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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 44

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Farid wrestled the smallest of the three boys to the floor and tickled him
on the ribs with his good hand. The kid giggled and kicked. "At least I have a car,"
Farid panted. "How is your donkey these days?"

"My donkey is a better ride than your car."

"Khar khara mishnassah," Farid shot back. Takes a donkey to know a
donkey. They all laughed and I joined in. I heard female voices from the adjoining
room. I could see half of the room from where I sat. Maryam and an older woman
wearing a brown hijab--presumably her mother--were speaking in low voices
and pouring tea from a kettle into a pot.

"So what do you do in America, Amir agha?" Wahid asked.

"I'm a writer," I said. I thought I heard Farid chuckle at that.

"A writer?" Wahid said, clearly impressed. "Do you write about

"Well, I have. But not currently," I said. My last novel, _A Season for
Ashes_, had been about a university professor who joins a clan of gypsies after he
finds his wife in bed with one of his students. It wasn't a bad book. Some
reviewers had called it a "good" book, and one had even used the word
"riveting." But suddenly I was embarrassed by it. I hoped Wahid wouldn't ask
what it was about.

"Maybe you should write about Afghanistan again," Wahid said. "Tell the
rest of the world what the Taliban are doing to our country."

"Well, I'm not... I'm not quite that kind of writer."

"Oh," Wahid said, nodding and blushing a bit. "You know best, of course.
It's not for me to suggest...

Just then, Maryam and the other woman came into the room with a pair of
cups and a teapot on a small platter. I stood up in respect, pressed my hand to
my chest, and bowed my head. "Salaam alaykum," I said.

The woman, who had now wrapped her hijab to conceal her lower face,
bowed her head too. "Salaam," she replied in a barely audible voice. We never
made eye contact. She poured the tea while I stood.

The woman placed the steaming cup of tea before me and exited the
room, her bare feet making no sound at all as she disappeared. I sat down and
sipped the strong black tea. Wahid finally broke the uneasy silence that followed.

"So what brings you back to Afghanistan?"

"What brings them all back to Afghanistan, dear brother?" Farid said,
speaking to Wahid but fixing me with a contemptuous gaze.

"Bas!" Wahid snapped.

"It's always the same thing," Farid said. "Sell this land, sell that house,
collect the money, and run away like a mouse. Go back to America, spend the
money on a family vacation to Mexico."

"Farid!" Wahid roared. His children, and even Farid, flinched. "Have you
forgotten your manners? This is my house! Amir agha is my guest tonight and I
will not allow you to dishonor me like this!"

Farid opened his mouth, almost said something, reconsidered and said
nothing. He slumped against the wall, muttered something under his breath, and
crossed his mutilated foot over the good one. His accusing eyes never left me.

"Forgive us, Amir agha," Wahid said. "Since childhood, my brother's
mouth has been two steps ahead of his head."

"It's my fault, really," I said, trying to smile under Farid's intense gaze. "I
am not offended. I should have explained to him my business here in
Afghanistan. I am not here to sell property. I'm going to Kabul to find a boy."

"A boy," Wahid repeated.

"Yes." I fished the Polaroid from the pocket of my shirt. Seeing Hassan's
picture again tore the fresh scab off his death. I had to turn my eyes away from it.
I handed it to Wahid. He studied the photo. Looked from me to the photo and
back again. "This boy?"

I nodded.

"This Hazara boy."


"What does he mean to you?"

"His father meant a lot to me. He is the man in the photo. He's dead now."

Wahid blinked. "He was a friend of yours?"

My instinct was to say yes, as if, on some deep level, I too wanted to
protect Baba's secret. But there had been enough lies already. "He was my half-
brother." I swallowed. Added, "My illegitimate half brother." I turned the teacup.
Toyed with the handle.

"I didn't mean to pry."

'You're not prying," I said.

What will you do with him?

"Take him back to Peshawar. There are people there who will take care of


Wahid handed the photo back and rested his thick hand on my shoulder.
"You are an honorable man, Amir agha. A true Afghan."

I cringed inside.

"I am proud to have you in our home tonight," Wahid said. I thanked him
and chanced a glance over to Farid. He was looking down now, playing with the
frayed edges of the straw mat.

A SHORT WHILE LATER, Maryam and her mother brought two steaming bowls
of vegetable shorwa and two loaves of bread. "I'm sorry we can't offer you meat,"
Wahid said. "Only the Taliban can afford meat now."

"This looks wonderful," I said. It did too. I offered some to him, to the kids,
but Wahid said the family had eaten before we arrived. Farid and I rolled up our
sleeves, dipped our bread in the shorwa, and ate with our hands.

As I ate, I noticed Wahid's boys, all three thin with dirtcaked faces and
short-cropped brown hair under their skullcaps, stealing furtive glances at my
digital wristwatch. The youngest whispered something in his brother's ear. The
brother nodded, didn't take his eyes off my watch. The oldest of the boys-I
guessed his age at about twelve-rocked back and forth, his gaze glued to my
wrist. After dinner, after I'd washed my hands with the water Maryam poured
from a clay pot, I asked for Wahid's permission to give his boys a hadia, a gift. He
said no, but, when I insisted, he reluctantly agreed. I unsnapped the wristwatch
and gave it to the youngest of the three boys. He muttered a sheepish "Tashakor."

"It tells you the time in any city in the world/' I told him. The boys nodded
politely, passing the watch between them, taking turns trying it on. But they lost
interest and, soon, the watch sat abandoned on the straw mat.

"You COULD HAVE TOLD ME," Farid said later. The two of us were lying
next to each other on the straw mats Wahid's wife had spread for us.

"Told you what?"

"Why you've come to Afghanistan." His voice had lost the rough edge I'd
heard in it since the moment I had met him.

"You didn't ask," I said.

"You should have told me."

"You didn't ask."

He rolled to face me. Curled his arm under his head. "Maybe I will help
you find this boy."

"Thank you, Farid," I said.

"It was wrong of me to assume."

I sighed. "Don't worry. You were more right than you know."

HIS HANDS ARE TIED BEHIND HIM with roughly woven rope cutting through the
flesh of his wrists. He is blindfolded with black cloth. He is kneeling on the street,
on the edge of a gutter filled with still water, his head drooping between his

shoulders. His knees roll on the hard ground and bleed through his pants as he
rocks in prayer. It is late afternoon and his long shadow sways back and forth on
the gravel. He is muttering something under his breath. I step closer. A thousand
times over, he mutters. For you a thousand times over. Back and forth he rocks.
He lifts his face. I see a faint scar above his upper lip.

We are not alone.

I see the barrel first. Then the man standing behind him. He is tall,
dressed in a herringbone vest and a black turban. He looks down at the
blindfolded man before him with eyes that show nothing but a vast, cavernous
emptiness. He takes a step back and raises the barrel. Places it on the back of the
kneeling man's head. For a moment, fading sunlight catches in the metal and

The rifle roars with a deafening crack.

I follow the barrel on its upward arc. I see the face behind the plume of
smoke swirling from the muzzle. I am the man in the herringbone vest.

I woke up with a scream trapped in my throat.

I STEPPED OUTSIDE. Stood in the silver tarnish of a half-moon and glanced up to
a sky riddled with stars. Crickets chirped in the shuttered darkness and a wind
wafted through the trees. The ground was cool under my bare feet and suddenly,
for the first time since we had crossed the border, I felt like I was back. After all
these years, I was home again, standing on the soil of my ancestors. This was the
soil on which my great-grandfather had married his third wife a year before
dying in the cholera epidemic that hit Kabul in 1915. She'd borne him what his
first two wives had failed to, a son at last. It was on this soil that my grandfather
had gone on a hunting trip with King Nadir Shah and shot a deer. My mother had
died on this soil.

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