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Chapter 14

_June 2001_

I lowered the phone into the cradle and stared at it for a long time. It wasn't until Aflatoon startled me with a bark that I realized how quiet the room had become. Soraya had muted the television.

"You look pale, Amir,?she said from the couch, the same one her parents had given us as a housewarming gift for our first apartment. She'd been tying on it with Aflatoon's head nestled on her chest, her legs buried under the worn pillows. She was halfwatching a PBS special on the plight of wolves in Minnesota, half-correcting essays from her summer-school class--she'd been teaching at the same school now for six years. She sat up, and Aflatoon leapt down from the couch. It was the general who had given our cocker spaniel his name, Farsi for "Plato,?because, he said, if you looked hard enough and long enough into the dog's filmy black eyes, you'd swear he was thinking wise thoughts.

There was a sliver of fat, just a hint of it, beneath Soraya's chin now The past ten years had padded the curves of her hips some, and combed into her coal black hair a few streaks of cinder gray. But she still had the face of a Grand Ball princess, with her bird-in-flight eyebrows and nose, elegantly curved like a letter from ancient Arabic writings.

"You took pale,?Soraya repeated, placing the stack of papers on the table.

"I have to go to Pakistan.?

She stood up now. "Pakistan??

"Rahim Khan is very sick.?A fist clenched inside me with those words.

"Kaka's old Business partner??She'd never met Rahim Khan, but I had told her about him. I nodded.

"Oh,?she said. "I'm so sorry, Amir.?

"We used to be close,?I said. "When I was a kid, he was the first grown-up I ever thought of as a friend.?I pictured him and Baba drinking tea in Baba's study, then smoking near the window, a sweetbrier-scented breeze blowing from the garden and bending the twin columns of smoke.

"I remember you telling me that,?Soraya said. She paused. "How long will you be gone??

"I don't know. He wants to see me.?

"Is it...?

"Yes, it's safe. I'll be all right, Soraya.?It was the question she'd wanted to ask all along--fifteen years of marriage had turned us into mind readers. "I'm going to go for a walk.?

"Should I go with you??

"Nay, I'd rather be alone.?

I DROVE TO GOLDEN GATE PARK and walked along Spreckels Lake on the northern edge of the park. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon; the sun sparkled on the water where dozens of miniature boats sailed, propelled by a crisp San Francisco breeze. I sat on a park bench, watched a man toss a football to his son, telling him to not sidearm the ball, to throw over the shoulder. I glanced up and saw a pair of kites, red with long blue tails. They floated high above the trees on the west end of the park, over the windmills.

I thought about a comment Rahim Khan had made just before we hung up. Made it in passing, almost as an afterthought. I closed my eyes and saw him at the other end of the scratchy longdistance line, saw him with his lips slightly parted, head tilted to one side. And again, something in his bottomless black eyes hinted at an unspoken secret between us. Except now I knew he knew. My suspicions had been right all those years. He knew about Assef,............

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