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The Kite Runner


The Kite Runner: Page 57


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I had a dream later that night.

I dreamed Assef was standing in the doorway of my hospital room, brass ball still
in his eye socket. "We're the same, you and I," he was saying. "You nursed with
him, but you're my twin."



I TOLD ARMAND early that next day that I was leaving.



"It's still early for discharge," Armand protested. He wasn't dressed in
surgical scrubs that day, instead in a button-down navy blue suit and yellow tie.
The gel was back in the hair. "You are still in intravenous antibiotics and-"



"I have to go," I said. "I appreciate everything you've done for me, all of

you.



Really. But I have to leave."



"Where will you go?" Armand said.



"I'd rather not say."



"You can hardly walk."



I can walk to the end of the hall and back," I said



11 be fine.




The plan was this: Leave the hospital. Get the money from the safe-
deposit box and pay my medical bills. Drive to the orphanage and drop Sohrab
off with John and Betty Caldwell. Then get a ride to Islamabad and change travel
plans. Give myself a few more days to get better. Fly home.



That was the plan, anyway. Until Farid and Sohrab arrived that morning.
"Your friends, this John and Betty Caldwell, they aren't in Peshawar," Farid said.



It had taken me ten minutes just to slip into my pirhan tumban. My chest,
where they'd cut me to insert the chest tube hurt when I raised my arm, and my
stomach throbbed every time I leaned over. I was drawing ragged breaths just
from the effort of packing a few of my belongings into a brown paper bag. But I'd
managed to get ready and was sitting on the edge of the bed when Farid came in
with the news. Sohrab sat on the bed next to me.



"Where did they go?" I asked.



Farid shook his head. "You don't understand-"



"Because Rahim Khan said-"



"I went to the U.S. consulate," Farid said, picking up my bag. "There never
was a John and Betty Caldwell in Peshawar. According to the people at the
consulate, they never existed. Not here in Peshawar, anyhow."



Next to me, Sohrab was flipping through the pages of the old National
Geographic.



WE GOT THE MONEY from the bank. The manager, a paunchy man with sweat
patches under his arms, kept flashing smiles and telling me that no one in the
bank had touched the money.




"Absolutely nobody," he said gravely, swinging his index finger the same
way Armand had.



Driving through Peshawar with so much money in a paper bag was a
slightly frightening experience. Plus, I suspected every bearded man who stared
at me to be a Talib killer, sent by Assef. Two things compounded my fears: There
are a lot of bearded men in Peshawar, and everybody stares.



"What do we do with him?" Farid said, walking me slowly from the
hospital accounting office back to the car. Sohrab was in the backseat of the Land
Cruiser, looking at traffic through the rolled-down window, chin resting on his
palms.



"He can't stay in Peshawar," I said, panting.



"Nay, Amir agha, he can't," Farid said. He'd read the question in my words.
"I'm sorry. I wish I�"



"That's all right, Farid," I said. I managed a tired smile. "You have mouths
to feed." A dog was standing next to the truck now, propped on its rear legs,
paws on the truck's door, tail wagging. Sohrab was petting the dog. "I guess he
goes to Islamabad for now," I said.



I SLEPT THROUGH almost the entire four-hour ride to Islamabad. I dreamed a
lot, and most of it I only remember as a hodgepodge of images, snippets of visual
memory flashing in my head like cards in a Rolodex: Baba marinating lamb for
my thirteenth birthday party. Soraya and I making love for the first time, the sun
rising in the east, our ears still ringing from the wedding music, her henna-
painted hands laced in mine. The time Baba had taken Hassan and me to a
strawberry field in Jalalabad-the owner had told us we could eat as much as we
wanted to as long as we bought at least four kilos-and how we'd both ended up
with bellyaches. How dark, almost black, Hassan's blood had looked on the snow,
dropping from the seat of his pants. Blood is a powerful thing, bachem. Khala
Jamila patting Soraya's knee and saying, God knows best, maybe it wasn't meant
to be. Sleeping on the roof of my father's house. Baba saying that the only sin that
mattered was theft. When you tell a lie, you steal a man's right to the truth.




Rahim Khan on the phone, telling me there was a way to be good again. A way to
be good again...





TWENTY-FOUR



If Peshawar was the city that reminded me of what Kabul used to be, then
Islamabad was the city Kabul could have become someday. The streets were
wider than Peshawar's, cleaner, and lined with rows of hibiscus and flame trees.
The bazaars were more organized and not nearly as clogged with rickshaws and
pedestrians. The architecture was more elegant too, more modern, and I saw
parks where roses and jasmine bloomed in the shadows of trees.



Farid found a small hotel on a side street running along the foot of the
Margalla Hills. We passed the famous Shah Faisal Mosque on the way there,
reputedly the biggest mosque in the world, with its giant concrete girders and
soaring minarets. Sohrab perked up at the sight of the mosque, leaned out of the
window and looked at it until Farid turned a corner.



THE HOTEL ROOM was a vast improvement over the one in Kabul where Farid
and I had stayed. The sheets were clean, the carpet vacuumed, and the bathroom
spotless. There was shampoo, soap, razors for shaving, a bathtub, and towels that
smelled like lemon. And no bloodstains on the walls. One other thing: a television
set sat on the dresser across from the two single beds.



"Look!" I said to Sohrab. I turned it on manually-no remote-and turned
the dial. I found a children's show with two fluffy sheep puppets singing in Urdu.




Sohrab sat on one of the beds and drew his knees to his chest. Images
from the TV reflected in his green eyes as he watched, stone-faced, rocking back
and forth. I remembered the time I'd promised Hassan I'd buy his family a color
TV when we both grew up.




"I'll get going, Amir agha," Farid said.



"Stay the night," I said. "It's a long drive. Leave tomorrow."



"Tashakor," he said. "But I want to get back tonight. I miss my children."
On his way out of the room, he paused in the doorway. "Good-bye, Sohrab jan,"
he said. He waited for a reply, but Sohrab paid him no attention. Just rocked back
and forth, his face lit by the silver glow of the images flickering across the screen.



Outside, I gave him an envelope. When he tore it, his mouth opened.



"I didn't know how to thank you," I said. "You've done so much for me."



"How much is in here?" Farid said, slightly dazed.



"A little over two thousand dollars."



"Two thou-" he began. His lower lip was quivering a little. Later, when he
pulled away from the curb, he honked twice and waved. I waved back. I never
saw him again.



I returned to the hotel room and found Sohrab lying on the bed, curled up
in a big C. His eyes were closed but I couldn't tell if he was sleeping. He had shut
off the television. I sat on my bed and grimaced with pain, wiped the cool sweat
off my brow. I wondered how much longer it would hurt to get up, sit down, roll
over in bed. I wondered when I'd be able to eat solid food. I wondered what I'd
do with the wounded little boy lying on the bed, though a part of me already
knew.




There was a carafe of water on the dresser. I poured a glass and took two
of Armand's pain pills. The water was warm and bitter. I pulled the curtains,
eased myself back on the bed, and lay down. I thought my chest would rip open.
When the pain dropped a notch and I could breathe again, I pulled the blanket to
my chest and waited for Armand's pills to work.



WHEN I WOKE UP, the room was darker. The slice of sky peeking between the
curtains was the purple of twilight turning into night. The sheets were soaked
and my head pounded. I'd been dreaming again, but I couldn't remember what it
had been about.



My heart gave a sick lurch when I looked to Sohrab's bed and found it
empty I called his name. The sound of my voice startled me. It was disorienting,
sitting in a dark hotel room, thousands of miles from home, my body broken,
calling the name of a boy I'd only met a few days ago. I called his name again and
heard nothing. I struggled out of bed, checked the bathroom, looked in the
narrow hallway outside the room. He was gone.



I locked the door and hobbled to the manager's office in the lobby, one
hand clutching the rail along the walkway for support. There was a fake, dusty
palm tree in the corner of the lobby and flying pink flamingos on the wallpaper.

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