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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 65

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A uniformed security
guard was standing at the window, munching on cooked watermelon seeds-
Sohrab was under twenty-four hours-a-day suicide watch. Hospital protocol, Dr.
Nawaz had informed me. The guard tipped his hat when he saw me and left the

Sohrab was wearing short-sleeved hospital pajamas and lying on his back,
blanket pulled to his chest, face turned to the window. I thought he was sleeping,
but when I scooted a chair up to his bed his eyelids fluttered and opened. He
looked at me, then looked away. He was so pale, even with all the blood they had
given him, and there was a large purple bruise in the crease of his right arm.

"How are you?" I said.

He didn't answer. He was looking through the window at a fenced-in
sandbox and swing set in the hospital garden. There was an arch-shaped trellis
near the playground, in the shadow of a row of hibiscus trees, a few green vines
climbing up the timber lattice. A handful of kids were playing with buckets and
pails in the sand box. The sky was a cloudless blue that day, and I saw a tiny jet
leaving behind twin white trails. I turned back to Sohrab. "I spoke to Dr. Nawaz a
few minutes ago and he thinks you'll be discharged in a couple of days. That's
good news, nay?"

Again I was met by silence. The Punjabi boy at the other end of the room
stirred in his sleep and moaned something. "I like your room," I said, trying not
to look at Sohrab's bandaged wrists. "It's bright, and you have a view." Silence. A
few more awkward minutes passed, and a light sweat formed on my brow, my
upper lip. I pointed to the untouched bowl of green pea aush on his nightstand,
the unused plastic spoon. "You should try to eat something. Gain your quwat
back, your strength. Do you want me to help you?"

He held my glance, then looked away, his face set like stone. His eyes were
still lightless, I saw, vacant, the way I had found them when I had pulled him out
of the bathtub. I reached into the paper bag between my feet and took out the
used copy of the Shah Namah I had bought at the Persian bookstore. I turned the
cover so it faced Sohrab. "I used to read this to your father when we were
children. We'd go up the hill by our house and sit beneath the pomegranate..." I

trailed off. Sohrab was looking through the window again. I forced a smile. "Your
father's favorite was the story of Rostam and Sohrab and that's how you got your
name, I know you know that." I paused, feeling a bit like an idiot. "Any way, he
said in his letter that it was your favorite too, so I thought I'd read you some of it.
Would you like that?"

Sohrab closed his eyes. Covered them with his arm, the one with the


I flipped to the page I had bent in the taxicab. "Here we go," I said,
wondering for the first time what thoughts had passed through Hassan's head
when he had finally read the _Shahnamah_ for himself and discovered that I had
deceived him all those times. I cleared my throat and read. "Give ear unto the
combat of Sohrab against Rostam, though it be a tale replete with tears," I began.
"It came about that on a certain day Rostam rose from his couch and his mind
was filled with forebodings. He bethought him..." I read him most of chapter 1, up
to the part where the young warrior Sohrab comes to his mother, Tahmineh, the
princess of Samengan, and demands to know the identity of his father. I closed
the book. "Do you want me to go on? There are battles coming up, remember?
Sohrab leading his army to the White Castle in Iran? Should I read on?"

He shook his head slowly. I dropped the book back in the paper bag.
"That's fine," I said, encouraged that he had responded at all. "Maybe we can
continue tomorrow. How do you feel?"

Sohrab's mouth opened and a hoarse sound came out. Dr. Nawaz had told
me that would happen, on account of the breathing tube they had slid through
his vocal cords. He licked his lips and tried again. "Tired."

"I know. Dr. Nawaz said that was to be expected--" He was shaking his


"What, Sohrab?"

He winced when he spoke again in that husky voice, barely above a

Tired of everything.

I sighed and slumped in my chair. There was a band of sunlight on the bed
between us, and, for just a moment, the ashen gray face looking at me from the
other side of it was a dead ringer for Hassan's, not the Hassan I played marbles
with until the mullah belted out the evening azan and Ah called us home, not the
Hassan I chased down our hill as the sun dipped behind clay rooftops in the west,
but the Hassan I saw alive for the last time, dragging his belongings behind Ali in
a warm summer downpour, stuffing them in the trunk of Baba's car while I
watched through the rain-soaked window of my room.

He gave a slow shake of his head. "Tired of everything," he repeated.

"What can I do, Sohrab? Please tell me."

"I want-" he began. He winced again and brought his hand to his throat as
if to clear whatever was blocking his voice. My eyes were drawn again to his
wrist wrapped tightly with white gauze bandages. "I want my old life back," he

"Oh, Sohrab."

"I want Father and Mother jan. I want Sasa. I want to play with Rahim
Khan sahib in the garden. I want to live in our house again." He dragged his
forearm across his eyes. "I want my old life back."

I didn't know what to say, where to look, so I gazed down at my hands.
Your old life, I thought. My old life too. I played in the same yard, Sohrab. I lived
in the same house. But the grass is dead and a stranger's jeep is parked in the
driveway of our house, pissing oil all over the asphalt. Our old life is gone,
Sohrab, and everyone in it is either dead or dying. It's just you and me now. Just
you and me.

"I can't give you that," I said.

I wish you hadn't-

Please don't say that.

"--wish you hadn't... I wish you had left me in the water."

"Don't ever say that, Sohrab," I said, leaning forward. "I can't bear to hear
you talk like that." I touched his shoulder and he flinched. Drew away. I dropped
my hand, remembering ruefully how in the last days before I'd broken my
promise to him he had finally become at ease with my touch. "Sohrab, I can't give
you your old life back, I wish to God I could. But I can take you with me. That was
what I was coming in the bathroom to tell you. You have a visa to go to America,
to live with me and my wife. It's true. I promise."

He sighed through his nose and closed his eyes. I wished I hadn't said
those last two words. "You know, I've done a lot of things I regret in my life," I
said, "and maybe none more than going back on the promise I made you. But that
will never happen again, and I am so very profoundly sorry. I ask for your
bakhshesh, your forgiveness. Can you do that? Can you forgive me? Can you
believe me?" I dropped my voice. "Will you come with me?"

As I waited for his reply, my mind flashed back to a winter day from long
ago, Hassan and I sitting on the snow beneath a leafless sour cherry tree. I had
played a cruel game with Hassan that day, toyed with him, asked him if he would
chew dirt to prove his loyalty to me. Now I was the one under the microscope,
the one who had to prove my worthiness. I deserved this.

Sohrab rolled to his side, his back to me. He didn't say anything for a long
time. And then, just as I thought he might have drifted to sleep, he said with a
croak, "I am so khasta." So very tired. I sat by his bed until he fell asleep.
Something was lost between Sohrab and me. Until my meeting with the lawyer,
Omar Faisal, a light of hope had begun to enter Sohrab's eyes like a timid guest.
Now the light was gone, the guest had fled, and I wondered when it would dare
return. I wondered how long before Sohrab smiled again. How long before he
trusted me. If ever.

So I left the room and went looking for another hotel, unaware that
almost a year would pass before I would hear Sohrab speak another word.

IN THE END, Sohrab never accepted my offer. Nor did he decline it. But he knew
that when the bandages were removed and the hospital garments returned, he
was just another homeless Hazara orphan. What choice did he have? Where
could he go? So what I took as a yes from him was in actuality more of a quiet
surrender, not so much an acceptance as an act of relinquishment by one too
weary to decide, and far too tired to believe. What he yearned for was his old life.
What he got was me and America. Not that it was such a bad fate, everything
considered, but I couldn't tell him that. Perspective was a luxury when your head
was constantly buzzing with a swarm of demons.

And so it was that, about a week later, we crossed a strip of warm, black
tarmac and I brought Hassan's son from Afghanistan to America, lifting him from
the certainty of turmoil and dropping him in a turmoil of uncertainty.

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