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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 68

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"Check it out," Soraya said, and this time she was pointing to a guy selling
kites from a stand nearby.

"Hold this," I said. I gave my cup of tea to Soraya. 1 excused myself and
walked over to the kite stand, my shoes squishing on the wet grass. I pointed to a
yellow seh-parcha. "Sawl-e-Nau mubabrak," the kite seller said, taking the
twenty and handing me the kite and a wooden spool of glass tar. I thanked him
and wished him a Happy N ew Year too. I tested the string the way Hassan and I
used to, by holding it between my thumb and forefinger and pulling it. It
reddened with blood and the kite seller smiled. I smiled back.

I took the kite to where Sohrab was standing, still leaning against the
garbage pail, arms crossed on his chest. He was looking up at the sky.

"Do you like the seh-parcha?" I said, holding up the kite by the ends of the
cross bars. His eyes shifted from the sky to me, to the kite, then back. A few
rivulets of rain trickled from his hair, down his face.

"I read once that, in Malaysia, they use kites to catch fish," I said. "I'll bet
you didn't know that. They tie a fishing line to it and fly it beyond the shallow
waters, so it doesn't cast a shadow and scare the fish. And in ancient China,
generals used to fly kites over battlefields to send messages to their men. It's
true. I'm not slipping you a trick." I showed him my bloody thumb. "Nothing
wrong with the tar either."

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Soraya watching us from the tent.
Hands tensely dug in her armpits. Unlike me, she'd gradually abandoned her
attempts at engaging him. The unanswered questions, the blank stares, the
silence, it was all too painful. She had shifted to "Holding Pattern," waiting for a
green light from Sohrab. Waiting.

I wet my index finger and held it up. "I remember the way your father
checked the wind was to kick up dust with his sandal, see which way the wind
blew it. He knew a lot of little tricks like that," I said. Lowered my finger. "West, I

Sohrab wiped a raindrop from his earlobe and shifted on his feet. Said
nothing. I thought of Soraya asking me a few months ago what his voice sounded
like. I'd told her I didn't remember anymore.

"Did I ever tell you your father was the best kite runner in Wazir Akbar
Khan? Maybe all of Kabul?" I said, knotting the loose end of the spool tar to the
string loop tied to the center spar. "How jealous he made the neighborhood kids.

He'd run kites and never look up at the sky, and people used to say he was
chasing the kite's shadow. But they didn't know him like I did. Your father wasn't
chasing any shadows. He just... knew" Another half-dozen kites had taken flight.
People had started to gather in clumps, teacups in hand, eyes glued to the sky.

"Do you want to help me fly this?" I said.

Sohrab's gaze bounced from the kite to me. Back to the sky.

"Okay." I shrugged. "Looks like I'll have to fly it tanhaii." Solo.

I balanced the spool in my left hand and fed about three feet of tar. The
yellow kite dangled at the end of it, just above the wet grass. "Last chance," I said.
But Sohrab was looking at a pair of kites tangling high above the trees.

"All right. Here I go." I took off running, my sneakers splashing rainwater
from puddles, the hand clutching the kite end of the string held high above my
head. It had been so long, so many years since I'd done this, and I wondered if I'd
make a spectacle of myself. I let the spool roll in my left hand as I ran, felt the
string cut my right hand again as it fed through. The kite was lifting behind my
shoulder now, lifting, wheeling, and I ran harder. The spool spun faster and the
glass string tore another gash in my right palm. I stopped and turned. Looked up.
Smiled. High above, my kite was tilting side to side like a pendulum, making that
old paper-bird-flapping-its-wings sound I always associated with winter
mornings in Kabul. I hadn't flown a kite in a quarter of a century, but suddenly I
was twelve again and all the old instincts came rushing back.

I felt a presence next to me and looked down. It was Sohrab. Hands dug
deep in the pockets of his raincoat. He had followed me.

"Do you want to try?" I asked. He said nothing. But when I held the string
out for him, his hand lifted from his pocket. Hesitated. Took the string. My heart
quickened as I spun the spool to gather the loose string. We stood quietly side by
side. Necks bent up.

Around us, kids chased each other, slid on the grass. Someone was playing
an old Hindi movie soundtrack now. A line of elderly men were praying
afternoon _namaz_ on a plastic sheet spread on the ground. The air smelled of
wet grass, smoke, and grilled meat. I wished time would stand still.

Then I saw we had company. A green kite was closing in. I traced the
string to a kid standing about thirty yards from us. He had a crew cut and a T-
shirt that read THE ROCK RULES in bold block letters. He saw me looking at him
and smiled. Waved. I waved back.

Sohrab was handing the string back to me.

"Are you sure?" I said, taking it.

He took the spool from me.

"Okay," I said. "Let's give him a sabagh, teach him a lesson, nay?" I glanced
over at him. The glassy, vacant look in his eyes was gone. His gaze flitted
between our kite and the green one. His face was a little flushed, his eyes
suddenly alert. Awake. Alive. 1 wondered when I had forgotten that, despite
everything, he was still just a child.

The green kite was making its move. "Let's wait," I said. "We'll let him get
a little closer." It dipped twice and crept toward us. "Come on. Come to me," I

The green kite drew closer yet, now rising a little above us, unaware of
the trap I'd set for it. "Watch, Sohrab. I'm going to show you one of your father's
favorite tricks, the old lift-and-dive."

Next to me, Sohrab was breathing rapidly through his nose. The spool
rolled in his palms, the tendons in his scarred wrists like rubab strings. Then 1
blinked and, for just a moment, the hands holding the spool were the chipped-
nailed, calloused hands of a harelipped boy. 1 heard a crow cawing somewhere
and I looked up. The park shimmered with snow so fresh, so dazzling white, it
burned my eyes. It sprinkled soundlessly from the branches of white-clad trees. I

smelled turnip qurina now. Dried mulberries. Sour oranges. Sawdust and
walnuts. The muffled quiet, snow-quiet, was deafening. Then far away, across the
stillness, a voice calling us home, the voice of a man who dragged his right leg.

The green kite hovered directly above us now. "He's going for it. Anytime
now," I said, my eyes flicking from Sohrab to our kite.

The green kite hesitated. Held position. Then shot down. "Here he comes!"

I said.

I did it perfectly. After all these years. The old lift-and-dive trap. I
loosened my grip and tugged on the string, dipping and dodging the green kite. A
series of quick sidearm jerks and our kite shot up counterclockwise, in a half
circle. Suddenly I was on top. The green kite was scrambling now, panic-stricken.
But it was too late. I'd already slipped him Hassan's trick. I pulled hard and our
kite plummeted. I could almost feel our string sawing his. Almost heard the snap.

Then, just like that, the green kite was spinning and wheeling out of

Behind us, people cheered. Whistles and applause broke out.
I was
panting. The last time I had felt a rush like this was that day in the winter of
1975, just after I had cut the last kite, when I spotted Baba on our rooftop,
clapping, beaming.

I looked down at Sohrab. One corner of his mouth had curled up just so.

A smile.


Hardly there.

But there.

Behind us, kids were scampering, and a melee of screaming kite runners
was chasing the loose kite drifting high above the trees. I blinked and the smile
was gone. But it had been there. I had seen it.

"Do you want me to run that kite for you?"

His Adam's apple rose and fell as he swallowed. The wind lifted his hair. I
thought I saw him nod.

"For you, a thousand times over," I heard myself say.

Then I turned and ran.

It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn't make everything all right. It
didn't make anything all right. Only a smile. A tiny thing. A leaf in the woods,
shaking in the wake of a startled bird's flight.

But I'll take it. With open arms. Because when spring comes, it melts the
snow one flake at a time, and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting.

1 ran. A grown man running with a swarm of screaming children. But I
didn't care. I ran with the wind blowing in my face, and a smile as wide as the
Valley of Panjsher on my lips.

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