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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 66

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ONE DAY, maybe around 1983 or 1984, 1 was at a video store in Fremont. I was
standing in the Westerns section when a guy next to me, sipping Coke from a 7-
Eleven cup, pointed to _The Magnificent Seven_ and asked me if I had seen it.
"Yes, thirteen times," I said. "Charles Bronson dies in it, so do James Coburn and
Robert Vaughn." He gave me a pinch-faced look, as if I had just spat in his soda.
"Thanks a lot, man," he said, shaking his head and muttering something as he
walked away. That was when I learned that, in America, you don't reveal the
ending of the movie, and if you do, you will be scorned and made to apologize
profusely for having committed the sin of Spoiling the End.

In Afghanistan, the ending was all that mattered. When Hassan and I came
home after watching a Hindi film at Cinema Zainab, what Ali, Rahim Khan, Baba,
or the myriad of Baba's friends-second and third cousins milling in and out of
the house-wanted to know was this: Did the Girl in the film find happiness? Did
the bacheh film, the Guy in the film, become katnyab and fulfill his dreams, or
was he nah-kam, doomed to wallow in failure? Was there happiness at the end,
they wanted to know.

If someone were to ask me today whether the story of Hassan, Sohrab,
and me ends with happiness, I wouldn't know what to say.

Does anybody's? After all, life is not a Hindi movie. Zendagi migzara,
Afghans like to say: Life goes on, unmindful of beginning, end, kamyab, nah-kam,
crisis or catharsis, moving forward like a slow, dusty caravan of kochis.

I wouldn't know how to answer that question. Despite the matter of last
Sunday's tiny miracle.

WE ARRIVED HOME about seven months ago, on a warm day in August 2001.
Soraya picked us up at the airport. I had never been away from Soraya for so
long, and when she locked her arms around my neck, when I smelled apples in
her hair, I realized how much I had missed her. "You're still the morning sun to
my yelda," I whispered.


"Never mind." I kissed her ear.

After, she knelt to eye level with Sohrab. She took his hand and smiled at


"Salaam, Sohrab jan, I'm your Khala Soraya. We've all been waiting for


Looking at her smiling at Sohrab, her eyes tearing over a little, I had a
glimpse of the mother she might have been, had her own womb not betrayed her.

Sohrab shifted on his feet and looked away.

SORAYA HAD TURNED THE STUDY upstairs into a bedroom for Sohrab. She led
him in and he sat on the edge of the bed. The sheets showed brightly colored
kites flying in indigo blue skies. She had made inscriptions on the wall by the
closet, feet and inches to measure a child's growing height. At the foot of the bed,
I saw a wicker basket stuffed with books, a locomotive, a water color set.

Sohrab was wearing the plain white T-shirt and new denims I had bought
him in Islamabad just before we'd left-the shirt hung loosely over his bony,
slumping shoulders. The color still hadn't seeped back into his face, save for the
halo of dark circles around his eyes. He was looking at us now in the impassive
way he looked at the plates of boiled rice the hospital orderly placed before him.

Soraya asked if he liked his room and I noticed that she was trying to
avoid looking at his wrists and that her eyes kept swaying back to those jagged
pink lines. Sohrab lowered his head. Hid his hands under his thighs and said

Then he simply lay his head on the pillow. Less than five minutes later,
Soraya and I watching from the doorway, he was snoring.

We went to bed, and Soraya fell asleep with her head on my chest. In the
darkness of our room, 1 lay awake, an insomniac once more. Awake. And alone
with demons of my own. Sometime in the middle of the night, I slid out of bed
and went to Sohrab's room. I stood over him, looking down, and saw something
protruding from under his pillow. I picked it up. Saw it was Rahim Khan's
Polaroid, the one I had given to Sohrab the night we had sat by the Shah Faisal
Mosque. The one of Hassan and Sohrab standing side by side, squinting in the
light of the sun, and smiling like the world was a good and just place. I wondered
how long Sohrab had lain in bed staring at the photo, turning it in his hands.

I looked at the photo. Your father was a man torn between two halves,
Rahim Khan had said in his letter. I had been the entitled half, the society-
approved, legitimate half, the unwitting embodiment of Baba's guilt. I looked at
Hassan, showing those two missing front teeth, sunlight slanting on his face.
Baba's other half. The unentitled, unprivileged half. The half who had inherited
what had been pure and noble in Baba. The half that, maybe, in the most secret
recesses of his heart, Baba had thought of as his true son.

I slipped the picture back where I had found it. Then I realized something:
That last thought had brought no sting with it. Closing Sohrab's door, 1 wondered
if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with

pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the
middle of the night.

THE GENERAL AND KHALA JAMILA came over for dinner the following night.
Khala Jamila, her hair cut short and a darker shade of red than usual, handed
Soraya the plate of almond-topped maghout she had brought for dessert. She
saw Sohrab and beamed. "_Mashallah_!" Soraya jan told us how khoshteep you
were, but you are even more handsome in person, Sohrab jan." She handed him a
blue turtleneck sweater.
"I knitted this for you," she said. "For next winter.
_Inshallah_, it will fit you."

Sohrab took the sweater from her.

"Hello, young man," was all the general said, leaning with both hands on
his cane, looking at Sohrab the way one might study a bizarre decorative item at
someone's house.

I answered, and answered again, Khala Jamila's questions about my
injuries� I'd asked Soraya to tell them I had been mugged-reassuring her that I
had no permanent damage, that the wires would come out in a few weeks so I'd
be able to eat her cooking again, that, yes, I would try rubbing rhubarb juice and
sugar on my scars to make them fade faster.

The general and I sat in the living room and sipped wine while Soraya and
her mother set the table. I told him about Kabul and the Taliban. He listened and
nodded, his cane on his lap, and tsk'ed when I told him of the man I had spotted
selling his artificial leg. I made no mention of the executions at Ghazi Stadium
and Assef. He asked about Rahim Khan, whom he said he had met in Kabul a few
times, and shook his head solemnly when I told him of Rahim Khan's illness. But
as we spoke, I caught his eyes drifting again and again to Sohrab sleeping on the
couch. As if we were skirting around the edge of what he really wanted to know.

The skirting finally came to an end over dinner when the general put
down his fork and said, "So, Amir jan, you're going to tell us why you have
brought back this boy with you?"

Iqbal jan! What sort of question is that?" Khala Jamila said.

"While you're busy knitting sweaters, my dear, I have to deal with the
community's perception of our family. People will ask. They will want to know
why there is a Hazara boy living with our daughter. What do I tell them?"

Soraya dropped her spoon. Turned on her father. "You can tell them--"

"It's okay, Soraya," I said, taking her hand. "It's okay. General Sahib is
quite right. People will ask."

"Amir-" she began.

"It's all right." I turned to the general. "You see, General Sahib, my father
slept with his servant's wife. She bore him a son named Hassan. Hassan is dead
now. That boy sleeping on the couch is Hassan's son. He's my nephew. That's
what you tell people when they ask."

They were all staring at me.

"And one more thing, General Sahib," I said. "You will never again refer to
him as 'Hazara boy' in my presence. He has a name and it's Sohrab."

No one said anything for the remainder of the meal.

IT WOULD BE ERRONEOUS to say Sohrab was quiet. Quiet is peace. Tranquillity.

Quiet is turning down the VOLUME knob on life.

Silence is pushing the OFF button. Shutting it down. All of it.

Sohrab's silence wasn't the self-imposed silence of those with convictions,
of protesters who seek to speak their cause by not speaking at all. It was the
silence of one who has taken cover in a dark place, curled up all the edges and
tucked them under.

He didn't so much live with us as occupy space. And precious little of it.
Sometimes, at the market, or in the park, I'd notice how other people hardly
seemed to even see him, like he wasn't there at all.

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