Wakeel was the kite master, the kite-flying teacher to us all. The kids on the street had given him the title of "Wakeel, the Cruel Cutter," because he had cut so many of their kites.
One afternoon, Wakeel looked at me as we were heading to the roof with our kites and said, "Let's have a fight!" As usual, his long, dark hair fell over his forehead, brushing his thick eyebrows. And below them were his deep-set, dark eyes that sparkled, always.
I said okay, though I knew he would cut me right away. But from the earliest age we are taught never to run away from a fight, even if we think we cannot win.
The roof of Grandfather's apartment block was ideal for kite flying. Rising high above the trees that grew along the street, it was like a stage. People belowadults as well as kidswould see the kites going into the air, and stop everything that they were doing to watch the outcome. A good fight would be talked about for days after.
After we had had our kites in the air for half an hour, taunting and feinting, Wakeel called from the far end of the roof in amazement, "You have learned a lot! It used to take me only five minutes to cut you. Now it has been more than half an hour, and you are still in the sky."
Suddenly, he used a trick that he had not yet shown me. He let his kite loop around mine as if he were trying to choke it. I felt the string in my hand go slack, and there was my kite, flat on its back, wafting back and forth like a leaf in autumn, drifting off across the sky away from me.
Wakeel laughed and made a big show of letting his kite fly higher so everybody in the street could see he had yet again been the victor. I ran downstairs to get another kite.
Berar, a Hazara teenager who worked with our gardener, loved kite fighting. All the time I had been battling Wakeel, he had been carefully following every dive, envious.
Berar was a few years older than Wakeel, tall, handsome, and hardworking. His family lived in Bamyan, where the big statues of Buddha were carved into the mountains. Berar was not his real name. Berar in Hazaragi dialect means "brother." We did not know what his real name was, and he did not mind us calling him Berar.
As the suspense had built between Wakeel and me, Berar could not stop watching us. The old gardener spoke to him impatiently several times: "The weeds are in the ground, not in the sky. Look down." The gardener was always harsh to Berar.
"Give the boy a break," Grandfather told the gardener. They were working together on Grandfather's beloved rosebushes. I had just sent a second kite into the air. Grandfather nodded at Berar. "Go on," he said.
Berar ran up to the rooftop, where I was struggling to gain altitude while avoiding Wakeel's torpedoing attacks. Berar took the string from me and told me to hold the reel.
I had never seen Berar fly a kite before. I kept shouting at him, "Kashko! Kashko! Pull it in!" But Berar did not need my instructions; he knew exactly what to do. Wakeel shouted at me that I could have a hundred helpers and he would still cut me. Though he was tall and skinny, he was very strong and he was furiously pulling in his kite to circle it around mine.
Berar was getting our kite very high very fast, until in no time at all it was higher than Wakeel's. Then he made it dive so quickly that it dropped like a stone through the air. Suddenly, there was Wakeel's kite, drifting back and forth from left to right, floating off to Kandahar, separated from the now limp string in Wakeel's hand.
I climbed on Berar's shoulders, screaming for joy. I had the string of my kite in my hands. My kite was so high in the sky, it looked like a tiny bird. The neighbor kids on the street were shouting, too. They had not seen Berar doing it, only me on Berar's strong shoulders, cheering and shouting: "Wakeel, the Cruel Cutter, has been cut!" I kissed Berar many times. He was my hero. He gave me the title of "Cutter of the Cruel Cutter," even though it was he who had made it happen.
Copyright © 2013 by Qais Akbar Omar
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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