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The Kite Runner: Page 42
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The street was a noisy lane in a maze of alleyways choked with pedestrians,
bicycles, and rickshaws. Billboards hung at its corners, advertising Coca-Cola and
cigarettes; Hollywood movie posters displayed sultry actresses dancing with
handsome, brown-skinned men in fields of marigolds.
I walked into a smoky little samovar house and ordered a cup of tea. I
tilted back on the folding chair's rear legs and rubbed my face. That feeling of
sliding toward a fall was fading. But in its stead, I felt like a man who awakens in
his own house and finds all the furniture rearranged, so that every familiar nook
and cranny looks foreign now. Disoriented, he has to reevaluate his
surroundings, reorient himself.
How could I have been so blind? The signs had been there for me to see all
along; they came flying back at me now: Baba hiring Dr. Kumar to fix Hassan's
harelip. Baba never missing Hassan's birthday. 1 remembered the day we were
planting tulips, when I had asked Baba if he'd ever consider getting new
servants. Hassan's not going anywhere, he'd barked. He's staying right here with
us, where he belongs. This is his home and we're his family. He had wept, wept,
when Ah announced he and Hassan were leaving us.
The waiter placed a teacup on the table before me. Where the table's legs
crossed like an X, there was a ring of brass balls, each walnut-sized. One of the
balls had come unscrewed. I stooped and tightened it.
I wished I could fix my
own life as easily. I took a gulp of the blackest tea I'd had in years and tried to
think of Soraya, of the general and Khala Jamila, of the novel that needed
finishing. I tried to watch the traffic bolting by on the street, the people milling in
and out of the little sweetshops. Tried to listen to the Qawali music playing on
the transistor radio at the next table. Anything. But I kept seeing Baba on the
night of my graduation, sitting in the Ford he'd just given me, smelling of beer
and saying, I wish Hassan had been with us today.
How could he have lied to me all those years? To Hassan? He had sat me
on his lap when I was little, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, There is only
one sin. And that is theft... When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the
truth. Hadn't he said those words to me? And now, fifteen years after I'd buried
him, I was learning that Baba had been a thief. And a thief of the worst kind,
because the things he'd stolen had been sacred: from me the right to know I had
a brother, from Hassan his identity, and from Ali his honor. His nang. His
The questions kept coming at me: How had Baba brought himself to look
Ali in the eye? How had Ali lived in that house, day in and day out, knowing he
had been dishonored by his master in the single worst way an Afghan man can
be dishonored? And how was I going to reconcile this new image of Baba with
the one that had been imprinted on my mind for so long, that of him in his old
brown suit, hobbling up the Taheris' driveway to ask for Soraya's hand? Here is
another cliche my creative writing teacher would have scoffed at; like father, like
son. But it was true, wasn't it? As it turned out, Baba and I were more alike than
I'd ever known. We had both betrayed the people who would have given their
lives for us. And with that came this realization: that Rahim Khan had summoned
me here to atone not just for my sins but for Baba's too.
Rahim Khan said I'd always been too hard on myself. But I wondered.
True, I hadn't made Ali step on the land mine, and I hadn't brought the Taliban to
the house to shoot Hassan. But I had driven Hassan and Ah out of the house. Was
it too farfetched to imagine that things might have turned out differently if I
hadn't? Maybe Baba would have brought them along to America. Maybe Hassan
would have had a home of his own now, a job, a family, a life in a country where
no one cared that he was a Hazara, where most people didn't even know what a
Hazara was. Maybe not. But maybe so.
I can't go to Kabul, I had said to Rahim Khan. I have a wife in America, a
home, a career, and a family. But how could I pack up and go back home when
my actions may have cost Hassan a chance at those very same things? I wished
Rahim Khan hadn't called me. I wished he had let me live on in my oblivion. But
he had called me. And what Rahim Khan revealed to me changed things. Made
me see how my entire life, long before the winter of 1975, dating back to when
that singing Hazara woman was still nursing me, had been a cycle of lies,
betrayals, and secrets.
There is a way to be good again, he'd said.
A way to end the cycle.
With a little boy. An orphan. Hassan's son. Somewhere in Kabul.
ON THE RICKSHAW RIDE back to Rahim Khan's apartment, I remembered Baba
saying that my problem was that someone had always done my fighting for me. I
was thirty-eight now. My hair was receding and streaked with gray, and lately I'd
traced little crow's-feet etched around the corners of my eyes. I was older now,
but maybe not yet too old to start doing my own fighting. Baba had lied about a
lot of things as it turned out but he hadn't lied about that.
I looked at the round face in the Polaroid again, the way the sun fell on it.
My brother's face. Hassan had loved me once, loved me in a way that no one ever
had or ever would again. He was gone now, but a little part of him lived on. It was
I FOUND RAHIM KHAN praying _namaz_ in a corner of the room. He was just a
dark silhouette bowing eastward against a blood-red sky. I waited for him to
Then I told him I was going to Kabul. Told him to call the Caldwells in the
"I'll pray for you, Amir jan," he said.
Again, the car sickness. By the time we drove past the bullet-riddled sign that
read THE KHYBER PASS WELCOMES YOU, my mouth had begun to water.
Something inside my stomach churned and twisted. Farid, my driver, threw me a
cold glance. There was no empathy in his eyes.
"Can we roll down the window?" I asked.
He lit a cigarette and tucked it between the remaining two fingers of his
left hand, the one resting on the steering wheel. Keeping his black eyes on the
road, he stooped forward, picked up the screwdriver lying between his feet, and
handed it to me. 1 stuck it in the small hole in the door where the handle
belonged and turned it to roll down my window.
Farid gave me another dismissive look, this one with a hint of barely
suppressed animosity, and went back to smoking his cigarette. He hadn't said
more than a dozen words since we'd departed from Jamrud Fort.
"Tashakor," I muttered. I leaned my head out of the window and let the
cold mid-afternoon air rush past my face. The drive through the tribal lands of
the Khyber Pass, winding between cliffs of shale and limestone, was just as I
remembered it-Baba and I had driven through the broken terrain back in 1974.
The arid, imposing mountains sat along deep gorges and soared to jagged peaks.
Old fortresses, adobe-walled and crumbling, topped the crags. 1 tried to keep my
eyes glued to the snowcapped Hindu Kush on the north side, but each time my
stomach settled even a bit, the truck skidded around yet another turn, rousing a
fresh wave of nausea.
"Try a lemon."
Lemon. Good for the sickness," Farid said. "I always bring one for this
"Nay, thank you," I said. The mere thought of adding acidity to my
stomach stirred more nausea. Farid snickered. "It's not fancy like American
medicine, I know, just an old remedy my mother taught me."
I regretted blowing my chance to warm up to him. "In that case, maybe
you should give me some."
He grabbed a paper bag from the backseat and plucked a half lemon out of
it. I bit down on it, waited a few minutes. "You were right. I feel better," I lied. As
an Afghan, I knew it was better to be miserable than rude. I forced a weak smile.
"Old Watani trick, no need for fancy medicine," he said. His tone bordered
on the surly. He flicked the ash off his cigarette and gave himself a self-satisfied
look in the rearview mirror. He was a Tajik, a lanky, dark man with a weather-
beaten face, narrow shoulders, and a long neck punctuated by a protruding
Adam's apple that only peeked from behind his beard when he turned his head.
He was dressed much as I was, though I suppose it was really the other way
around: a rough-woven wool blanket wrapped over a gray pirhan-tumban and a
vest. On his head, he wore a brown pakol, tilted slightly to one side, like the Tajik
hero Ahmad Shah Massoud-referred to by Tajiks as "the Lion of Panjsher."
It was Rahim Khan who had introduced me to Farid in Peshawar.
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