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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner: Page 8

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In reality, I had no idea if that was true or not.

"So does my father," Assef mimicked me in a whining voice. Kamal and
Wali cackled in unison. I wished Baba were there.

"Well, Daoud Khan dined at our house last year," Assef went on. "How do
you like that, Amir?"

I wondered if anyone would hear us scream in this remote patch of land.
Baba's house was a good kilometer away. I wished we'd stayed at the house.

"Do you know what I will tell Daoud Khan the next time he comes to our
house for dinner?" Assef said. "I'm going to have a little chat with him, man to
man, _mard_ to _mard_. Tell him what I told my mother. About Hitler. Now, there
was a leader. A great leader. A man with vision. I'll tell Daoud Khan to remember
that if they had let Hitler finish what he had started, the world be a better place

"Baba says Hitler was crazy, that he ordered a lot of innocent people
killed," I heard myself say before I could clamp a hand on my mouth.

Assef snickered. "He sounds like my mother, and she's German; she
should know better. But then they want you to believe that, don't they? They
don't want you to know the truth."

I didn't know who "they" were, or what truth they were hiding, and I
didn't want to find out. I wished I hadn't said anything. I wished again I'd look up
and see Baba coming up the hill.

"But you have to read books they don't give out in school," Assef said. "I
have. And my eyes have been opened. Now I have a vision, and I'm going to share
it with our new president. Do you know what it is?"

I shook my head. He'd tell me anyway; Assef always answered his own

His blue eyes flicked to Hassan. "Afghanistan is the land of Pashtuns. It
always has been, always will be. We are the true Afghans, the pure Afghans, not
this Flat-Nose here. His people pollute our homeland, our watan. They dirty our
blood." He made a sweeping, grandiose gesture with his hands. "Afghanistan for
Pashtuns, I say. That's my vision."

Assef shifted his gaze to me again. He looked like someone coming out of a
good dream. "Too late for Hitler," he said. "But not for us."

He reached for something from the back pocket of his jeans. "I'll ask the
president to do what the king didn't have the quwat to do. T o rid Afghanistan of
all the dirty, Kasseef Hazaras."

"Just let us go, Assef," I said, hating the way my voice trembled. "We're not
bothering you."

"Oh, you're bothering me," Assef said. And I saw with a sinking heart what
he had fished out of his pocket. Of course. His stainless-steel brass knuckles
sparkled in the sun. "You're bothering me very much. In fact, you bother me
more than this Hazara here. How can you talk to him, play with him, let him
touch you?" he said, his voice dripping with disgust. Wali and Kamal nodded and
grunted in agreement. Assef narrowed his eyes. Shook his head. When he spoke
again, he sounded as baffled as he looked. "How can you call him your 'friend'?"

_But he's not my friend!_ I almost blurted. _He's my servant!. Had I really
thought that? Of course I hadn't. I hadn't. I treated Hassan well, just like a friend,
better even, more like a brother. But if so, then why, when Baba's friends came to
visit with their kids, didn't I ever include Hassan in our games? Why did I play
with Hassan only when no one else was around? Assef slipped on the brass
knuckles. Gave me an icy look. "You're part of the problem, Amir. If idiots like
you and your father didn't take these people in, we'd be rid of them by now.

They'd all just go rot in Hazarajat where they belong. You're a disgrace to

I looked in his crazy eyes and saw that he meant it. He _really_ meant to
hurt me. Assef raised his fist and came for me.

There was a flurry of rapid movement behind me. Out of the corner of my
eye, I saw Hassan bend down and stand up quickly. Assef's eyes flicked to
something behind me and widened with surprise. I saw that same look of
astonishment on Kamal and Wali's faces as they too saw what had happened
behind me.

I turned and came face to face with Hassan's slingshot. Hassan had pulled
the wide elastic band all the way back. In the cup was a rock the size of a walnut.
Hassan held the slingshot pointed directly at Assef's face. His hand trembled with
the strain of the pulled elastic band and beads of sweat had erupted on his brow.

"Please leave us alone, Agha," Hassan said in a flat tone. He'd referred to
Assef as "Agha," and I wondered briefly what it must be like to live with such an
ingrained sense of one's place in a hierarchy.

Assef gritted his teeth. "Put it down, you motherless Hazara."

"Please leave us be, Agha," Hassan said.

Assef smiled. "Maybe you didn't notice, but there are three of us and two
of you."

Hassan shrugged. To an outsider, he didn't look scared. But Hassan's face
was my earliest memory and I knew all of its subtle nuances, knew each and
every twitch and flicker that ever rippled across it. And I saw that he was scared.
He was scared plenty.

"You are right, Agha. But perhaps you didn't notice that I'm the one
holding the slingshot. If you make a move, they'll have to change your nickname
from Assef 'the Ear Eater' to 'One-Eyed Assef,' because I have this rock pointed at

your left eye." He said this so flatly that even I had to strain to hear the fear that 1
knew hid under that calm voice.

Assef's mouth twitched. Wali and Kamal watched this exchange with
something akin to fascination. Someone had challenged their god. Humiliated
him. And, worst of all, that someone was a skinny Hazara. Assef looked from the
rock to Hassan. He searched Hassan's face intently. What he found in it must
have convinced him of the seriousness of Hassan's intentions, because he
lowered his fist.

"You should know something about me, Hazara," Assef said gravely. "I'm a
very patient person. This doesn't end today, believe me." He turned to me. "This
isn't the end for you either, Amir. Someday, I'll make you face me one on one."
Assef retreated a step. His disciples followed.

"Your Hazara made a big mistake today, Amir," he said. They then turned
around, walked away. I watched them walk down the hill and disappear behind a

Hassan was trying to tuck the slingshot in his waist with a pair of
trembling hands. His mouth curled up into something that was supposed to be a
reassuring smile. It took him five tries to tie the string of his trousers. Neither
one of us said much of anything as we walked home in trepidation, certain that
Assef and his friends would ambush us every time we turned a corner.
didn't and that should have comforted us a little. But it didn't. Not at all.

FOR THE NEXT COUPLE of years, the words _economic development, and
_reform_ danced on a lot of lips in Kabul. The constitutional monarchy had been
abolished, replaced by a republic, led by a president of the republic. For a while,
a sense of rejuvenation and purpose swept across the land. People spoke of
women's rights and modern technology.

And for the most part, even though a new leader lived in _Arg_--the royal
palace in Kabul--life went on as before. People went to work Saturday through
Thursday and gathered for picnics on Fridays in parks, on the banks of Ghargha
Lake, in the gardens of Paghman. Multicolored buses and lorries filled with
passengers rolled through the narrow streets of Kabul, led by the constant

shouts of the driver assistants who straddled the vehicles' rear bumpers and
yelped directions to the driver in their thick Kabuli accent. On _Eid_, the three
days of celebration after the holy month of Ramadan, Kabulis dressed in their
best and newest clothes and visited their families. People hugged and kissed and
greeted each other with "_Eid Mubarak_." Happy Eid. Children opened gifts and
played with dyed hard-boiled eggs.

Early that following winter of 1974, Hassan and I were playing in the yard
one day, building a snow fort, when Ah called him in. "Hassan, Agha sahib wants
to talk to you!" He was standing by the front door, dressed in white, hands
tucked under his armpits, breath puffing from his mouth.

Hassan and I exchanged a smile. We'd been waiting for his call all day: It
was Hassan's birthday. "What is it, Father, do you know? Will you tell us?"
Hassan said. His eyes were gleaming.

Ali shrugged. "Agha sahib hasn't discussed it with me."

"Come on, Ali, tell us," I pressed. "Is it a drawing book? Maybe a new

Like Hassan, Ali was incapable of lying. Every year, he pretended not to
know what Baba had bought Hassan or me for our birthdays. And every year, his
eyes betrayed him and we coaxed the goods out of him.

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