The devastation in Kabul took Amir's breath away. The buildings and streets had turned into rubble, and fatherless children begged on every street corner. When a red truck full of Talibs drove by, Amir was mesmerized by them for a minute. Farid warned him never to stand at the Talibs again, because they welcomed any chance to start a conflict. An old beggar overheard them, asked for change, and started a conversation; while chatting, he quoted a line from a poem Amir recognized. It turned out that the man was a professor who used to teach at the university alongside Amir's mother. It was now Amir who was begging the old man-for any details about his mother. He gave Amir just a few small details about her, which amounted to more than he had ever learned from Baba. Amir was deeply grateful. The old man directed him and Farid to the orphanage in Karteh-Seh.
A skinny man answered the door at the orphanage. He pretended not to know who Sohrab was until Amir begged, "I'm his half uncle." Once he trusted the men enough to let them in, he told them Sohrab was fantastic with his slingshot, from which he was inseparable. In the man's makeshift office, he explained that they had no heat or hot water and very little food or supplies. The Taliban refused to pay for renovations or improvements. The man did not seem to want to talk about Sohrab. When Amir insisted, he revealed that a Talib official had taken Sohrab a month earlier. This official came every few months and paid to take a child with him; the man had no choice but to consent, or he knew he and all his children would be shot. This news so enraged Farid that he tackled the man and tried to strangle him to death until Amir intervened. The man told Amir that he could find the Talib official at Ghazi stadium, where the national team played soccer.
"More than we have room for. About two hundred and fifty," Zaman said over his shoulder. "But they're not all yateem. Many of them have lost their
fathers in the war, and their mothers can't feed them because the Taliban don't allow them to work. So they bring their children here." He made a sweeping
gesture with his hand and added ruefully, "This place is better than the street, but not that much better. This building was never meant to be lived in--it used to be a storage warehouse for a carpet manufacturer. So there's no water heater
and they've let the well go dry." He dropped his voice. "I've asked the Taliban for money to dig a new well more times than I remember and they just twirl their rosaries and tell me there is no money. No money." He snickered.
He pointed to a row of beds along the wall. "We don't have enough beds, and not enough mattresses for the beds we do have. Worse, we don't have enough blankets." He showed us a little girl skipping rope with two other kids. "You see that girl? This past winter, the children had to share blankets. Her brother died of exposure." He walked on. "The last time I checked, we have less than a month's supply of rice left in the warehouse, and, when that runs out, the children will have to eat bread and tea for breakfast and dinner." I noticed he made no mention of lunch.