Imagine that Baba writes a letter to Rahim Khan
‘Imagine that Baba writes a letter to Rahim Khan after he and Amir had been in America for a few years, in which Baba explains how he feels about his life in America with Amir..
.’Rahim Khan. How I miss hearing that name. Inshallah, this letter finds you healthy and well old friend, I have been in America for years now my friend without hearing the familar sound of your name. But this is not the only name I miss hearing.
How long it has been since I answered to the call of ‘Toophan agha’, the many days have not slipped my notice. How long has it been since we were sitting in my study, sipping Brandy and fattening our pipes? Too long my friend. Afghanistan seems a lifetime ago agha. You know me agha, you know that I do not tolerate any form of sympathy from others. Ever. It is the most humiliating form of shame.
But I know that if I did not admit all this to you, you would be able to guess from the tone of my letter. I would expect nothing less from a man I have known most of my life; if you were not my closest friend Rahim, I would not admit this to you – life here has not been easy.How naive I was, “America, the brash saviour” I used to think. Never again. America is not the beautiful land of freedom it has always been painted as, agha. There is smog here that grasps and claws at your eyes, the traffic noise is like a monstrous beast that constantly beats at your head – never giving you a second’s peace, the pollen flies into your throat and forces you to cough until your lungs ache and your throat is raw and sore.
Even the fruit here is dreadful – it is bitter and sour, nothing like the juicy sweet fruits we had back in Afghanistan; just like the water here, it tastes strange and leaves a horrible aftertaste. Dirty. Just like everything else in this country. They don’t even have trees and open fields here agha, just nothing but miles and miles of grey road that reaches out to the horizon and leaves me with nothing but a dull disappointment at what this country has to offer.
Sometimes, when I have some time free, I think about Afghanistan; the sugarcane fields of Jalalabad and the gardens of Paghman. Strange how you never really notice the beauty of something until it is taken away from you. I miss the hundreds of people that milled in and out of my house at the legendary parties I held; it is disconcerting agha, to know I will never walk down the bustling aisles of Show Bazaar and greet people who knew me and my father, who knew my grandfather, people who even shared ancestors with me – people with whom my life was irrevocably intertwined with.And the people here! They make me miss the gossiping Afghans.
At least our people are noble and trusting. I was once in a shop, buying fruits and the owner asked to see my license. Can you believe that Rahim?! Almost two years I had been buying his damn fruits, almost two years I had been putting money in his pocket, and the son of a dog wanted to see my license! What type of country is this, I thought to myself – a place where no one trusts anybody.Amir says I’m still “adjusting”.
Ha! Adjusting, I tell you. A real man does not adjust to what he is given, but adjusts what he is given to fit him. God forbid I turn into one of those cowards that bends as soon as they are faced with a hard situation. I spit at such men.
You know that, Rahim. Even America mocks such people. They give them free money here, for those too lazy to work. They even offered it to me. As if I would ever accept such charity! If adjusting to America means becoming lazy and useless, then I would rather never adjust.
I’d much rather get a chatti job and work for my own money. And that is what I have done agha, I come home every day with my nails chipped and black with engine oil, my knuckles scraped, the smells of the gas station – dust, sweat and gasoline, on my clothes. But I do not complain. Because it is the path I chose. The path of dignity.
However Rahim, as disillusioned as I was with America, it all changed on the day of Amir’s graduation. I was so moftakir. No, I am so moftakhir of him. My son, a graduate from American high school.
It reminds me agha, that I did not bring us to America for me, that everything I have endured in America is worth it for Amir’s success. It has made me realise that America has made me genuinely happier than I ever was before – I see what it is you used to see in him, I regret the days I questioned whether Amir was truly a son of mine and claimed to be happy for him when I witnessed a relationship between the two of you that I felt I could never capture with him myself. The night of Amir’s graduation, I threw a party. One perhaps lacking in grandeur, but rich in spirit. It was in a small dim-lit bar, with a crowd of Americans that I did not know, yet it was one of the best parties I had thrown.
And why? Because it had meaning. It was in celebration of the success of my son.A wise man once said to me that children aren’t colouring books; you don’t get to fill them with your favourite colours. I realise now, they are not colouring books but great extravagant pieces of art, surrounded by colours of splendor and beauty – you may not love every part of the artwork; there may be brushstrokes that were too rash, too hurried, too rough, but you sit back, behold its magnificence and love it anyway, because it is a masterpiece that you painted yourself, on a once blank canvas. Amir wants to go to university, study ‘English’ and something he calls ‘Creative Writing’.
Stories. It is as I had once feared, but now have learnt to accept. Amir the storyteller. I still fear though Rahim, I fear that he is not discovered as a writer and will have to get a chatti job like mine; but I have learnt from my mistakes – my life is my own and Amir’s is his, interfering will merely push us further apart. I have given up my whole life for Amir, he is all I have now, and nothing will change that. I am not going to lose him for anything, not even for myself.
There is a place here in America, the Afghan flea market in San Jose. It is a place where we Afghans gather every Sunday, Rahim. It lifts my spirits and reminds me that me and Amir are not completely alone in this foreign country. You buy unwanted, used, junk on Saturday, then sell it to the Americans on Sunday for a higher price.
I do not do this every week for the money agha, I do it because it is like a small piece of Afghanistan lodged in the monumental maze of freeways that is America. Other Afghans are here too, selling things. It makes me sad to see former ambassadors, out-of-work surgeons, and university professors to be reduced to such a demeaning form of earning their living. But zandagi migzara agha, life goes on.
You offer them a bite of potato bolani or a little qabuli, you chat – make small talk, then shake your head mournfully when the conversation turns to Afghanistan and the Roussis, then talk talks to gossip and I walk away. You can take the Afghans out of Paghman, but you can’t take Paghman out of Afghans.You remember General Taheri, agha? A decorated general in Kabul, worked for the Ministry of Defence? He has a daughter. One that seems to have made an impression on Amir it seems.
Her name is Soraya; there was some talk about her. That there was a man once, and things, didn’t go well. But she is a decent girl, hardworking and kind, but no khastegars, no suitors, have knocked on the general’s door since. Rahim, the way he looks at her haunts me- it is a look I once wore all those years ago, Sofia Akrami, my princess.
The look you once wore, your Homaira. I see it when their hands brush, when she smiles at him, I see his hands twitch at his sides when her hair falls in her eyes – like what he most desires is to tuck it behind her ear, lovingly. He has not yet asked me to ask the general for permission for Soraya’s hand in marriage, but I know he will one day, soon. You know I have never been a man that believes in fate and destiny, but something in Amir’s eyes tells me that this is going to blossom into something beautiful. I know it. I have spent my life preparing Amir for the harsh realities of life and that he will one day have to be independent and have his own life; it is now through the eyes of an older and wiser man that I see that Amir is finally starting the rest of his life.
I wish him good luck and I hope he grows into a much better man that I was ever able to be.I am dying, my old friend. Saratan. Well, ‘Oat Cell Carcinoma’ they call it, but that’s just a fancy name for cancer.
Amir says I should take chemo medication, I sighed when I heard this. He is still not yet a man. Chemo medication prolongs the inevitable, I would die either way. Chemo medication is for the weak, the faint-hearted who are not yet familiar with the idea of death and need a few more months to come to terms with their fate. Chemo medication is not for me.
Maybe he will one day grasp the concept of nobility and bravery – the concept that moulds a man. But I can help him no longer and can only hand him over to his own uncertain future. I hope he finds what he is looking for.But me? I am an old man now agha, I have resigned myself to this fact – I have lived a full and plentiful life. Coming to America demolished the wall between Amir and myself; it is a decision that I will never regret, a decision I will cherish forever.
I write this letter to you as a goodbye, you have accompanied me throughout life, my best friend. I write this letter with a heavy heart, one that will never be able to let go of the weight of regret that trails behind me whereever I go. I hope that in death, I am released of this burden. My one regret. Hassan.
Ali. My child. My brother. I hope with all my heart that they are well, this is the most I can do for them.
Maybe I will meet them again in another lifetime and be able to repent for my mistakes, to right what I did wrong. Hope is all I can afford now.America, the brash saviour. I had always thought this meant saviour of other countries, of other lives. Bas. America was my saviour.
She was what opened my eyes to the one son I had left and was still pushing away, She was the push that pushed him back to me. My Amir.