss him terribly.
In the wintertime, Hassan took his son kite running. There were not
nearly as many kite tournaments as in the old days--no one felt safe outside for
too long--but there were still a few scattered tournaments. Hassan would prop
Sohrab on his shoulders and they would go trotting through the streets, running
kites, climbing trees where kites had dropped. You remember, Amir jan, what a
good kite runner Hassan was? He was still just as good. At the end of winter,
Hassan and Sohrab would hang the kites they had run all winter on the walls of
the main hallway. They would put them up like paintings.
I told you how we all celebrated in 1996 when the Taliban rolled in and
put an end to the daily fighting. I remember coming home that night and finding
Hassan in the kitchen, listening to the radio. He had a sober look in his eyes. I
asked him what was wrong, and he just shook his head. "God help the Hazaras
now, Rahim Khan sahib," he said.
"The war is over, Hassan," I said. "There's going to be peace, _Inshallah_,
and happiness and calm. No more rockets, no more killing, no more funerals!"
But he just turned off the radio and asked if he could get me anything before he
went to bed.
A few weeks later, the Taliban banned kite fighting. And two years later,
in 1998, they massacred the Hazaras in Mazar-i-Sharif.
Rahim Khan slowly uncrossed his legs and leaned against the bare wall in the
wary, deliberate way of a man whose every movement triggers spikes of pain.
Outside, a donkey was braying and some one was shouting something in Urdu.
The sun was beginning to set, glittering red through the cracks between the
It hit me again, the enormity of what I had done that winter and that
following summer. The names rang in my head: Hassan, Sohrab, Ali, Farzana, and
Sanaubar. Hearing Rahim Khan speak Ali's name was like finding an old dusty
music box that hadn't been opened in years; the melody began to play
immediately: Who did you eat today, Babalu? Who did you eat, you slant-eyed
Babalu? I tried to conjure Ali's frozen face, to really see his tranquil eyes, but
time can be a greedy thing-sometimes it steals all the details for itself.
"Is Hassan still in that house now?" I asked.
Rahim Khan raised the teacup to his parched lips and took a sip. He then
fished an envelope from the breast pocket of his vest and handed it to me. "For
I tore the sealed envelope. Inside, 1 found a Polaroid photograph and a
folded letter. I stared at the photograph for a full minute.
A tall man dressed in a white turban and a green-striped chapan stood
with a little boy in front of a set of wrought-iron gates. Sunlight slanted in from
the left, casting a shadow on half of his rotund face. He was squinting and smiling
at the camera, showing a pair of missing front teeth. Even in this blurry Polaroid,
the man in the chapan exuded a sense of self-assuredness, of ease. It was in the
way he stood, his feet slightly apart, his arms comfortably crossed on his chest,
his head titled a little toward the sun. Mostly, it was in the way he smiled.
Looking at the photo, one might have concluded that this was a man who thought
the world had been good to him. Rahim Khan was right: 1 would have recognized
him if I had bumped into him on the street. The little boy stood bare foot, one
arm wrapped around the man's thigh, his shaved head resting against his
father's hip. He too was grinning and squinting.
I unfolded the letter. It was written in Farsi. No dots were omitted, no
crosses forgotten, no words blurred together-the handwriting was almost
childlike in its neatness. I began to read: In the name of Allah the most
beneficent, the most merciful, Amir agha, with my deepest respects, Farzana jan,
Sohrab, and I pray that this latest letter finds you in good health and in the light
of Allah's good graces. Please offer my warmest thanks to Rahim Khan sahib for
carrying it to you. I am hopeful that one day I will hold one of your letters in my
hands and read of your life in America. Perhaps a photograph of you will even
grace our eyes. I have told much about you to Farzana jan and Sohrab, about us
growing up together and playing games and running in the streets. They laugh at
the stories of all the mischief you and I used to cause!
Amir agha, Alas the Afghanistan of our youth is long dead. Kindness is
gone from the land and you cannot escape the killings. Always the killings. In
Kabul, fear is everywhere, in the streets, in the stadium, in the markets, it is a
part of our lives here, Amir agha. The savages who rule our watan don't care
about human decency. The other day, I accompanied Farzana jan to the bazaar to
buy some potatoes and _naan_. She asked the vendor how much the potatoes
cost, but he did not hear her, I think he had a deaf ear. So she asked louder and
suddenly a young Talib ran over and hit her on the thighs with his wooden stick.
He struck her so hard she fell down. He was screaming at her and cursing and
saying the Ministry of Vice and Virtue does not allow women to speak loudly. She
had a large purple bruise on her leg for days but what could I do except stand
and watch my wife get beaten? If I fought, that dog would have surely put a bullet
in me, and gladly! Then what would happen to my Sohrab? The streets are full
enough already of hungry orphans and every day I thank Allah that I am alive,
not because I fear death, but because my wife has a husband and my son is not an
I wish you could see Sohrab. He is a good boy. Rahim Khan sahib and I
have taught him to read and write so he does not grow up stupid like his father.
And can he shoot with that slingshot! I take Sohrab around Kabul sometimes and
buy him candy. There is still a monkey man in Shar-e Nau and if we run into him,
I pay him to make his monkey dance for Sohrab. You should see how he laughs!
The two of us often walk up to the cemetery on the hill. Do you remember how
we used to sit under the pomegranate tree there and read from the
_Shahnamah_? The droughts have dried the hill and the tree hasn't borne fruit in
years, but Sohrab and I still sit under its shade and I read to him from the
_Shahnamah_. It is not necessary to tell you that his favorite part is the one with
his namesake, Rostam and Sohrab. Soon he will be able to read from the book
himself. I am a very proud and very lucky father.
Amir agha, Rahim Khan sahib is quite ill. He coughs all day and I see blood
on his sleeve when he wipes his mouth. He has lost much weight and I wish he
would eat a little of the shorwa and rice that Farzana jan cooks for him. But he
only takes a bite or two and even that I think is out of courtesy to Farzana jan. I
am so worried about this dear man I pray for him every day. He is leaving for
Pakistan in a few days to consult some doctors there and, _Inshallah_, he will
return with good news. But in my heart I fear for him. Farzana jan and I have told
little Sohrab that Rahim Khan sahib is going to be well. What can we do? He is
only ten and he adores Rahim Khan sahib. They have grown so close to each
other. Rahim Khan sahib used to take him to the bazaar for balloons and biscuits
but he is too weak for that now.
I have been dreaming a lot lately, Amir agha.
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