The streets 1)glistened with fresh snow and the sky was a blameless blue. Snow 2)blanketed every rooftop and weighed on the branches of the 3)stunted 4)mulberry trees that lined our street. Overnight, snow had 5)nudged its way into every crack and gutter. I 6)squinted against the blinding white when Hassan and I stepped through the 7)wrought-iron gates. I had never seen so many people on our street. Kids were flinging snowballs, 8)squabbling, chasing one another, and giggling. Kite fighters were 9)huddling with their 10)spool holders, making last minute preparations. From adjacent streets, I could hear laughter and chatter. Already, rooftops were jammed with spectators 11)reclining in 12)lawn chairs, hot tea steaming from 13)thermoses, and the music of 14)Ahmad Zahir 15)blaring from cassette players. I turned my gaze to our rooftop, found Baba and Rahim Khan sitting on a bench, both dressed in wool sweaters, sipping tea.
“We should get started,” Hassan said. He wore black rubber snow boots and a bright green 16)chapan over a thick sweater and faded 17)corduroy pants.
Hassan’s face brightened. “Good,” he said. He lifted our kite, red with yellow borders. He licked his finger and held it up, tested the wind, then ran in its direction. The spool rolled in my hands until Hassan stopped, about fifty feet away. He held the kite high over his head, like an Olympic athlete showing his gold medal. I jerked the string twice, our usual signal, and Hassan tossed the kite.
Within a minute, my kite was 18)rocketing to the sky. It made a sound like a paper bird flapping its wings. Hassan clapped his hands, whistled, and ran back to me. I handed him the spool, holding on to the string, and he spun it quickly to roll the loose string back on. At least two dozen kites already hung in the sky, like paper sharks roaming for prey. Within an hour, the number doubled, and red, blue, and yellow kites glided and spun in the sky. A cold breeze 19)wafted through my hair. The wind was perfect for kite flying, blowing just 20)hard enough to give some lift, make the 21)sweeps easier. Next to me, Hassan held the spool, his hands already bloodied by the string.
Soon, the cutting started and the first of the defeated kites whirled out of control. They fell from the sky like 22)shooting stars with brilliant, 23)rippling tails, 24)showering the neighborhoods below with prizes for the kite runners. I could hear the runners now, 25)hollering as they ran the streets. I kept stealing glances at Baba sitting with Rahim Khan on the roof, and wondered what he was thinking. Was he cheering for me? That was the thing about kite flying: Your mind drifted with the kite. They were coming down all over the place now, the kites, and I was still flying. My eyes kept wandering over to Baba, 26)bundled up in his wool coat. Was he surprised that I had lasted as long as I had? I 27)snapped my gaze back to the sky. A red kite was closing in on me—I’d caught it just in time. I tangled a bit with it, ended up 28)besting him when he became impatient and tried to cut me from below.
Up and down the streets, kite runners were returning triumphantly, their captured kites held high. They showed them off to their parents, their friends. But they all knew the best was yet to come. The biggest prize of all was still flying. I 29)sliced a bright yellow kite with a 30)coiled white tail. It cost me another 31)gash on the index finger and blood 32)trickled down into my palm. I had Hassan hold the string and sucked the blood dry, 33)blotted my finger against my jeans.
Within another hour, the number of surviving kites 34)dwindled from maybe fifty to a dozen. I was one of them. I had made it to the last dozen. I knew this part of the tournament would take a while, because the guys who had lasted this long were good—they wouldn’t easily fall into simple traps like the old liftand-dive, Hassan’s favorite trick. By three o’clock that afternoon, 35)tufts of clouds had drifted in and the sun had slipped behind them. Shadows started to lengthen. The spectators on the roofs bundled up in scarves and thick coats. We were down to a half dozen and I was still flying. My legs ached and my neck was stiff. But with each defeated kite, hope grew in my heart, like snow collecting on a wall, one flake at a time.
After another thirty minutes, only four kites remained. And I was still flying. It seemed I could hardly make a wrong move, as if every gust of wind blew 36)in my favor. I’d never felt so in command, so lucky. It felt 37)intoxicating. I didn’t dare look up to the roof. I didn’t dare take my eyes off the sky. I had to concentrate, play it smart. Another fifteen minutes, it was just me and the other guy. The blue kite. The tension in the air was as 38)taut as the glass string I was tugging with my bloody hands. People were stomping their feet, clapping, whistling, 39)chanting, “Cut him! Cut him!” I wondered if Baba’s voice was one of them. But all I heard—all I 40)willed myself to hear— was the 41)thudding of blood in my head. All I saw was the blue kite. All I smelled was victory. I didn’t know what the other guy was playing for, maybe just bragging rights. But this was my one chance to become someone who was looked at, not seen, listened to, not heard.
It turned out to be sooner than later. A gust of wind lifted my kite and I took advantage. I 42)fed the string, pulled up. Looped my kite on top of the blue one. I held position. The blue kite knew it was in trouble. It was trying desperately to 43)maneuver out of the 44)jam, but I didn’t let go. I held position. The crowd sensed the end was 45)at hand. The chorus of “Cut him! Cut him!” grew louder, like Romans chanting for the 46)gladiators to kill, kill!
“You’re almost there, Amir 47)agha! Almost there!”Hassan was panting. Then the moment came. I closed my eyes and loosened my grip on the string. It sliced my fingers again as the wind dragged it. And then…I didn’t need to hear the crowd’s roar to know I didn’t need to see either. Hassan was screaming and his arm was wrapped around my neck.“48)Bravo! Bravo, Amir agha!”
I opened my eyes, saw the blue kite spinning wildly like a tire come loose from a speeding car. I blinked, tried to say something. But nothing came out. Suddenly I was hovering, looking down on myself from above. Black leather coat, red scarf, faded jeans. A thin boy, a little 49)sallow, and a 50)tad short for his twelve years. He had narrow shoulders and a hint of dark circles around his pale 51)hazel eyes. The breeze 52)rustled his light brown hair. He looked up to me and we smiled at each other. Then I was screaming, and everything was color and sound, and everything was alive and good. I was throwing my free arm around Hassan and we were hopping up and down, both of us laughing, both of us weeping. “You won, Amir agha! You won!”
“We won! We won!” was all I could say. This wasn’t happening. Then I saw Baba on our roof. He was standing on the edge, 53)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. “We’ll celebrate later. Right now, I’m going to run that blue kite for you.” He dropped the spool and took off running, the 54)hem of his green chapan dragging in the snow behind him.
“Hassan!” I called. “Come back with it!”
He was already turning the street corner, his rubber boots kicking up snow. He stopped, and turned. He 55)cupped his hands around his mouth. “For you a thousand times over!” he said. Then he smiled his Hassan smile and disappeared around the corner.