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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 64

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It's a few hours later and I am
sitting now on the floor of a tiny lounge off the corridor that leads to the
emergency ward. Before me is a dull brown coffee table cluttered with
newspapers and dog-eared magazines-an April 1996 issue of Time; a Pakistani
newspaper showing the face of a young boy who was hit and killed by a train the
week before; an entertainment magazine with smiling Hollywood actors on its
glossy cover. There is an old woman wearing a jade green shalwar-kameez and a
crocheted shawl nodding off in a wheelchair across from me. Every once in a
while, she stirs awake and mutters a prayer in Arabic. I wonder tiredly whose
prayers will be heard tonight, hers or mine. I picture Sohrab's face, the pointed
meaty chin, his small seashell ears, his slanting bamboo-leaf eyes so much like
his father's. A sorrow as black as the night outside invades me, and I feel my
throat clamping.

I need air.

I get up and open the windows. The air coming through the screen is
musty and hot-it smells of overripe dates and dung. I force it into my lungs in
big heaps, but it doesn't clear the clamping feeling in my chest. I drop back on the
floor. I pick up the Time magazine and flip through the pages. But I can't read,
can't focus on anything. So I toss it on the table and go back to staring at the
zigzagging pattern of the cracks on the cement floor, at the cobwebs on the
ceiling where the walls meet, at the dead flies littering the windowsill. Mostly, I
stare at the clock on the wall. It's just past 4 A.M. and I have been shut out of the
room with the swinging double doors for over five hours now. I still haven't
heard any news.

The floor beneath me begins to feel like part of my body, and my
breathing is growing heavier, slower. I want to sleep, shut my eyes and lie my
head down on this cold, dusty floor. Drift off. When I wake up, maybe I will
discover that everything I saw in the hotel bathroom was part of a dream: the
water drops dripping from the faucet and landing with a plink into the bloody
bath water; the left arm dangling over the side of the tub, the blood-soaked razor
sitting on the toilet tank-the same razor I had shaved with the day before-and
his eyes, still half open but light less. That more than anything. I want to forget
the eyes.

Soon, sleep comes and I let it take me. 1 dream of things I can't remember


SOMEONE IS TAPPING ME on the shoulder. I open my eyes. There is a man
kneeling beside me. He is wearing a cap like the men behind the swinging double
doors and a paper surgical mask over his mouth-my heart sinks when I see a
drop of blood on the mask. He has taped a picture of a doe-eyed little girl to his
beeper. He unsnaps his mask and I'm glad I don't have to look at Sohrab's blood
anymore. His skin is dark like the imported Swiss chocolate Hassan and I used to
buy from the bazaar in Shar-e-Nau; he has thinning hair and hazel eyes topped
with curved eyelashes. In a British accent, he tells me his name is Dr. Nawaz, and
suddenly I want to be away from this man, because I don't think I can bear to
hear what he has come to tell me. He says the boy had cut himself deeply and had
lost a great deal of blood and my mouth begins to mutter that prayer again: La
illaha il Allah, Muhammad u rasul ullah.

They had to transfuse several units of red cells-How will I tell Soraya?
Twice, they had to revive him-I will do _namaz_, I will do _zakat_.

They would have lost him if his heart hadn't been young and strong-I will


He is alive.

Dr. Nawaz smiles. It takes me a moment to register what he has just said.
Then he says more but I don't hear him. Because I have taken his hands and I
have brought them up to my face. I weep my relief into this stranger's small,
meaty hands and he says nothing now. He waits.

THE INTENSIVE CARE UNIT is L-shaped and dim, a jumble of bleeping monitors
and whirring machines. Dr. Nawaz leads me between two rows of beds separated
by white plastic curtains. Sohrab's bed is the last one around the corner, the one
nearest the nurses' station where two nurses in green surgical scrubs are jotting
notes on clipboards, chatting in low voices. On the silent ride up the elevator
with Dr. Nawaz, I had thought I'd weep again when I saw Sohrab. But when I sit
on the chair at the foot of his bed, looking at his white face through the tangle of
gleaming plastic tubes and IV lines, I am dry-eyed. Watching his chest rise and
fall to the rhythm of the hissing ventilator, a curious numbness washes over me,
the same numbness a man might feel seconds after he has swerved his car and
barely avoided a head-on collision.

I doze off, and, when I wake up, I see the sun rising in a buttermilk sky
through the window next to the nurses' station. The light slants into the room,
aims my shadow toward Sohrab. He hasn't moved.

"You'd do well to get some sleep," a nurse says to me. I don't recognize
her-there must have been a shift change while I'd napped. She takes me to
another lounge, this one just outside the ICU. It's empty. She hands me a pillow
and a hospital-issue blanket. I thank her and lie on the vinyl sofa in the corner of
the lounge. I fall asleep almost immediately.

I dream I am back in the lounge downstairs. Dr. Nawaz walks in and I rise
to meet him. He takes off his paper mask, his hands suddenly whiter than I
remembered, his nails manicured, he has neatly parted hair, and I see he is not
Dr. Nawaz at all but Raymond Andrews, the little embassy man with the potted
tomatoes. Andrews cocks his head. Narrows his eyes.

IN THE DAYTIME, the hospital was a maze of teeming, angled hallways, a blur of
blazing-white overhead fluorescence. I came to know its layout, came to know

that the fourth-floor button in the east wing elevator didn't light up, that the
door to the men's room on that same floor was jammed and you had to ram your
shoulder into it to open it. I came to know that hospital life has a rhythm, the
flurry of activity just before the morning shift change, the midday hustle, the
stillness and quiet of the late-night hours interrupted occasionally by a blur of
doctors and nurses rushing to revive someone. I kept vigil at Sohrab's bedside in
the daytime and wandered through the hospital's serpentine corridors at night,
listening to my shoe heels clicking on the tiles, thinking of what I would say to
Sohrab when he woke up. I'd end up back in the ICU, by the whooshing ventilator
beside his bed, and I'd be no closer to knowing.

After three days in the ICU, they withdrew the breathing tube and
transferred him to a ground-level bed. I wasn't there when they moved him. I
had gone back to the hotel that night to get some sleep and ended up tossing
around in bed all night. In the morning, I tried to not look at the bathtub. It was
clean now, someone had wiped off the blood, spread new floor mats on the floor,
and scrubbed the walls. But I couldn't stop myself from sitting on its cool,
porcelain edge. I pictured Sohrab filling it with warm water. Saw him undressing.
Saw him twisting the razor handle and opening the twin safety latches on the
head, sliding the blade out, holding it between his thumb and forefinger. I
pictured him lowering himself into the water, lying there for a while, his eyes
closed. I wondered what his last thought had been as he had raised the blade and
brought it down.

I was exiting the lobby when the hotel manager, Mr. Fayyaz, caught up
with me. "I am very sorry for you," he said, "but I am asking for you to leave my
hotel, please. This is bad for my business, very bad."

I told him I understood and I checked out. He didn't charge me for the
three days I'd spent at the hospital. Waiting for a cab outside the hotel lobby, I
thought about what Mr. Fayyaz had said to me that night we'd gone looking for
Sohrab: The thing about you Afghanis is that... well, you people are a little
reckless. I had laughed at him, but now I wondered. Had I actually gone to sleep
after I had given Sohrab the news he feared most? When I got in the cab, I asked
the driver if he knew any Persian bookstores. He said there was one a couple of
kilometers south. We stopped there on the way to the hospital.

SOHRAB'S NEW ROOM had cream-colored walls, chipped, dark gray moldings,
and glazed tiles that might have once been white. He shared the room with a
teenaged Punjabi boy who, I later learned from one of the nurses, had broken his

leg when he had slipped off the roof of a moving bus. His leg was in a cast, raised
and held by tongs strapped to several weights.

Sohrab's bed was next to the window, the lower half lit by the late-
morning sunlight streaming through the rectangular panes.

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