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The Kite Runner: Page 63
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"Yes." I placed a finger under his chin, turned his face up to mine. "There
is one other thing, Sohrab."
"Well, Mr. Faisal thinks that it would really help if we could... if we could
ask you to stay in a home for kids for a while."
"Home for kids?" he said, his smile fading. "You mean an orphanage?"
"It would only be for a little while."
"No," he said. "No, please."
"Sohrab, it would be for just a little while. I promise."
"You promised you'd never put me in one of those places, Amir agha," he
His voice was breaking, tears pooling in his eyes. 1 felt like a prick.
"This is different. It would be here, in Islamabad, not in Kabul. And I'd
visit you all the time until we can get you out and take you to America."
"Please! Please, no!" he croaked. "I'm scared of that place. They'll hurt me!
I don't want to go."
"No one is going to hurt you. Not ever again."
"Yes they will! They always say they won't but they lie. They lie! Please,
I wiped the tear streaking down his cheek with my thumb. "Sour apples,
remember? It's just like the sour apples," I said softly.
"No it's not. Not that place. God, oh God. Please, no!" He was trembling,
snot and tears mixing on his face.
"Shhh." I pulled him close, wrapped my arms around his shaking little
body. "Shhh. It'll be all right. We'll go home together. You'll see, it'll be all right."
His voice was muffled against my chest, but I heard the panic in it. "Please
promise you won't! Oh God, Amir agha! Please promise you won't!"
How could I promise? I held him against me, held him tightly, and rocked
back and forth. He wept into my shirt until his tears dried, until his shaking
stopped and his frantic pleas dwindled to indecipherable mumbles. I waited,
rocked him until his breathing slowed and his body slackened. I remembered
something I had read somewhere a long time ago: That's how children deal with
terror. They fall asleep.
I carried him to his bed, set him down. Then I lay in my own bed, looking
out the window at the purple sky over Islamabad.
THE SKY WAS A DEEP BLACK when the phone jolted me from sleep. I rubbed my
eyes and turned on the bedside lamp. It was a little past 10:30 P.M.; I'd been
sleeping for almost three hours.
I picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Call from America." Mr. Fayyaz's bored voice.
"Thank you," I said. The bathroom light was on; Sohrab was taking his
nightly bath. A couple of clicks and then Soraya: "Salaam!" She sounded excited.
"How did the meeting go with the lawyer?"
I told her what Omar Faisal had suggested. "Well, you can forget about it,"
she said. "We won't have to do that."
I sat up. "Rawsti? Why, what's up?"
"I heard back from Kaka Sharif. He said the key was getting Sohrab into
the country. Once he's in, there are ways of keeping him here. So he made a few
calls to his INS friends. He called me back tonight and said he was almost certain
he could get Sohrab a humanitarian visa."
"No kidding?" I said. "Oh thank God! Good ol' Sharif jan!"
"I know. Anyway, we'll serve as the sponsors. It should all happen pretty
quickly. He said the visa would be good for a year, plenty of time to apply for an
It's really going to happen, Soraya, huh?
"It looks like it," she said. She sounded happy. I told her I loved her and
she said she loved me back. I hung up.
"Sohrab!" I called, rising from my bed. "I have great news." I knocked on
the bathroom door. "Sohrab! Soraya jan just called from California. We won't
have to put you in the orphanage, Sohrab. We're going to America, you and I. Did
you hear me? We're going to America!"
I pushed the door open. Stepped into the bathroom.
Suddenly I was on my knees, screaming. Screaming through my clenched
Screaming until I thought my throat would rip and my chest explode.
Later, they said I was still screaming when the ambulance arrived.
They won't let me in.
I see them wheel him through a set of double doors and I follow. I burst
through the doors, the smell of iodine and peroxide hits me, but all I have time to
see is two men wearing surgical caps and a woman in green huddling over a
gurney. A white sheet spills over the side of the gurney and brushes against
grimy checkered tiles. A pair of small, bloody feet poke out from under the sheet
and I see that the big toenail on the left foot is chipped. Then a tall, thickset man
in blue presses his palm against my chest and he's pushing me back out through
the doors, his wedding band cold on my skin. I shove forward and I curse him,
but he says you cannot be here, he says it in English, his voice polite but firm.
"You must wait," he says, leading me back to the waiting area, and now the
double doors swing shut behind him with a sigh and all I see is the top of the
men's surgical caps through the doors' narrow rectangular windows.
He leaves me in a wide, windowless corridor crammed with people sitting
on metallic folding chairs set along the walls, others on the thin frayed carpet. 1
want to scream again, and I remember the last time I felt this way, riding with
Baba in the tank of the fuel truck, buried in the dark with the other refugees. I
want to tear myself from this place, from this reality rise up like a cloud and float
away, melt into this humid summer night and dissolve somewhere far, over the
hills. But I am here, my legs blocks of concrete, my lungs empty of air, my throat
burning. There will be no floating away. There will be no other reality tonight. I
close my eyes and my nostrils fill with the smells of the corridor, sweat and
ammonia, rubbing alcohol and curry. On the ceiling, moths fling themselves at
the dull gray light tubes running the length of the corridor and I hear the papery
flapping of their wings. I hear chatter, muted sobbing, sniffling, someone
moaning, someone else sighing, elevator doors opening with a bing, the operator
paging someone in Urdu.
I open my eyes again and I know what I have to do. 1 look around, my
heart a jackhammer in my chest, blood thudding in my ears. There is a dark little
supply room to my left. In it, I find what I need. It will do. I grab a white bed sheet
from the pile of folded linens and carry it back to the corridor. I see a nurse
talking to a policeman near the restroom. I take the nurse's elbow and pull, I
want to know which way is west. She doesn't understand and the lines on her
face deepen when she frowns. My throat aches and my eyes sting with sweat,
each breath is like inhaling fire, and I think I am weeping. I ask again. I beg. The
policeman is the one who points.
I throw my makeshift _jai-namaz_, my prayer rug, on the floor and I get on
my knees, lower my forehead to the ground, my tears soaking through the sheet.
I bow to the west. Then I remember I haven't prayed for over fifteen years. I have
long forgotten the words. But it doesn't matter, I will utter those few words I still
remember: ??La iflaha ii** Allah, Muhammad u rasul ullah. There is no God but
Allah and Muhammad is His messenger. I see now that Baba was wrong, there is
a God, there always had been. I see Him here, in the eyes of the people in this
corridor of desperation. This is the real house of God, this is where those who
have lost God will find Him, not the white masjid with its bright diamond lights
and towering minarets. There is a God, there has to be, and now I will pray, I will
pray that He forgive that I have neglected Him all of these years, forgive that I
have betrayed, lied, and sinned with impunity only to turn to Him now in my
hour of need, I pray that He is as merciful, benevolent, and gracious as His book
says He is. I bow to the west and kiss the ground and promise that I will do
_zakat_, I will do _namaz_, I will fast during Ramadan and when Ramadan has
passed I will go on fasting, I will commit to memory every last word of His holy
book, and I will set on a pilgrimage to that sweltering city in the desert and bow
before the Ka'bah too. I will do all of this and I will think of Him every day from
this day on if He only grants me this one wish: My hands are stained with
Hassan's blood; I pray God doesn't let them get stained with the blood of his boy
I hear a whimpering and realize it is mine, my lips are salty with the tears
trickling down my face. I feel the eyes of everyone in this corridor on me and still
1 bow to the west. 1 pray. I pray that my sins have not caught up with me the way
I'd always feared they would.
A STARLESS, BLACK NIGHT falls over Islamabad.
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