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The Kite Runner


The Kite Runner: Page 48


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Farid dropped his eyes.



"What happens to the children he takes?" I asked.



Zaman rubbed his eyes with his forefinger and thumb. "Some times they
come back."



"Who is he? How do we find him?" I said.



"Go to Ghazi Stadium tomorrow. You'll see him at halftime. He'll be the
one wearing black sunglasses." He picked up his broken glasses and turned them
in his hands. "I want you to go now. The children are frightened."



He escorted us out.



As the truck pulled away, I saw Zaman in the side-view mirror, standing
in the doorway. A group of children surrounded him, clutching the hem of his
loose shirt. I saw he had put on his broken glasses.



TWENTY-ONE



We crossed the river and drove north through the crowded Pashtunistan Square.
Baba used to take me to Khyber Restaurant there for kabob. The building was




still standing, but its doors were padlocked, the windows shattered, and the
letters K and R missing from its name.



I saw a dead body near the restaurant. There had been a hanging. A young
man dangled from the end of a rope tied to a beam, his face puffy and blue, the
clothes he'd worn on the last day of his life shredded, bloody. Hardly anyone
seemed to notice him.



We rode silently through the square and headed toward the Wazir Akbar
Khan district. Everywhere I looked, a haze of dust covered the city and its sun-
dried brick buildings. A few blocks north of Pashtunistan Square, Farid pointed
to two men talking animatedly at a busy street corner. One of them was hobbling
on one leg, his other leg amputated below the knee. He cradled an artificial leg in
his arms. "You know what they're doing? Haggling over the leg."



"He's selling his leg?"



Farid nodded. "You can get good money for it on the black market. Feed
your kids for a couple of weeks."



To MY SURPRISE, most of the houses in the Wazir Akbar Khan district still
had roofs and standing walls. In fact, they were in pretty good shape. Trees still
peeked over the walls, and the streets weren't nearly as rubble-strewn as the
ones in Karteh-Seh. Faded streets signs, some twisted and bullet-pocked, still
pointed the way.



"This isn't so bad," I remarked.



"No surprise. Most of the important people live here now."



"Taliban?"



"Them too," Farid said.



Who else?




He drove us into a wide street with fairly clean sidewalks and walled
homes on either side. "The people behind the Taliban. The real brains of this
government, if you can call it that: Arabs, Chechens, Pakistanis," Farid said. He
pointed northwest. "Street 15, that way, is called Sarak-e-Mehmana." Street of
the Guests. "That's what they call them here, guests. I think someday these guests
are going to pee all over the carpet."



"I think that's it!" I said. "Over there!" I pointed to the landmark that used
to serve as a guide for me when I was a kid. If you ever get lost, Baba used to say,
remember that our street is the one with the pink house at the end of it. The pink
house with the steeply pitched roof had been the neighborhood's only house of
that color in the old days. It still was.



Farid turned onto the street. I saw Baba's house right away.



WE FIND THE LITTLE TURTLE behind tangles of sweetbrier in the yard. We
don't know how it got there and we're too excited to care. We paint its shell a
bright red, Hassan's idea, and a good one: This way, we'll never lose it in the
bushes. We pretend we're a pair of daredevil explorers who've discovered a
giant prehistoric monster in some distant jungle and we've brought it back for
the world to see. We set it down in the wooden wagon Ali built Hassan last
winter for his birthday, pretend it's a giant steel cage. Behold the fire-breathing
monstrosity! We march on the grass and pull the wagon behind us, around apple
and cherry trees, which become skyscrapers soaring into clouds, heads poking
out of thousands of windows to watch the spectacle passing below. We walk over
the little semi lunar bridge Baba has built near a cluster of fig trees; it becomes a
great suspension bridge joining cities, and the little pond below, a foamy sea.
Fireworks explode above the bridge's massive pylons and armed soldiers salute
us on both sides as gigantic steel cables shoot to the sky. The little turtle
bouncing around in the cab, we drag the wagon around the circular red brick
driveway outside the wrought iron gates and return the salutes of the world's
leaders as they stand and applaud. We are Hassan and Amir, famed adventurers
and the world's greatest explorers, about to receive a medal of honor for our
courageous feat...




GINGERLY, I WALKED up the driveway where tufts of weed now grew between
the sun-faded bricks. I stood outside the gates of my father's house, feeling like a
stranger. I set my hands on the rusty bars, remembering how I'd run through
these same gates thousands of times as a child, for things that mattered not at all
now and yet had seemed so important then. I peered in.



The driveway extension that led from the gates to the yard, where Hassan
and I took turns falling the summer we learned to ride a bike, didn't look as wide
or as long as I remembered it. The asphalt had split in a lightning-streak pattern,
and more tangles of weed sprouted through the fissures. Most of the poplar trees
had been chopped down-the trees Hassan and I used to climb to shine our
mirrors into the neighbors' homes. The ones still standing were nearly leafless.
The Wall of Ailing Corn was still there, though I saw no corn, ailing or otherwise,
along that wall now. The paint had begun to peel and sections of it had sloughed
off altogether. The lawn had turned the same brown as the haze of dust hovering
over the city, dotted by bald patches of dirt where nothing grew at all.



A jeep was parked in the driveway and that looked all wrong: Baba's black
Mustang belonged there. For years, the Mustang's eight cylinders roared to life
every morning, rousing me from sleep. I saw that oil had spilled under the jeep
and stained the driveway like a big Rorschach inkblot. Beyond the jeep, an empty
wheelbarrow lay on its side. I saw no sign of the rosebushes that Baba and Ali
had planted on the left side of the driveway, only dirt that spilled onto the
asphalt. And weeds.



Farid honked twice behind me. "We should go, Agha. We'll draw
attention," he called.



"Just give me one more minute," I said.



The house itself was far from the sprawling white mansion I remembered
from my childhood. It looked smaller. The roof sagged and the plaster was
cracked. The windows to the living room, the foyer, and the upstairs guest
bathroom were broken, patched haphazardly with sheets of clear plastic or
wooden boards nailed across the frames. The paint, once sparkling white, had
faded to ghostly gray and eroded in parts, revealing the layered bricks beneath.
The front steps had crumbled. Like so much else in Kabul, my father's house was
the picture of fallen splendor.



I found the window to my old bedroom, second floor, third window south
of the main steps to the house. I stood on tiptoes, saw nothing behind the




window but shadows. Twenty-five years earlier, I had stood behind that same
window, thick rain dripping down the panes and my breath fogging up the glass.

I had watched Hassan and Ali load their belongings into the trunk of my father's
car.



"Amir agha," Farid called again.



"I'm coming," I shot back.



Insanely, I wanted to go in. Wanted to walk up the front steps where Ali
used to make Hassan and me take off our snow boots. I wanted to step into the
foyer, smell the orange peel Ah always tossed into the stove to burn with
sawdust. Sit at the kitchen table, have tea with a slice of _naan_, listen to Hassan
sing old Hazara songs.



Another honk. I walked back to the Land Cruiser parked along the
sidewalk. Farid sat smoking behind the wheel.



"I have to look at one more thing," I told him.



"Can you hurry?"



"Give me ten minutes."



"Go, then." Then, just as I was turning to go: "Just forget it all. Makes it
easier."



"To what?"



"To go on," Farid said. He flicked his cigarette out of the window. "How
much more do you need to see? Let me save you the trouble: Nothing that you
remember has survived. Best to forget."




I don't want to forget anymore," I said. "Give me ten minutes.



WE HARDLY BROKE A SWEAT, Hassan and I, when we hiked up the hill just
north of Baba's house. We scampered about the hilltop chasing each other or sat
on a sloped ridge where there was a good view of the airport in the distance.
We'd watch airplanes take off and land. Go running again.

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