Chapter four opens with the story of how Ali became a part of Baba's family. In 1933, the same year Baba was born, two intoxicated young drivers struck and killed a Hazara couple. Only their five-year-old son, Ali, survived. Baba's father was asked to decide the young men's punishment. After sending the young men to serve in the army, he took Ali into his household. Baba and Ali grew up as quasi-brothers, just like Amir and Hassan a generation later. But despite their closeness, Baba never considered Ali his friend just as Amir never considered Hassan his. According to Amir, their ethnic and religious differences kept them from being true friends or family. At the same time, all these years later, Amir says Hassan is "the face of Afghanistan" to him. The boys played and got into mischief together like any other two boys, except that Hassan made Amir's breakfast, cleaned his room, and did all his other household chores. While Amir went to school, Hassan stayed home to do housework with Ali. After school, Amir would read to Hassan, who loved books despite his illiteracy.
One day, Amir pretended to read to Hassan from a book but made up his own story to trick Hassan. When Amir finished, Hassan clapped and told him it was the best story he had ever read him. Amir was so happy that he kissed Hassan on the cheek, and that night he wrote his first short story. It was about a man who had a cup that turned his tears into pearls. The man grew greedy and tried to find ways to make himself cry as much as possible. It ended with him sitting on top of a mountain of pearls, holding his wife's slain body. Amir took the story to Baba, but he refused to read it. Rahim Khan read the story and gave Amir a piece of paper on which he had written "Bravo." The rest of his note explained that Amir had achieved irony in his story, which is something many writers never manage to master. He encouraged Amir to put his talent to use. In the letter, he called Amir his friend, and for a moment Amir wished that Rahim Khan was his father instead of Baba. He was so overcome with guilt that he vomited.
Amir rushed down to where Hassan was sleeping on a mattress with Ali and woke up his friend. After hearing the story, Hassan proclaimed that Amir would be world-famous someday. However, he also pointed out a plot hole in the story. He asked why the protagonist did not just smell an onion to make himself cry instead of killing his wife. Amir was speechless.
But we were kids who had learned to crawl together, and no history, ethnicity, society, or religion was going to change that either.
I spent most of the first twelve years of my life playing with Hassan. Sometimes, my entire childhood seems like one long lazy summer day with Hassan, chasing each other between tangles of trees in my father's yard, playing hide-and-seek, cops and robbers,
cowboys and Indians, insect torture-with our crowning achievement undeniably
the time we plucked the stinger off a bee and tied a string around the poor thing
to yank it back every time it took flight.
We saw our first Western together, _Rio Bravo with John Wayne, at the Cinema Park, across the street from my favorite bookstore. I remember begging
Baba to take us to Iran so we could meet John Wayne. Baba burst out in gales of
his deep-throated laughter-a sound not unlike a truck engine revving up-and,
when he could talk again, explained to us the concept of voice dubbing. Hassan
and I were stunned. Dazed. John Wayne didn't really speak Farsi and he wasn't
Iranian! He was American, just like the friendly, longhaired men and women we
always saw hanging around in Kabul, dressed in their tattered, brightly colored
shirts. We saw _Rio Bravo_ three times, but we saw our favorite Western, _The
Magnificent Seven_, thirteen times. With each viewing, we cried at the end when
the Mexican kids buried Charles Bronson-who, as it turned out, wasn't Iranian
Hassan's favorite book by far was the _Shahnamah_, the tenth-century
epic of ancient Persian heroes. He liked all of the chapters, the shahs of old,
Feridoun, Zal, and Rudabeh.
But his favorite story, and mine, was "Rostam and Sohrab," the tale of the great warrior Rostam and his fleet-footed horse, Rakhsh.
Rostam mortally wounds his valiant nemesis, Sohrab, in battle, only to discover
that Sohrab is his long-lost son. Stricken with grief, Rostam hears his son's dying
words: If thou art indeed my father, then hast thou stained thy sword in the life-
blood of thy son. And thou did'st it of thine obstinacy. For I sought to turn thee
unto love, and I implored of thee thy name, for I thought to behold in thee the
tokens recounted of my mother. But I appealed unto thy heart in vain, and now is
the time gone for meeting...
I was reading to him, and suddenly I strayed from the written story. I pretended I was reading from the book, flipping pages
regularly, but I had abandoned the text altogether, taken over the story, and
made up my own. Hassan, of course, was oblivious to this. To him, the words on
the page were a scramble of codes, indecipherable, mysterious. Words were
secret doorways and 1 held all the keys. After, I started to ask him if he'd liked the
story, a giggle rising in my throat, when Hassan began to clap.