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The Kite Runner


The Kite Runner: Page 60


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"Not ever. That's a promise. You're
my nephew, remember? And Soraya jan, she's a very kind woman. Trust me,
she's going to love you. I promise that too." I chanced something. Reached down
and took his hand. He tightened up a little but let me hold it.



"I don't want to go to another orphanage," he said.



"I won't ever let that happen. I promise you that." I cupped his hand in
both of mine. "Come home with me."



His tears were soaking the pillow. He didn't say anything for a long time.
Then his hand squeezed mine back. And he nodded. He nodded.



THE CONNECTION WENT THROUGH on the fourth try. The phone rang three
times before she picked it up. "Hello?" It was 7:30 in the evening in Islamabad,
roughly about the same time in the morning in California. That meant Soraya had
been up for an hour, getting ready for school.



"It's me," I said. I was sitting on my bed, watching Sohrab sleep.



"Amir!" she almost screamed. "Are you okay? Where are you?"



"I'm in Pakistan."



"Why didn't you call earlier? I've been sick with tashweesh! My mother's
praying and doing nazr every day."



"I'm sorry I didn't call. I'm fine now." I had told her I'd be away a week,
two at the most. I'd been gone for nearly a month. I smiled. "And tell Khala Jamila
to stop killing sheep."




What do you mean 'fine now'? And what's wrong with your voice?



"Don't worry about that for now. I'm fine. Really. Soraya, I have a story to
tell you, a story I should have told you a long time ago, but first I need to tell you
one thing."



"What is it?" she said, her voice lower now, more cautious.



"I'm not coming home alone. I'm bringing a little boy with me." I paused.
"I want us to adopt him."



"What?"



I checked my watch. "I have fifty-seven minutes left on this stupid calling
card and I have so much to tell you. Sit some where." I heard the legs of a chair
dragged hurriedly across the wooden floor.



"Go ahead," she said.



Then I did what I hadn't done in fifteen years of marriage: I told my wife
everything. Everything. I had pictured this moment so many times, dreaded it,
but, as I spoke, I felt something lifting off my chest. I imagined Soraya had
experienced something very similar the night of our khastegari, when she'd told
me about her past.



By the time I was done with my story, she was weeping.



"What do you think?" I said.



"I don't know what to think, Amir. You've told me so much all at once."



I realize that.




I heard her blowing her nose. "But I know this much: You have to bring
him home.



I want you to."



"Are you sure?" I said, closing my eyes and smiling.



"Am I sure?" she said. "Amir, he's your qaom, your family, so he's my
qaom too. Of course I'm sure. You can't leave him to the streets." There was a
short pause. "What's he like?"

I looked over at Sohrab sleeping on the bed. "He's sweet, in a solemn kind
of way."

"Who can blame him?" she said. "I want to see him, Amir. I really do."

"Soraya?"

"Yeah."

"Dostet darum." I love you.

"I love you back," she said. I could hear the smile in her words. "And be
careful."



"I will. And one more thing. Don't tell your parents who he is. If they need
to know, it should come from me."



"Okay.



ii



We hung up.




THE LAWN OUTSIDE the American embassy in Islamabad was neatly mowed,
dotted with circular clusters of flowers, bordered by razor-straight hedges. The
building itself was like a lot of buildings in Islamabad: flat and white. We passed
through several road blocks to get there and three different security officials
conducted a body search on me after the wires in my jaws set off the metal
detectors. When we finally stepped in from the heat, the air-conditioning hit my
face like a splash of ice water. The secretary in the lobby, a fifty-something, lean-
faced blond woman, smiled when I gave her my name. She wore a beige blouse
and black slacks-the first woman I'd seen in weeks dressed in something other
than a burqa or a shalwar-kameez. She looked me up on the appointment list,
tapping the eraser end of her pencil on the desk. She found my name and asked
me to take a seat.



"Would you like some lemonade?" she asked.



"None for me, thanks," I said.



"How about your son?"



"Excuse me?"



"The handsome young gentleman," she said, smiling at Sohrab.



"Oh. That'd be nice, thank you."



Sohrab and I sat on the black leather sofa across the reception desk, next
to a tall American flag. Sohrab picked up a magazine from the glass-top coffee
table. He flipped the pages, not really looking at the pictures.



What?" Sohrab said.




Sorry?



"You're smiling."



"I was thinking about you," I said.



He gave a nervous smile. Picked up another magazine and flipped through
it in under thirty seconds.



"Don't be afraid," I said, touching his arm. "These people are friendly.
Relax." I could have used my own advice. I kept shifting in my seat, untying and
retying my shoelaces. The secretary placed a tall glass of lemonade with ice on
the coffee table. "There you go."



Sohrab smiled shyly. "Thank you very much," he said in English. It came
out as "Tank you wery match." It was the only English he knew, he'd told me, that
and "Have a nice day."



She laughed. "You're most welcome." She walked back to her desk, high
heels clicking on the floor.



"Have a nice day," Sohrab said.



RAYMOND ANDREWS was a short fellow with small hands, nails perfectly
trimmed, wedding band on the ring finger. He gave me a curt little shake; it felt
like squeezing a sparrow. Those are the hands that hold our fates, I thought as
Sohrab and I seated our selves across from his desk. A _Les Miserables_ poster
was nailed to the wall behind Andrews next to a topographical map of the U.S. A
pot of tomato plants basked in the sun on the windowsill.



"Smoke?" he asked, his voice a deep baritone that was at odds with his
slight stature.




"No thanks," I said, not caring at all for the way Andrews's eyes barely
gave Sohrab a glance, or the way he didn't look at me when he spoke. He pulled
open a desk drawer and lit a cigarette from a half-empty pack. He also produced
a bottle of lotion from the same drawer. He looked at his tomato plants as he
rubbed lotion into his hands, cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.
Then he closed the drawer, put his elbows on the desktop, and exhaled. "So," he
said, crinkling his gray eyes against the smoke, "tell me your story."



I felt like Jean Valjean sitting across from Javert. I reminded myself that I
was on American soil now, that this guy was on my side, that he got paid for
helping people like me. "I want to adopt this boy, take him back to the States with
me," I said.



"Tell me your story," he repeated, crushing a flake of ash on the neatly
arranged desk with his index finger, flicking it into the trash can.



I gave him the version I had worked out in my head since I'd hung up with
Soraya. I had gone into Afghanistan to bring back my half brother's son. I had
found the boy in squalid conditions, wasting away in an orphanage. I had paid
the orphanage director a sum of money and withdrawn the boy. Then I had
brought him to Pakistan.



"You are the boy's half uncle?"



'Yes.



He checked his watch. Leaned and turned the tomato plants on the sill.
"Know anyone who can attest to that?"



"Yes, but I don't know where he is now."



He turned to me and nodded. I tried to read his face and couldn't. I
wondered if he'd ever tried those little hands of his at poker.




"I assume getting your jaws wired isn't the latest fashion statement," he
said. We were in trouble, Sohrab and I, and I knew it then. I told him I'd gotten
mugged in Peshawar.



"Of course," he said. Cleared his throat. "Are you Muslim?"



"Yes."



"Practicing?"



"Yes." In truth, I didn't remember the last time I had laid my forehead to
the ground in prayer. Then I did remember: the day Dr. Amani gave Baba his
prognosis. I had kneeled on the prayer rug, remembering only fragments of
verses I had learned in school.



"Helps your case some, but not much," he said, scratching a spot on the
flawless part in his sandy hair.



"What do you mean?" I asked. I reached for Sohrab's hand, intertwined
my fingers with his. Sohrab looked uncertainly from me to Andrews.



"There's a long answer and I'm sure I'll end up giving it to you. You want
the short one first?"



"I guess," I said.



Andrews crushed his cigarette, his lips pursed. "Give it up."



"I'm sorry?"



"Your petition to adopt this young fellow.

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