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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 55

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My colleagues from the general surgery
unit had to perform an emergency splenectomy. If it had ruptured earlier, you
would have bled to death." He patted me on the arm, the one with the IV, and
smiled. "You also suffered seven broken ribs. One of them caused a

I frowned. Tried to open my mouth. Remembered about the wires.

"That means a punctured lung," Armand explained. He tugged at a clear
plastic tubing on my left side. I felt the jabbing again in my chest. "We sealed the
leak with this chest tube." I followed the tube poking through bandages on my
chest to a container half filled with columns of water. The bubbling sound came
from there.

"You had also suffered various lacerations. That means 'cuts." I wanted to
tell him I knew what the word meant; I was a writer. I went to open my mouth.
Forgot about the wires again.

"The worst laceration was on your upper lip," Armand said. "The impact
had cut your upper lip in two, clean down the middle. But not to worry, the
plastics guys sewed it back together and they think you will have an excellent
result, though there will be a scar. That is unavoidable.

"There was also an orbital fracture on the left side; that's the eye socket
bone, and we had to fix that too. The wires in your jaws will come out in about
six weeks," Armand said. "Until then it's liquids and shakes. You will lose some
weight and you will be talking like A1 Pacino from the first Godfather movie for a
little while." He laughed. "But you have a job to do today. Do you know what it

I shook my head.

"Your job today is to pass gas. You do that and we can start feeding you
liquids. No fart, no food." He laughed again.

Later, after Aisha changed the IV tubing and raised the head of the bed
like I'd asked, I thought about what had happened to me. Ruptured spleen.
Broken teeth. Punctured lung. Busted eye socket. But as I watched a pigeon peck
at a bread crumb on the windowsill, I kept thinking of something else
Armand/Dr. Faruqi had said: The impact had cut your upper lip in two, he had
said, clean down the middle. Clean down the middle. Like a harelip.

FARID AND SOHRAB came to visit the next day. "Do you know who we are today?
Do you remember?" Farid said, only half-jokingly. I nodded.

"A1 hamdullellah!" he said, beaming. "No more talking nonsense."

"Thank you, Farid," I said through jaws wired shut. Armand was right--I
did sound like A1 Pacino from The Godfather. And my tongue surprised me every
time it poked in one of the empty spaces left by the teeth I had swallowed. "I
mean, thank you. For everything."

He waved a hand, blushed a little. "Bas, it's not worthy of thanks," he said.
I turned to Sohrab. He was wearing a new outfit, light brown pirhan-tumban that
looked a bit big for him, and a black skullcap. He was looking down at his feet,
toying with the IV line coiled on the bed.

"We were never properly introduced," I said. I offered him my hand. "I am


He looked at my hand, then to me. "You are the Amir agha Father told me
about?" he said.

"Yes." I remembered the words from Hassan's letter. I have told much
about you to Farzana jan and Sohrab, about us growing up together and playing
games and running in the streets. They laugh at the stories of all the mischief you
and I used to cause! "I owe you thanks too, Sohrab jan," I said. "You saved my

He didn't say anything. I dropped my hand when he didn't take it. "I like
your new clothes," I mumbled.

"They're my son's," Farid said. "He has outgrown them. They fit Sohrab
pretty well, I would say." Sohrab could stay with him, he said, until we found a
place for him. "We don't have a lot of room, but what can 1 do? I can't leave him
to the streets. Besides, my children have taken a liking to him. Ha, Sohrab?" But
the boy just kept looking down, twirling the line with his finger.

"I've been meaning to ask," Farid said, a little hesitantly. "What happened
in that house? What happened between you and the Talib?"

"Let's just say we both got what we deserved," I said.

Farid nodded, didn't push it. It occurred to me that somewhere between
the time we had left Peshawar for Afghanistan and now, we had become friends.
"I've been meaning to ask something too."


I didn't want to ask. I was afraid of the answer. "Rahim Khan," I said.

"He's gone."

My heart skipped. "Is he--"

"No, just... gone." He handed me a folded piece of paper and a small key.
"The landlord gave me this when I went looking for him. He said Rahim Khan left
the day after we did."

Where did he go?

Farid shrugged. "The landlord didn't know He said Rahim Khan left the
letter and the key for you and took his leave." He checked his watch. "I'd better
go. Bia, Sohrab."

"Could you leave him here for a while?" I said. "Pick him up later?" I
turned to Sohrab. "Do you want to stay here with me for a little while?"

He shrugged and said nothing.

"Of course/' Farid said. "I'll pick him up just before evening _namaz_."

THERE WERE THREE OTHER PATIENTS in my room. Two older men, one with a
cast on his leg, the other wheezing with asthma, and a young man of fifteen or
sixteen who'd had appendix surgery. The old guy in the cast stared at us without
blinking, his eyes switching from me to the Hazara boy sitting on a stool. My
roommates' families--old women in bright shalwar-kameezes, children, men
wearing skullcaps-shuffled noisily in and out of the room. They brought with
them pakoras, _naan_, sa,nosas, biryani. Sometimes people just wandered into
the room, like the tall, bearded man who walked in just before Farid and Sohrab
arrived. He wore a brown blanket wrapped around him. Aisha asked him
something in Urdu. He paid her no attention and scanned the room with his eyes.
I thought he looked at me a little longer than necessary. When the nurse spoke to
him again, he just spun around and left.

"How are you?" I asked Sohrab. He shrugged, looked at his hands.

"Are you hungry? That lady there gave me a plate of biryani, but I can't eat
it," I said. I didn't know what else to say to him. "You want it?"

He shook his head.

Do you want to talk?

He shook his head again.

We sat there like that for a while, silent, me propped up in bed, two
pillows behind my back, Sohrab on the three-legged stool next to the bed. I fell
asleep at some point, and, when I woke up, daylight had dimmed a bit, the
shadows had stretched, and Sohrab was still sitting next to me. He was still
looking down at his hands.

THAT NIGHT, after Farid picked up Sohrab, I unfolded Rahim Khan's letter. I had
delayed reading it as long as possible. It read: Amir jan, _Inshallah_, you have
reached this letter safely. I pray that I have not put you in harm's way and that
Afghanistan has not been too unkind to you. You have been in my prayers since
the day you left. You were right all those years to suspect that I knew. I did know.
Hassan told me shortly after it happened. What you did was wrong, Amir jan, but
do not forget that you were a boy when it happened. A troubled little boy. You
were too hard on yourself then, and you still are-I saw it in your eyes in
Peshawar. But I hope you will heed this: A man who has no conscience, no
goodness, does not suffer. I hope your suffering comes to an end with this
journey to Afghanistan.

Amir jan, I am ashamed for the lies we told you all those years. You were
right to be angry in Peshawar. You had a right to know. So did Hassan. I know it
doesn't absolve anyone of anything, but the Kabul we lived in in those days was a
strange world, one in which some things mattered more than the truth.

Amir jan, I know how hard your father was on you when you were
growing up. I saw how you suffered and yearned for his affections, and my heart
bled for you. But your father was a man torn between two halves, Amir jan: you
and Hassan. He loved you both, but he could not love Hassan the way he longed
to, openly, and as a father. So he took it out on you instead-Amir, the socially
legitimate half, the half that represented the riches he had inherited and the sin-
with-impunity privileges that came with them. When he saw you, he saw himself.
And his guilt. You are still angry and I realize it is far too early to expect you to
accept this, but maybe someday you will see that when your father was hard on
you, he was also being hard on himself. Your father, like you, was a tortured soul,
Amir jan.

I cannot describe to you the depth and blackness of the sorrow that came
over me when 1 learned of his passing. I loved him because he was my friend, but

also because he was a good man, maybe even a great man.

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