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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 56

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And this is what I
want you to understand, that good, real good, was born out of your father's
remorse. Sometimes, I think everything he did, feeding the poor on the streets,
building the orphanage, giving money to friends in need, it was all his way of
redeeming himself. And that, I believe, is what true redemption is, Amir jan,
when guilt leads to good.

I know that in the end, God will forgive. He will forgive your father, me,
and you too. I hope you can do the same. Forgive your father if you can. Forgive
me if you wish. But, most important, forgive yourself.

I have left you some money, most of what I have left, in fact. I think you
may have some expenses when you return here, and the money should be
enough to cover them. There is a bank in Peshawar; Farid knows the location.
The money is in a safe-deposit box. I have given you the key.

As for me, it is time to go. I have little time left and I wish to spend it
alone. Please do not look for me. That is my final request of you.

I leave you in the hands of God.

Your friend always,


I dragged the hospital gown sleeve across my eyes. I folded the letter and put it
under my mattress.

Amir, the socially legitimate half, the half that represented the riches he
had inherited and the sin-with-impunity privileges that came with them. Maybe
that was why Baba and I had been on such better terms in the U.S., I wondered.
Selling junk for petty cash, our menial jobs, our grimy apartment-the American
version of a hut; maybe in America, when Baba looked at me, he saw a little bit of

Your father, like you, was a tortured soul, Rahim Khan had written. Maybe
so. We had both sinned and betrayed. But Baba had found a way to create good
out of his remorse. What had I done, other than take my guilt out on the very
same people I had betrayed, and then try to forget it all? What had I done, other
than become an insomniac? What had I ever done to right things? When the
nurse--not Aisha but a red-haired woman whose name escapes me-walked in
with a syringe in hand and asked me if I needed a morphine injection, I said yes.

THEY REMOVED THE CHEST TUBE early the next morning, and Armand gave the
staff the go-ahead to let me sip apple juice. I asked Aisha for a mirror when she
placed the cup of juice on the dresser next to my bed. She lifted her bifocals to
her forehead as she pulled the curtain open and let the morning sun flood the
room. "Remember, now," she said over her shoulder, "it will look better in a few
days. My son-in-law was in a moped accident last year. His handsome face was
dragged on the asphalt and became purple like an eggplant. Now he is beautiful
again, like a Hollywood movie star."

Despite her reassurances, looking in the mirror and seeing the thing that
insisted it was my face left me a little breathless. It looked like someone had
stuck an air pump nozzle under my skin and had pumped away. My eyes were
puffy and blue. The worst of it was my mouth, a grotesque blob of purple and
red, all bruise and stitches. I tried to smile and a bolt of pain ripped through my
lips. I wouldn't be doing that for a while. There were stitches across my left
cheek, just under the chin, on the forehead just below the hairline.

The old guy with the leg cast said something in Urdu. 1 gave him a shrug
and shook my head. He pointed to his face, patted it, and grinned a wide,
toothless grin. "Very good," he said in English. "Ins hallah**."

"Thank you," I whispered.

Farid and Sohrab came in just as I put the mirror away. Sohrab took his
seat on the stool, rested his head on the bed's side rail.

'You know, the sooner we get you out of here the better," Farid said.

Dr. Faruqi says--"-

"I don't mean the hospital. I mean Peshawar."


"I don't think you'll be safe here for long," Farid said. He lowered his


"The Taliban have friends here. They will start looking for you."

"I think they already may have," I murmured. I thought suddenly of the
bearded man who'd wandered into the room and just stood there staring at me.

Farid leaned in. "As soon as you can walk, I'll take you to Islamabad. Not
entirely safe there either, no place in Pakistan is, but it's better than here. At least
it will buy you some time."

"Farid jan, this can't be safe for you either. Maybe you shouldn't be seen
with me. You have a family to take care of."

Farid made a waving gesture. "My boys are young, but they are very
shrewd. They know how to take care of their mothers and sisters." He smiled.
"Besides, I didn't say I'd do it for free."

"I wouldn't let you if you offered," I said. I forgot I couldn't smile and tried.
A tiny streak of blood trickled down my chin. "Can I ask you for one more favor?"

"For you a thousand times over," Farid said.

And, just like that, I was crying. I hitched gusts of air, tears gushing down
my cheeks, stinging the raw flesh of my lips.

What's the matter?" Farid said, alarmed.

I buried my face in one hand and held up the other. I knew the whole
room was watching me. After, I felt tired, hollow. "I'm sorry," I said. Sohrab was
looking at me with a frown creasing his brow.

When I could talk again, I told Farid what I needed.
"Rahim Khan said they
live here in Peshawar."

"Maybe you should write down their names," Farid said, eyeing me
cautiously, as if wondering what might set me off next. I scribbled their names on
a scrap of paper towel. "John and Betty Caldwell."

Farid pocketed the folded piece of paper. "I will look for them as soon as I
can," he said. He turned to Sohrab. "As for you, I'll pick you up this evening. Don't
tire Amir agha too much."

But Sohrab had wandered to the window, where a half-dozen pigeons
strutted back and forth on the sill, pecking at wood and scraps of old bread.

IN THE MIDDLE DRAWER of the dresser beside my bed, I had found an old
_National Geographic, magazine, a chewed-up pencil, a comb with missing teeth,
and what I was reaching for now, sweat pouring down my face from the effort: a
deck of cards. I had counted them earlier and, surprisingly, found the deck
complete. I asked Sohrab if he wanted to play. I didn't expect him to answer, let
alone play. He'd been quiet since we had fled Kabul.

But he turned from the window and said, "The only game I know is

"I feel sorry for you already, because I am a grand master at panjpar.
World renowned."

He took his seat on the stool next to me. 1 dealt him his five cards. "When
your father and I were your age, we used to play this game. Especially in the
winter, when it snowed and we couldn't go outside. We used to play until the sun
went down."

He played me a card and picked one up from the pile. I stole looks at him
as he pondered his cards. He was his father in so many ways: the way he fanned
out his cards with both hands, the way he squinted while reading them, the way
he rarely looked a person in the eye.

We played in silence. I won the first game, let him win the next one, and
lost the next five fair and square. "You're as good as your father, maybe even
better," I said, after my last loss. "I used to beat him sometimes, but I think he let
me win." I paused before saying, "Your father and I were nursed by the same

"I know."

"What... what did he tell you about us?"

"That you were the best friend he ever had," he said.

I twirled the jack of diamonds in my fingers, flipped it back and forth. "I
wasn't such a good friend, I'm afraid," I said. "But I'd like to be your friend. I
think I could be a good friend to you. Would that be all right? Would you like
that?" I put my hand on his arm, gingerly, but he flinched. He dropped his cards
and pushed away on the stool. He walked back to the window. The sky was
awash with streaks of red and purple as the sun set on Peshawar. From the
street below came a succession of honks and the braying of a donkey, the whistle
of a policeman. Sohrab stood in that crimson light, forehead pressed to the glass,
fists buried in his armpits.

AISHA HAD A MALE ASSISTANT help me take my first steps that night. I only
walked around the room once, one hand clutching the wheeled IV stand, the

other clasping the assistant's fore arm. It took me ten minutes to make it back to
bed, and, by then, the incision on my stomach throbbed and I'd broken out in a
drenching sweat. I lay in bed, gasping, my heart hammering in my ears, thinking
how much I missed my wife.

Sohrab and I played panjpar most of the next day, again in silence. And
the day after that. We hardly spoke, just played panjpar, me propped in bed, he
on the three-legged stool, our routine broken only by my taking a walk around
the room, or going to the bathroom down the hall.

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