Every winter, districts in Kabul held a kite-fighting tournament. And if you were a boy living in Kabul, the day of the tournament was undeniably the highlight of the cold season. I never slept the night before the tournament. I’d roll from side to side, make shadow animals on the wall, even sit on the balcony in the dark, a blanket wrapped around me. I felt like a soldier trying to sleep in the trenches the night before a major battle. And that wasn’t so far off. In Kabul, fighting kites was a little like going to war.
‘Here it comes,’ Hassan said, pointing to the sky. He rose to his feet and walked a few paces to his left. I looked up, saw the kite plummeting toward us. I heard footfalls, shouts, an approaching melee of kit runners. But they were wasting their time. Because Hassan stood with his arms wide open, smiling, waiting for the kite. And may God—if He exists, that is—strike me blind if the kite didn’t just drop into his outstretched arms.
Then I saw Baba on our roof. He was standing on the edge, pumping both of his fists. Hollering and clapping. And that right there was the single greatest moment of my twelve years of life, seeing Baba on that roof, proud of me at last. But he was doing something now, motioning with his hands in an urgent way. Then I understood. ‘Hassan, we—’. ‘I know,’ he said. Breaking our embrace. ‘Inshallah, we’ll celebrate later. Right now, I’m going to run that blue kite for you,’ he said. He dropped the spool and took off running, the hem of his green chapan dragging in the snow behind him.
A havoc of scrap and rubble littered the alley…But there were two things amid the garbage that I couldn’t stop looking at: One was the blue kite resting against the wall, close to the cast-iron stove; the other was Hassan’s brown corduroy pants thrown on a heap of eroded bricks.
I actually aspired to cowardice, because the alternative, the real reason I was running, was that Assef was right: Nothing is free in this world. Maybe Hassan was the price I had to pay, the lamb I had to slay, to win Baba.