Assef waved a dismissive hand. "Bakhshida. Forgiven. It's done.?His voice dropped a little. "Ofcourse, nothing is free in this world, and my pardoncomes with a small price."
"That's fair," Kamal said.
"Nothing is free," Wali added.
"You're a lucky Hazara," Assef said, taking a step toward Hassan. "Because today, it's only goingto cost you that blue kite. A fair deal, boys, isn't it?"
"More than fair," Kamal said.
Even from where I was standing, I could see the fear creeping into Hassan's eyes, but he shookhis head. "Amir agha won the tournament and I ran this kite for him. I ran it fairly. This is hiskite."
"A loyal Hazara. Loyal as a dog," Assef said. Kamal's laugh was a shrill, nervous sound.
"But before you sacrifice yourself for him, think about this:
Would he do the same for you? Have you ever wondered why he never includes you in gameswhen he has guests? Why he only plays with you when no one else is around? I'll tell you why, Hazara. Because to him, you're nothing but an ugly pet. Something he can play with when he'sbored, something he can kick when he's angry. Don't ever fool yourself and think you'resomething more."
"Amir agha and I are friends," Hassan said. He looked flushed.
"Friends?" Assef said, laughing. "You pathetic fool! Someday you'll wake up from your littlefantasy and learn just how good of a friend he is. Now, bas! Enough of this. Give us that kite."
Hassan stooped and picked up a rock.
Assef flinched. He began to take a step back, stopped. "Last chance, Hazara."
Hassan's answer was to cock the arm that held the rock.
"Whatever you wish." Assef unbuttoned his winter coat, took it off, folded it slowly anddeliberately. He placed it against the wall.
I opened my mouth, almost said something. Almost. The rest of my life might have turned outdifferently if I had. But I didn't. I just watched. Paralyzed.