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Chapter 16

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 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 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 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.

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,............

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