Chapter no 16

The Kite Runner

There were a lot of reasons why I went to Hazarajat to find Hassan in 1986. The biggest one, Allah forgive me, was that I was lonely. By then, most of my friends and relatives


“The Kite Runner” By Khaled Hosseini

had either been killed or had escaped the country to Pakistan or Iran. I barely knew anyone in Kabul anymore, the city where I had lived my entire life. Everybody had fled. I would take a walk in the Karteh Parwan section-

-where the melon vendors used to hang out in the old days, you remember that spot?–and I wouldn’t recognize anyone there.

No one to greet, no one to sit down with for chai, no one to share stories with, just Roussi soldiers patrolling the streets. So eventually, I stopped going out to the city. I would spend my days in your father’s house, up in the study, reading your mother’s old books, listening to the news, watching the communist propaganda on television. Then I would pray natnaz, cook something, eat, read some more, pray again, and go to bed. I would rise in the morning, pray, do it all over again.

And with my arthritis, it was getting harder for me to maintain the house. My knees and back were always aching–I would get up in the morning and it would take me at least an hour to shake the stiffness from my joints, especially in the wintertime. I did not want to let your father’s house go to rot; we had all had many good times in that house, so many memories, Amir jan. It was not right–your father had designed that house himself; it had meant so much to him, and besides, I had promised him I would care for it when he and you left for Pakistan. Now it was just me and the house and… I did my best. I tried to water the trees every few days, cut the lawn, tend to the flowers, fix things that needed fixing, but, even then, I was not a young man anymore.

But even so, I might have been able to manage. At least for a while longer. But when news of your father’s death reached me… for the first time, I felt a terrible loneliness in that house. An unbearable emptiness.

So one day, I fueled up the Buick and drove up to Hazarajat. I remembered that, after Ali dismissed himself from the house, your father told me he and Hassan had moved to a small village just outside Bamiyan. Ali had a cousin there as I recalled. I had no idea if Hassan would still be there, if anyone would even know of him or his whereabouts. After all, it had been ten years since Ali and Hassan had left your father’s house. Hassan would have been a grown man in 1986, twenty-two, twenty-three years old. If he was even alive, that is–the Shorawi, may they rot in hell for what they did to our watan, killed so many of our young men. I don’t have to tell you that.

But, with the grace of God, I found him there. It took very little searching–all I had to do was ask a few questions in Bamiyan and people pointed me to his village. I do not even recall its name, or whether it even had one. But I remember it was a scorching summer day and I was driving up a rutted dirt road, nothing on either side but sunbaked bushes, gnarled, spiny tree trunks, and dried grass like pale straw. I passed a dead donkey rotting on the side of the road. And then I turned a corner and, right in the middle of that barren land, I saw a cluster of mud houses, beyond them nothing but broad sky and mountains like jagged teeth.

The people in Bamiyan had told me I would find him easily–he lived in the only house in the village that had a walled garden. The mud wall, short and pocked with holes, enclosed the tiny house–which was really not much more than a glorified hut. Barefoot children were playing on the street, kicking a ragged tennis ball with a stick, and they


“The Kite Runner” By Khaled Hosseini

stared when I pulled up and killed the engine. I knocked on the wooden door and stepped through into a yard that had very little in it save for a parched strawberry patch and a bare lemon tree. There was a tandoor in the corner in the shadow of an acacia tree and I saw a man squatting beside it. He was placing dough on a large wooden spatula and slapping it against the walls of the _tandoor_. He dropped the dough when he saw me. I had to make him stop kissing my hands.

“Let me look at you,” I said. He stepped away. He was so tall now–I stood on my toes and still just came up to his chin. The Bamiyan sun had toughened his skin, and turned it several shades darker than I remembered, and he had lost a few of his front teeth.

There were sparse strands of hair on his chin. Other than that, he had those same narrow green eyes, that scar on his upper lip, that round face, that affable smile. You would have recognized him, Amir jan. I am sure of it.

We went inside. There was a young light-skinned Hazara woman, sewing a shawl in a corner of the room. She was visibly expecting. “This is my wife, Rahim Khan,” Hassan said proudly. “Her name is Farzana jan.” She was a shy woman, so courteous she spoke in a voice barely higher than a whisper and she would not raise her pretty hazel eyes to meet my gaze. But the way she was looking at Hassan, he might as well have been sitting on the throne at the _Arg_.

“When is the baby coming?” I said after we all settled around the adobe room. There was nothing in the room, just a frayed rug, a few dishes, a pair of mattresses, and a lantern.

“_Inshallah_, this winter,” Hassan said. “I am praying for a boy to carry on my father’s name.”

“Speaking of Ali, where is he?”

Hassan dropped his gaze. He told me that Ali and his cousin–who had owned the house–had been killed by a land mine two years before, just outside of Bamiyan. A land mine. Is there a more Afghan way of dying, Amir jan? And for some crazy reason, I became absolutely certain that it had been Ali’s right leg–his twisted polio leg–that had finally betrayed him and stepped on that land mine. I was deeply saddened to hear Ali had died. Your father and I grew up together, as you know, and Ali had been with him as long as I could remember. I remember when we were all little, the year Ali got polio and almost died. Your father would walk around the house all day crying.

Farzana made us shorwa with beans, turnips, and potatoes. We washed our hands and dipped fresh _naan_ from the tandoor into the shorwa–it was the best meal I had had in months. It was then that I asked Hassan to move to Kabul with me. I told him about the house, how I could not care for it by myself anymore. I told him I would pay him well, that he and his _khanum_ would be comfortable. They looked to each other and did not say anything. Later, after we had washed our hands and Farzana had served us


“The Kite Runner” By Khaled Hosseini

grapes, Hassan said the village was his home now; he and Farzana had made a life for themselves there.

“And Bamiyan is so close. We know people there. Forgive me, Rahim Khan. I pray you understand.”

“Of course,” I said. “You have nothing to apologize for. I understand.”

It was midway through tea after shorwa that Hassan asked about you. I told him you were in America, but that I did not know much more. Hassan had so many questions about you. Had you married? Did you have children?

How tall were you? Did you still fly kites and go to the cinema? Were you happy? He said he had befriended an old Farsi teacher in Bamiyan who had taught him to read and write. If he wrote you a letter, would I pass it on to you? And did I think you would write back? I told him what I knew of you from the few phone conversations I had had with your father, but mostly I did not know how to answer him. Then he asked me about your father.

When I told him, Hassan buried his face in his hands and broke into tears. He wept like a child for the rest of that night.

They insisted that I spend the night there. Farzana fixed a cot for me and left me a glass of well water in case I got thirsty. All night, I heard her whispering to Hassan, and heard him sobbing.

In the morning, Hassan told me he and Farzana had decided to move to Kabul with me.

“I should not have come here,” I said. “You were right, Hassan jan. You have a zendagi, a life here. It was presumptuous of me to just show up and ask you to drop everything. It is me who needs to be forgiven.”

“We don’t have that much to drop, Rahim Khan,” Hassan said. His eyes were still red and puffy. “We’ll go with you. We’ll help you take care of the house.”

“Are you absolutely sure?”

He nodded and dropped his head. “Agha sahib was like my second father… God give him peace.”

They piled their things in the center of a few worn rags and tied the corners together.

We loaded the bundle into the Buick. Hassan stood in the threshold of the house and held the Koran as we all kissed it and passed under it. Then we left for Kabul. I remember as I was pulling away, Hassan turned to take a last look at their home.


“The Kite Runner” By Khaled Hosseini

When we got to Kabul, I discovered that Hassan had no intention of moving into the house. “But all these rooms are empty, Hassan jan. No one is going to live in them,” I said.

But he would not. He said it was a matter of ihtiram, a matter of respect. He and Farzana moved their things into the hut in the backyard, where he was born. I pleaded for them to move into one of the guest bedrooms upstairs, but Hassan would hear nothing of it. “What will Amir agha think?” he said to me. “What will he think when he comes back to Kabul after the war and finds that I have assumed his place in the house?” Then, in mourning for your father, Hassan wore black for the next forty days.

I did not want them to, but the two of them did all the cooking, all the cleaning. Hassan tended to the flowers in the garden, soaked the roots, picked off yellowing leaves, and planted rosebushes. He painted the walls. In the house, he swept rooms no one had slept in for years, and cleaned bathrooms no one had bathed in. Like he was preparing the house for someone’s return. Do you remember the wall behind the row of corn your father had planted, Amir jan? What did you and Hassan call it, “the Wall of Ailing Corn”?

A rocket destroyed a whole section of that wall in the middle of the night early that fall.

Hassan rebuilt the wall with his own hands, brick by brick, until it stood’ whole again. I do not know what I would have done if he had not been there. Then late that fall, Farzana gave birth to a stillborn baby girl. Hassan kissed the baby’s lifeless face, and we buried her in the backyard, near the sweetbrier bushes. We covered the little mound with leaves from the poplar trees. I said a prayer for her. Farzana stayed in the hut all day and wailed–it is a heartbreaking sound, Amir jan, the wailing of a mother. I pray to Allah you never hear it.

Outside the walls of that house, there was a war raging. But the three of us, in your father’s house, we made our own little haven from it. My vision started going by the late 1980s, so I had Hassan read me your mother’s books. We would sit in the foyer, by the stove, and Hassan would read me from _Masnawi_ or _Khayyám_, as Farzana cooked in the kitchen. And every morning, Hassan placed a flower on the little mound by the sweetbrier bushes.

In early 1990, Farzana became pregnant again. It was that same year, in the middle of the summer, that a woman covered in a sky blue burqa knocked on the front gates one morning. When I walked up to the gates, she was swaying on her feet, like she was too weak to even stand. I asked her what she wanted, but she would not answer.

“Who are you?” I said. But she just collapsed right there in the driveway. I yelled for Hassan and he helped me carry her into the house, to the living room. We lay her on the sofa and took off her burqa. Beneath it, we found a toothless woman with stringy graying hair and sores on her arms. She looked like she had not eaten for days. But the worst of it by far was her face. Someone had taken a knife to it and… Amir jan, the slashes cut this way and that way. One of the cuts went from cheekbone to hairline and it had not spared her left eye on the way. It was grotesque. I patted her brow with a wet cloth and she opened her eyes. “Where is Hassan?” she whispered.


“The Kite Runner” By Khaled Hosseini

“I’m right here,” Hassan said. He took her hand and squeezed it.

Her good eye rolled to him. “I have walked long and far to see if you are as beautiful in the flesh as you are in my dreams. And you are. Even more.” She pulled his hand to her scarred face. “Smile for me. Please.”

Hassan did and the old woman wept. “You smiled coming out of me, did anyone ever tell you? And I wouldn’t even hold you. Allah forgive me, I wouldn’t even hold you.”

None of us had seen Sanaubar since she had eloped with a band of singers and dancers in 1964, just after she had given birth to Hassan. You never saw her, Amir, but in her youth, she was a vision. She had a dimpled smile and a walk that drove men crazy. No one who passed her on the street, be it a man or a woman, could look at her only once. And now…

Hassan dropped her hand and bolted out of the house. I went after him, but he was too fast. I saw him running up the hill where you two used to play, his feet kicking up plumes of dust. I let him go. I sat with Sanaubar all day as the sky went from bright blue to purple. Hassan still had not come back when night fell and moonlight bathed the clouds.

Sanaubar cried that coming back had been a mistake, maybe even a worse one than leaving. But I made her stay. Hassan would return, I knew.

He came back the next morning, looking tired and weary, like he had not slept all night.

He took Sanaubar’s hand in both of his and told her she could cry if she wanted to but she needn’t, she was home now, he said, home with her family. He touched the scars on her face, and ran his hand through her hair.

Hassan and Farzana nursed her back to health. They fed her and washed her clothes. I gave her one of the guest rooms upstairs. Sometimes, I would look out the window into the yard and watch Hassan and his mother kneeling together, picking tomatoes or trimming a rosebush, talking. They were catching up on all the lost years, I suppose. As far as I know, he never

asked where she had been or why she had left and she never told. I guess some stories do not need telling.

It was Sanaubar who delivered Hassan’s son that winter of 1990. It had not started snowing yet, but the winter winds were blowing through the yards, bending the flowerbeds and rustling the leaves. I remember Sanaubar came out of the hut holding her grandson, had him wrapped in a wool blanket.

She stood beaming under a dull gray sky tears streaming down her cheeks, the needle-cold wind blowing her hair, and clutching that baby in her arms like she never wanted to let go. Not this time. She handed him to Hassan and he handed him to me and I sang the prayer of Ayat-ul-kursi in that little boy’s ear.


“The Kite Runner” By Khaled Hosseini

They named him Sohrab, after Hassan’s favorite hero from the

_Shahnamah_, as you know, Amir jan. He was a beautiful little boy, sweet as sugar, and had the same temperament as his father. You should have seen Sanaubar with that baby, Amir jan.

He became the center of her existence. She sewed clothes for him, built him toys from scraps of wood, rags, and dried grass. When he caught a fever, she stayed up all night, and fasted for three days. She burned isfand for him on a skillet to cast out nazar, the evil eye. By the time Sohrab was two, he was calling her Sasa. The two of them were inseparable.

She lived to see him turn four, and then, one morning, she just did not wake up. She looked calm, at peace, like she did not mind dying now. We buried her in the cemetery on the hill, the one by the pomegranate tree, and I said a prayer for her too. The loss was hard on Hassan–it always hurts more to have and lose than to not have in the first place. But it was even harder on little Sohrab. He kept walking around the house, looking for Sasa, but you know how children are, they forget so quickly.

By then–that would have been 1995–the Shorawi were defeated and long gone and Kabul belonged to Massoud, Rabbani, and the Mujahedin. The

infighting between the factions was fierce and no one knew if they would live to see the end of the day. Our ears became accustomed to the whistle of falling shells, to the rumble of gunfire, our eyes familiar with the sight of men digging bodies out of piles of rubble. Kabul in those days, Amir jan, was as close as you could get to that proverbial hell on earth. Allah was kind to us, though. The Wazir Akbar Khan area was not attacked as much, so we did not have it as bad as some of the other neighborhoods.

On those days when the rocket fire eased up a bit and the gunfighting was light, Hassan would take Sohrab to the zoo to see Marjan the lion, or to the cinema. Hassan taught him how to shoot the slingshot, and, later, by the time he was eight, Sohrab had become deadly with that thing: He could stand on the terrace and hit a pinecone propped on a pail halfway across the yard. Hassan taught him to read and write–his son was not going to grow up illiterate like he had. I grew very attached to that little boy–I had seen him take his first step, heard him utter his first word. I bought children’s books for Sohrab from the bookstore by Cinema Park–they have destroyed that too now–and Sohrab read them as quickly as I could get them to him. He reminded me of you, how you loved to read when you were little, Amir jan. Sometimes, I read to him at night, played riddles with him, taught him card tricks. I miss him terribly.

In the wintertime, Hassan took his son kite running. There were not nearly as many kite tournaments as in the old days–no one felt safe outside for too long–but there were still a few scattered tournaments. Hassan would prop Sohrab on his shoulders and they would go trotting through the streets, running kites, climbing trees where kites had dropped. You remember, Amir Jan, what a good kite runner Hassan was? He was still just as good. At the end of winter, Hassan and Sohrab would hang the kites they had run all winter on the walls of the main hallway. They would put them up like paintings.

I told you how we all celebrated in 1996 when the Taliban rolled in and put an end to the daily fighting. I remember coming home that night and finding Hassan in the kitchen,


“The Kite Runner” By Khaled Hosseini

listening to the radio. He had a sober look in his eyes. I asked him what was wrong, and he just shook his head. “God help the Hazaras now, Rahim Khan sahib,” he said.

“The war is over, Hassan,” I said. “There’s going to be peace, _Inshallah_, and happiness and calm. No more rockets, no more killing, no more funerals!” But he just turned off the radio and asked if he could get me anything before he went to bed.

A few weeks later, the Taliban banned kite fighting. And two years later, in 1998, they massacred the Hazaras in Mazar-i-Sharif.

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