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The Kite Runner


The Kite Runner: Page 50


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It had the desired effect: People craned their necks, pointed, stood on




tiptoes. Next to me, Farid's Adam's apple bobbed up and down as he mumbled a
prayer under his breath.



The red trucks entered the playing field, rode toward one end in twin
clouds of dust, sunlight reflecting off their hubcaps. A third truck met them at the
end of the field. This one's cab was filled with something and I suddenly
understood the purpose of those two holes behind the goalposts. They unloaded
the third truck. The crowd murmured in anticipation.



"Do you want to stay?" Farid said gravely.



"No," I said. I had never in my life wanted to be away from a place as badly
as I did now. "But we have to stay."



Two Talibs with Kalashnikovs slung across their shoulders helped the
blindfolded man from the first truck and two others helped the burqa-clad
woman. The woman's knees buckled under her and she slumped to the ground.
The soldiers pulled her up and she slumped again. When they tried to lift her
again, she screamed and kicked. I will never, as long as I draw breath, forget the
sound of that scream. It was the cry of a wild animal trying to pry its mangled leg
free from the bear trap. Two more Talibs joined in and helped force her into one
of the chest-deep holes. The blindfolded man, on the other hand, quietly allowed
them to lower him into the hole dug for him. Now only the accused pair's torsos
protruded from the ground.



A chubby, white-bearded cleric dressed in gray garments stood near the
goalposts and cleared his throat into a handheld microphone. Behind him the
woman in the hole was still screaming. He recited a lengthy prayer from the
Koran, his nasal voice undulating through the sudden hush of the stadium's
crowd. I remembered something Baba had said to me a long time ago: Piss on the
beards of all those self-righteous monkeys. They do nothing but thumb their
rosaries and recite a book written in a tongue they don't even understand. God
help us all if Afghanistan ever falls into their hands.



When the prayer was done, the cleric cleared his throat. "Brothers and
sisters!" he called, speaking in Farsi, his voice booming through the stadium. "We
are here today to carry out Shari'a. We are here today to carry out justice. We are
here today because the will of Allah and the word of the Prophet Muhammad,
peace be upon him, are alive and well here in Afghanistan, our beloved
homeland. We listen to what God says and we obey because we are nothing but
humble, powerless creatures before God's greatness. And what does God say? I




ask you! WHAT DOES GOD SAY? God says that every sinner must be punished in
a manner befitting his sin. Those are not my words, nor the words of my
brothers. Those are the words of GOD!" He pointed with his free hand to the sky.
My head was pounding and the sun felt much too hot.



"Every sinner must be punished in a manner befitting his sin!" the cleric
repeated into the mike, lowering his voice, enunciating each word slowly,
dramatically. "And what manner of punishment, brothers and sisters, befits the
adulterer? How shall we punish those who dishonor the sanctity of marriage?
How shall we deal with those who spit in the face of God? How shall we answer
those who throw stones at the windows of God's house? WE SHALL THROW THE
STONES BACK!"



He shut off the microphone. A low-pitched murmur spread through the

crowd.



Next to me, Farid was shaking his head. "And they call themselves
Muslims," he whispered.



Then a tall, broad-shouldered man stepped out of the pickup truck. The
sight of him drew cheers from a few spectators. This time, no one was struck
with a whip for cheering too loudly. The tall man's sparkling white garment
glimmered in the afternoon sun. The hem of his loose shirt fluttered in the
breeze, his arms spread like those of Jesus on the cross. He greeted the crowd by
turning slowly in a full circle. When he faced our section, I saw he was wearing
dark round sunglasses like the ones John Lennon wore.



"That must be our man," Farid said.



The tall Talib with the black sunglasses walked to the pile of stones they
had unloaded from the third truck. He picked up a rock and showed it to the
crowd. The noise fell, replaced by a buzzing sound that rippled through the
stadium. I looked around me and saw that everyone was tsk'ing. The Talib,
looking absurdly like a baseball pitcher on the mound, hurled the stone at the
blindfolded man in the hole. It struck the side of his head. The woman screamed
again. The crowd made a startled "OH!" sound. I closed my eyes and covered my
face with my hands. The spectators' "OH!" rhymed with each flinging of the
stone, and that went on for a while. When they stopped, I asked Farid if it was
over. He said no. I guessed the people's throats had tired. I don't know how much
longer I sat with my face in my hands. I know that I reopened my eyes when 1
heard people around me asking, "Mord? Mord? Is he dead?"




The man in the hole was now a mangled mess of blood and shredded rags.
His head slumped forward, chin on chest. The Talib in the John Lennon
sunglasses was looking down at another man squatting next to the hole, tossing a
rock up and down in his hand. The squatting man had one end of a stethoscope
to his ears and the other pressed on the chest of the man in the hole. He removed
the stethoscope from his ears and shook his head no at the Talib in the
sunglasses. The crowd moaned.



John Lennon walked back to the mound.



When it was all over, when the bloodied corpses had been
unceremoniously tossed into the backs of red pickup trucks--separate ones--a
few men with shovels hurriedly filled the holes. One of them made a passing
attempt at covering up the large blood stains by kicking dirt over them. A few
minutes later, the teams took the field. Second half was under way.



Our meeting was arranged for three o'clock that afternoon. The swiftness
with which the appointment was set surprised me. I'd expected delays, a round
of questioning at least, perhaps a check of our papers. But I was reminded of how
unofficial even official matters still were in Afghanistan: all Farid had to do was
tell one of the whip-carrying Talibs that we had personal business to discuss
with the man in white. Farid and he exchanged words. The guy with the whip
then nodded and shouted something in Pashtu to a young man on the field, who
ran to the south-end goalposts where the Talib in the sunglasses was chatting
with the plump cleric who'd given the sermon. The three spoke. I saw the guy in
the sunglasses look up. He nodded. Said something in the messenger's ear. The
young man relayed the message back to us.



It was set, then. Three o'clock.




TWENTY-TWO




Farid eased the Land Cruiser up the driveway of a big house in Wazir Akbar
Khan. He parked in the shadows of willow trees that spilled over the walls of the
compound located on Street 15, Sarak-e-Mehmana, Street of the Guests. He killed
the engine and we sat for a minute, listening to the tink-tink of the engine cooling
off, neither one of us saying anything. Farid shifted on his seat and toyed with the
keys still hanging from the ignition switch. I could tell he was readying himself to
tell me something.



"I guess I'll wait in the car for you," he said finally, his tone a little
apologetic. He wouldn't look at me. "This is your business now. I--"



I patted his arm. "You've done much more than I've paid you for. I don't
expect you to go with me." But I wished I didn't have to go in alone. Despite what
I had learned about Baba, I wished he were standing alongside me now. Baba
would have busted through the front doors and demanded to be taken to the
man in charge, piss on the beard of anyone who stood in his way. But Baba was
long dead, buried in the Afghan section of a little cemetery in Hayward. Just last
month, Soraya and I had placed a bouquet of daisies and freesias beside his
headstone. I was on my own.



I stepped out of the car and walked to the tall, wooden front gates of the
house. I rang the bell but no buzz came--still no electricity--and I had to pound
on the doors. A moment later, I heard terse voices from the other side and a pair
of men toting Kalashnikovs answered the door.



I glanced at Farid sitting in the car and mouthed, I'll be back, not so sure
at all that I would be.



The armed men frisked me head to toe, patted my legs, felt my crotch. One
of them said something in Pashtu and they both chuckled. We stepped through
the front gates. The two guards escorted me across a well-manicured lawn, past
a row of geraniums and stubby bushes lined along the wall. An old hand-pump
water well stood at the far end of the yard.

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