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The Kite Runner


The Kite Runner: Page 6


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I read him poems and stories,
sometimes riddles-though I stopped reading those when I saw he was far better
at solving them than I was. So I read him unchallenging things, like the
misadventures of the bumbling Mullah Nasruddin and his donkey. We sat for




hours under that tree, sat there until the sun faded in the west, and still Hassan
insisted we had enough daylight for one more story, one more chapter.



My favorite part of reading to Hassan was when we came across a big
word that he didn't know. I'd tease him, expose his ignorance. One time, I was
reading him a Mullah Nasruddin story and he stopped me. "What does that word
mean?"



"Which one?"



"Imbecile."



"You don't know what it means?" I said, grinning.



"Nay, Amir agha."



"But it's such a common word!"



"Still, I don't know it." If he felt the sting of my tease, his smiling face
didn't show it.



"Well, everyone in my school knows what it means," I said. "Let's see.



'Imbecile.' It means smart, intelligent. I'll use it in a sentence for you.



'When it comes to words, Hassan is an imbecile.'"



"Aaah," he said, nodding.



I would always feel guilty about it later. So I'd try to make up for it by
giving him one of my old shirts or a broken toy. I would tell myself that was
amends enough for a harmless prank.




Hassan's favorite book by far was the _Shahnamah_, the tenth-century
epic of ancient Persian heroes. He liked all of the chapters, the shahs of old,
Feridoun, Zal, and Rudabeh. But his favorite story, and mine, was "Rostam and
Sohrab," the tale of the great warrior Rostam and his fleet-footed horse, Rakhsh.
Rostam mortally wounds his valiant nemesis, Sohrab, in battle, only to discover
that Sohrab is his long-lost son. Stricken with grief, Rostam hears his son's dying
words: If thou art indeed my father, then hast thou stained thy sword in the life-
blood of thy son. And thou did'st it of thine obstinacy. For I sought to turn thee
unto love, and I implored of thee thy name, for I thought to behold in thee the
tokens recounted of my mother. But I appealed unto thy heart in vain, and now is
the time gone for meeting...



"Read it again please, Amir agha," Hassan would say. Sometimes tears
pooled in Hassan's eyes as I read him this passage, and I always wondered whom
he wept for, the grief-stricken Rostam who tears his clothes and covers his head
with ashes, or the dying Sohrab who only longed for his father's love? Personally,
I couldn't see the tragedy in Rostam's fate. After all, didn't all fathers in their
secret hearts harbor a desire to kill their sons? One day, in July 1973, 1 played
another little trick on Hassan. I was reading to him, and suddenly I strayed from
the written story. I pretended I was reading from the book, flipping pages
regularly, but I had abandoned the text altogether, taken over the story, and
made up my own. Hassan, of course, was oblivious to this. To him, the words on
the page were a scramble of codes, indecipherable, mysterious. Words were
secret doorways and 1 held all the keys. After, 1 started to ask him if he'd liked the
story, a giggle rising in my throat, when Hassan began to clap.



"What are you doing?" I said.



"That was the best story you've read me in a long time," he said, still
clapping.



I laughed. "Really?"



"Really.



ii



"That's fascinating," I muttered. I meant it too. This was... wholly
unexpected.




'Are you sure, Hassan?



He was still clapping. "It was great, Amir agha. Will you read me more of it
tomorrow?"



"Fascinating," I repeated, a little breathless, feeling like a man who
discovers a buried treasure in his own backyard. Walking down the hill, thoughts
were exploding in my head like the fireworks at Chaman. _Best story you've read
me in a long time_, he'd said. I had read him a lot of stories. Hassan was asking
me something.



"What?" I said.



"What does that mean, 'fascinating'?"



I laughed. Clutched him in a hug and planted a kiss on his cheek.



"What was that for?" he said, startled, blushing.



I gave him a friendly shove. Smiled. "You're a prince, Hassan. You're a
prince and I love you."



That same night, I wrote my first short story. It took me thirty minutes. It
was a dark little tale about a man who found a magic cup and learned that if he
wept into the cup, his tears turned into pearls. But even though he had always
been poor, he was a happy man and rarely shed a tear. So he found ways to make
himself sad so that his tears could make him rich. As the pearls piled up, so did
his greed grow.
The story ended with the man sitting on a mountain of pearls,
knife in hand, weeping helplessly into the cup with his beloved wife's slain body
in his arms.



That evening, I climbed the stairs and walked into Baba's smoking room,
in my hands the two sheets of paper on which I had scribbled the story. Baba and
Rahim Khan were smoking pipes and sipping brandy when I came in.




"What is it, Amir?" Baba said, reclining on the sofa and lacing his hands
behind his head. Blue smoke swirled around his face. His glare made my throat
feel dry. I cleared it and told him I'd written a story.



Baba nodded and gave a thin smile that conveyed little more than feigned
interest. "Well, that's very good, isn't it?" he said. Then nothing more. He just
looked at me through the cloud of smoke.



I probably stood there for under a minute, but, to this day, it was one of
the longest minutes of my life. Seconds plodded by, each separated from the next
by an eternity. Air grew heavy damp, almost solid. I was breathing bricks. Baba
went on staring me down, and didn't offer to read.



As always, it was Rahim Khan who rescued me. He held out his hand and
favored me with a smile that had nothing feigned about it. "May I have it, Amir
jan? I would very much like to read it." Baba hardly ever used the term of
endearment _jan_ when he addressed me.



Baba shrugged and stood up. He looked relieved, as if he too had been
rescued by Rahim Khan. "Yes, give it to Kaka Rahim. I'm going upstairs to get
ready." And with that, he left the room. Most days I worshiped Baba with an
intensity approaching the religious. But right then, I wished I could open my
veins and drain his cursed blood from my body.



An hour later, as the evening sky dimmed, the two of them drove off in my
father's car to attend a party. On his way out, Rahim Khan hunkered before me
and handed me my story and another folded piece of paper. He flashed a smile
and winked. "For you. Read it later." Then he paused and added a single word
that did more to encourage me to pursue writing than any compliment any
editor has ever paid me. That word was _Bravo_.



When they left, I sat on my bed and wished Rahim Khan had been my
father. Then I thought of Baba and his great big chest and how good it felt when
he held me against it, how he smelled of Brut in the morning, and how his beard
tickled my face. I was overcome with such sudden guilt that I bolted to the
bathroom and vomited in the sink.



Later that night, curled up in bed, I read Rahim Khan's note over and over.
It read like this:




Amir jan, I enjoyed your story very much. _Mashallah_, God has granted
you a special talent. It is now your duty to hone that talent, because a person who
wastes his God-given talents is a donkey. You have written your story with sound
grammar and interesting style. But the most impressive thing about your story is
that it has irony. You may not even know what that word means. But you will
someday. It is something that some writers reach for their entire careers and
never attain. You have achieved it with your first story.



My door is and always will be open to you, Amir jan. I shall hear any story
you have to tell. Bravo.



Your friend,



Rahim



Buoyed by Rahim Khan's note, I grabbed the story and hurried downstairs to the
foyer where Ali and Hassan were sleeping on a mattress. That was the only time
they slept in the house, when Baba was away and Ah had to watch over me. I
shook Hassan awake and asked him if he wanted to hear a story.



He rubbed his sleep-clogged eyes and stretched. "Now? What time is it?"



"Never mind the time. This story's special. I wrote it myself," I whispered,
hoping not to wake Ali. Hassan's face brightened.



"Then I _have_ to hear it," he said, already pulling the blanket off him.



I read it to him in the living room by the marble fireplace. No playful
straying from the words this time; this was about me! Hassan was the perfect
audience in many ways, totally immersed in the tale, his face shifting with the
changing tones in the story.

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