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The Kite Runner


The Kite Runner: Page 58


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I
found the hotel manager reading a newspaper behind the Formica-topped check-
in counter. I described Sohrab to him, asked if he'd seen him. He put down his
paper and took off his reading glasses. He had greasy hair and a square-shaped
little mustache speckled with gray. He smelled vaguely of some tropical fruit I
couldn't quite recognize.



"Boys, they like to run around," he said, sighing. "I have three of them. All
day they are running around, troubling their mother." He fanned his face with
the newspaper, staring at my jaws.



"I don't think he's out running around," I said. "And we're not from here.
I'm afraid he might get lost."



He bobbed his head from side to side. "Then you should have kept an eye
on the boy, mister."




I know," I said. "But I fell asleep and when I woke up, he was gone.



"Boys must be tended to, you know."



"Yes," I said, my pulse quickening. How could he be so oblivious to my
apprehension? He shifted the newspaper to his other hand, resumed the fanning.



"They want bicycles now"



"Who?"



"My boys," he said. "They're saying, 'Daddy, Daddy, please buy us bicycles
and we'll not trouble you. Please, Daddy!" He gave a short laugh through his
nose. "Bicycles. Their mother will kill me, I swear to you."



1 imagined Sohrab lying in a ditch. Or in the trunk of some car, bound and
gagged. I didn't want his blood on my hands. Not his too. "Please..." I said. I
squinted. Read his name tag on the lapel of his short-sleeve blue cotton shirt.
"Mr. Fayyaz, have you seen him?"



"The boy?"



I bit down. "Yes, the boy! The boy who came with me. Have you seen him
or not, for God's sake?"



The fanning stopped. His eyes narrowed. "No getting smart with me, my
friend. I am not the one who lost him."



That he had a point did not stop the blood from rushing to my face.
"You're right. I'm wrong. My fault. Now, have you seen him?"




Sorry," he said curtly. He put his glasses back on. Snapped his newspaper



open.



"I have seen no such boy."



I stood at the counter for a minute, trying not to scream. As I was exiting
the lobby, he said, "Any idea where he might have wandered to?"



"No," I said. I felt tired. Tired and scared.



"Does he have any interests?" he said. I saw he had folded the paper. "My
boys, for example, they will do anything for American action films, especially
with that Arnold ??WThatsanegger--"



"The mosque!" I said. "The big mosque." I remembered the way the
mosque had jolted Sohrab from his stupor when we'd driven by it, how he'd
leaned out of the window looking at it.



"Shah Faisal?"



"Yes. Can you take me there?"

"Did you know it's the biggest mosque in the world?" he asked.

"No, but-"

"The courtyard alone can fit forty thousand people."

"Can you take me there?"

"It's only a kilometer from here," he said. But he was already pushing
away from the counter.




"I'll pay you for the ride/' I said.



He sighed and shook his head. "Wait here." He disappeared into the back
room, returned wearing another pair of eyeglasses, a set of keys in hand, and
with a short, chubby woman in an orange sari trailing him. She took his seat
behind the counter. "I don't take your money," he said, blowing by me. "I will
drive you because I am a father like you."



I THOUGHT WE'D END UP DRIVING around the city until night fell. I saw myself
calling the police, describing Sohrab to them under Fayyaz's reproachful glare. I
heard the officer, his voice tired and uninterested, asking his obligatory
questions. And beneath the official questions, an unofficial one: Who the hell
cared about another dead Afghan kid? But we found him about a hundred yards
from the mosque, sitting in the half-full parking lot, on an island of grass. Fayyaz
pulled up to the island and let me out. "I have to get back," he said.



"That's fine. We'll walk back," I said. "Thank you, Mr. Fayyaz. Really."



He leaned across the front seat when I got out. "Can I say something to

you?"



Sure.



In the dark of twilight, his face was just a pair of eyeglasses reflecting the
fading light. "The thing about you Afghanis is that... well, you people are a little
reckless."



I was tired and in pain. My jaws throbbed. And those damn wounds on my
chest and stomach felt like barbed wire under my skin. But I started to laugh
anyway.



"What... what did I..." Fayyaz was saying, but I was cackling by then, full-
throated bursts of laughter spilling through my wired mouth.




"Crazy people," he said. His tires screeched when he peeled away, his tail-
lights blinking red in the dimming light.



"You GAVE ME A GOOD SCARE," I said. I sat beside him, wincing with pain
as I bent.



He was looking at the mosque. Shah Faisal Mosque was shaped like a
giant tent. Cars came and went; worshipers dressed in white streamed in and
out. We sat in silence, me leaning against the tree, Sohrab next to me, knees to his
chest. We listened to the call to prayer, watched the building's hundreds of lights
come on as daylight faded. The mosque sparkled like a diamond in the dark. It lit
up the sky, Sohrab's face.



"Have you ever been to Mazar-i-Sharif?" Sohrab said, his chin resting on
his kneecaps.



"A long time ago. 1 don't remember it much."



"Father took me there when I was little. Mother and Sasa came along too.
Father bought me a monkey from the bazaar. Not a real one but the kind you
have to blow up. It was brown and had a bow tie."



"I might have had one of those when I was a kid."



"Father took me to the Blue Mosque," Sohrab said. "I remember there
were so many pigeons outside the masjid, and they weren't afraid of people.
They came right up to us. Sasa gave me little pieces of _naan_ and I fed the birds.
Soon, there were pigeons cooing all around me. That was fun."



"You must miss your parents very much," I said. I wondered if he'd seen
the Taliban drag his parents out into the street. I hoped he hadn't.



"Do you miss your parents?" he asked, resting his cheek on his knees,
looking up at me.




"Do I miss my parents? Well, I never met my mother. My father died a few
years ago, and, yes, I do miss him. Sometimes a lot."



"Do you remember what he looked like?"



I thought of Baba's thick neck, his black eyes, his unruly brown hair.
Sitting on his lap had been like sitting on a pair of tree trunks. "1 remember what
he looked like," 1 said. "What he smelled like too."



"I'm starting to forget their faces," Sohrab said. "Is that bad?"



"No," I said. "Time does that." I thought of something. I looked in the front
pocket of my coat. Found the Polaroid snap shot of Hassan and Sohrab. "Here," I
said.



He brought the photo to within an inch of his face, turned it so the light
from the mosque fell on it. He looked at it for a long time. I thought he might cry,
but he didn't. He just held it in both hands, traced his thumb over its surface. I
thought of a line I'd read somewhere, or maybe I'd heard someone say it: There
are a lot of children in Afghanistan, but little childhood.
He stretched his hand to
give it back to me.



"Keep it," I said. "It's yours."



"Thank you." He looked at the photo again and stowed it in the pocket of
his vest. A horse-drawn cart clip-clopped by in the parking lot. Little bells
dangled from the horse's neck and jingled with each step.



"I've been thinking a lot about mosques lately," Sohrab said.



'You have? What about them?




He shrugged. "Just thinking about them." He lifted his face, looked straight
at me. Now he was crying, softly, silently. "Can I ask you something, Amir agha?"



"Of course."



"Will God..." he began, and choked a little. "Will God put me in hell for
what I did to that man?"



I reached for him and he flinched. I pulled back. "Nay. Of course not," I
said. 1 wanted to pull him close, hold him, tell him the world had been unkind to
him, not the other way around.



His face twisted and strained to stay composed. "Father used to say it's
wrong to hurt even bad people. Because they don't know any better, and because
bad people sometimes become good."



"Not always, Sohrab."



He looked at me questioningly.



"The man who hurt you, I knew him from many years ago," I said. "I guess
you figured that out that from the conversation he and I had. He... he tried to hurt
me once when I was your age, but your father saved me. Your father was very
brave and he was always rescuing me from trouble, standing up for me. So one
day the bad man hurt your father instead. He hurt him in a very bad way, and I..

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