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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 41

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Some of them are
nightmares, like hanged corpses rotting in soccer fields with blood-red grass. I
wake up from those short of breath and sweaty. Mostly, though, I dream of good
things, and praise Allah for that. I dream that Rahim Khan sahib will be well. I
dream that my son will grow up to be a good person, a free person, and an
important person. I dream that lawla flowers will bloom in the streets of Kabul
again and rubab music will play in the samovar houses and kites will fly in the
And I dream that someday you will return to Kabul to revisit the land of
our childhood. If you do, you will find an old faithful friend waiting for you.

May Allah be with you always.


I read the letter twice. I folded the note and looked at the photograph for another
minute. I pocketed both. "How is he?" I asked.

"That letter was written six months ago, a few days before I left for
Peshawar," Rahim Khan said. "I took the Polaroid the day before I left. A month
after I arrived in Peshawar, I received a telephone call from one of my neighbors
in Kabul. He told me this story: Soon after 1 took my leave, a rumor spread that a
Hazara family was living alone in the big house in Wazir Akbar Khan, or so the
Taliban claim. A pair of Talib officials came to investigate and interrogated
Hassan. They accused him of lying when Hassan told them he was living with me
even though many of the neighbors, including the one who called me, supported
Hassan's story. The Talibs said he was a liar and a thief like all Hazaras and
ordered him to get his family out of the house by sundown. Hassan protested.

But my neighbor said the Talibs were looking at the big house like-how did he
say it?-yes, like 'wolves looking at a flock of sheep.' They told Hassan they would
be moving in to supposedly keep it safe until I return. Hassan protested again.

So they took him to the street-" "No," I breathed.

--and order him to kneel-" "No. God, no.

"-and shot him in the back of the head."

"-Farzana came screaming and attacked them-" "No."

"-shot her too. Self-defense, they claimed later-" But all 1 could manage
was to whisper "No. No. No" over and over again.

I KEPT THINKING OF THAT DAY in 1974, in the hospital room, Just after
Hassan's harelip surgery. Baba, Rahim Khan, Ali, and I had huddled around
Hassan's bed, watched him examine his new lip in a handheld mirror. Now
everyone in that room was either dead or dying. Except for me.

Then I saw something else: a man dressed in a herringbone vest pressing
the muzzle of his Kalashnikov to the back of Hassan's head. The blast echoes
through the street of my father's house. Hassan slumps to the asphalt, his life of
unrequited loyalty drifting from him like the windblown kites he used to chase.

"The Taliban moved into the house," Rahim Khan said. "The pretext was
that they had evicted a trespasser. Hassan's and Farzana's murders were
dismissed as a case of self-defense. No one said a word about it. Most of it was
fear of the Taliban, I think. But no one was going to risk anything for a pair of
Hazara servants."

"What did they do with Sohrab?" I asked. I felt tired, drained. A coughing
fit gripped Rahim Khan and went on for a long time. When he finally looked up,
his face was flushed and his eyes bloodshot. "I heard he's in an orphanage
somewhere in Karteh Seh. Amir jan-" then he was coughing again. When he
stopped, he looked older than a few moments before, like he was aging with each
coughing fit. "Amir jan, I summoned you here because I wanted to see you before
I die, but that's not all."

I said nothing. I think I already knew what he was going to say.

"1 want you to go to Kabul 1 want you to bring Sohrab here/' he said.

I struggled to find the right words. I'd barely had time to deal with the fact
that Hassan was dead.

"Please hear me. I know an American pair here in Peshawar, a husband
and wife named Thomas and Betty Caldwell. They are Christians and they run a
small charity organization that they manage with private donations. Mostly they
house and feed Afghan children who have lost their parents. 1 have seen the

It's clean and safe, the children are well cared for, and Mr. and Mrs.
Caldwell are kind people. They have already told me that Sohrab would be
welcome to their home and--"

"Rahim Khan, you can't be serious."

"Children are fragile, Amir jan. Kabul is already full of broken children and
I don't want Sohrab to become another."

"Rahim Khan, I don't want to go to Kabul. I can't!" I said.

"Sohrab is a gifted little boy. We can give him a new life here, new hope,
with people who would love him. Thomas agha is a good man and Betty khanum
is so kind, you should see how she treats those orphans."

"Why me? Why can't you pay someone here to go? I'll pay for it if it's a
matter of money."

"It isn't about money, Amir!" Rahim Khan roared. "I'm a dying man and I
will not be insulted! It has never been about money with me, you know that. And
why you? I think we both know why it has to be you, don't we?"

I didn't want to understand that comment, but I did. I understood it all too
well. "I have a wife in America, a home, a career, and a family. Kabul is a
dangerous place, you know that, and you'd have me risk everything for..." I

"You know," Rahim Khan said, "one time, when you weren't around, your
father and I were talking. And you know how he always worried about you in
those days. I remember he said to me, 'Rahim, a boy who won't stand up for
himself becomes a man who can't stand up to anything.' I wonder, is that what
you've become?"

I dropped my eyes.

"What I'm asking from you is to grant an old man his dying wish," he said

He had gambled with that comment. Played his best card. Or so I thought
then. His words hung in limbo between us, but at least he'd known what to say. I
was still searching for the right words, and I was the writer in the room. Finally, I
settled for this: "Maybe Baba was right."

"I'm sorry you think that, Amir."

I couldn't look at him. "And you don't?"

"If I did, I would not have asked you to come here."

I toyed with my wedding ring. "You've always thought too highly of me,
Rahim Khan."

"And you've always been far too hard on yourself." He hesitated. "But
there's something else. Something you don't know."

Please, Rahim Khan-

"Sanaubar wasn't Ali's first wife."

Now I looked up.

"He was married once before, to a Hazara woman from the Jaghori area.
This was long before you were born. They were married for three years."

"What does this have to do with anything?"

"She left him childless after three years and married a man in Khost. She
bore him three daughters. That's what I am trying to tell you."

I began to see where he was going. But I didn't want to hear the rest of it. I
had a good life in California, pretty Victorian home with a peaked roof, a good
marriage, a promising writing career, in-laws who loved me. I didn't need any of
this shit.

"Ali was sterile," Rahim Khan said.

"No he wasn't. He and Sanaubar had Hassan, didn't they? They had

"No they didn't," Rahim Khan said.

"Yes they did!"

"No they didn't, Amir."

Then who-

I think you know who.

I felt like a man sliding down a steep cliff, clutching at shrubs and tangles
of brambles and coming up empty-handed. The room was swooping up and
down, swaying side to side. "Did Hassan know?" I said through lips that didn't
feel like my own. Rahim Khan closed his eyes. Shook his head.

"You bastards," I muttered. Stood up. "You goddamn bastards!" I
screamed. "All of you, you bunch of lying goddamn bastards!"

"Please sit down," Rahim Khan said.

"How could you hide this from me? From him?" I bellowed.

"Please think, Amir jan. It was a shameful situation. People would talk. All
that a man had back then, all that he was, was his honor, his name, and if people
talked... We couldn't tell anyone, surely you can see that." He reached for me, but
I shed his hand. Headed for the door.

"Amir jan, please don't leave."

I opened the door and turned to him. "Why? What can you possibly say to
me? I'm thirty-eight years old and I've Just found out my whole life is one big
fucking lie! What can you possibly say to make things better? Nothing. Not a
goddamn thing!"

And with that, I stormed out of the apartment.


The sun had almost set and left the sky swathed in smothers of purple and red. I
walked down the busy, narrow street that led away from Rahim Khan's building.

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