Devil with the Angel's Eyes (16+)

(Based on Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner)

Saria Ahmed is Assef's twelve year old sister, a charming young girl with bright blue eyes, and curly blonde hair. With her girly dresses and sweet demeanour, she comes across as the perfect child. But there is evil lying just beneath the innocent facade, a darkness that is sometimes beyond her control...

Any characters, words or plot devices taken from the Kite Runner are copyrighted by Khaled Hosseini and Dreamworks studios. I do not own them, and no copyright is intended. Saria Ahmed, and any other characters not owned by Hosseini are owned by me.

Please note that this story does contain strong violence, language and mature themes, but it is meant to reflect the violent and sociopathic natures of both Saria and Assef, and is told from Saria's unique first person perspective. If you are under the age, or maturity level of 16, or are in any way squeamish about violence, please do not read this story. Any feedback/ideas are welcomed.

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22. Birthday Party

In the last chapter, Saria succesfully managed to manipulate Amir once again. She was delighted to watch him throw pomegranates at the Hazara boy. Now, we find her getting ready for school again, but the memory of Amir's actions remain ingrained in her mind...

A good three or four months or so had passed since I had witnessed Amir pelting Hassan with pomegranates and it was now mid May of 1975. The events of a few months ago still often weighed heavily on my mind as I tried daily to make sense of what I had just witnessed. Why my Amir had reacted the way that he did. What had possessed him to throw the fruit at Hassan. Why Hassan had not even once attempted to stand up for himself. Well I knew the answer to that question, anyhow. It was because, just like my Amir had said, Hassan was just a stupid coward. That's all. I sniggered to myself at the memory.

The red fruit juice dripping down Hassan's face like blood. Oh, how I wish it had been blood! I wished I could split Hassan's skull right open and take a look at his brains (or, at least, the little brains that he has) and watch them ooze out of his skull and down his ugly face. I wanted to gauge out his eyeballs and choke him with them. To gut him like a fish. To hang him from his own intestines. To flay him alive. All wonderful fantasies that I would make reality in a heartbeat if I could. I thought about how Amir had pleaded and yelled for Hassan to hit him back. Why? Why would he want to be hit? Why would he want to give someone the power to hurt him? And especially a Hazara of all people.

It made absolutely no sense to me, and no matter how many times I tried to make sense of it, to think of reasons why Amir would want to be hit by Hassan, I came up a blank every time. Even my brother, when I'd spoken to him about it, seemed to have no clue as to why Amir would have wanted that. He was just as confused as I was. It was a true conundrum. The sun was blazing in the open windows of the crowded classroom. Stupidly, I had decided to wear one of my cotton pinafores, the blue and white one with the heavy, itchy material. I wore a white shirt underneath it which was adorned with printed rose petals on the cuffs.

I had long since given up trying to plait my hair, the way I used to when I wore this outfit, (which still fucking fit me even though I've had it since I was nine or thereabouts) and had instead left my hair loose with just a matching blue ribbon clipped into the side. I must have looked absolutely fucking ridiculous, especially compared to the other girls who were dressed in skirts and t-shirts. Even my bitch, sitting beside me with her head down, looked a damn sight nicer than I did. Still, these dresses and ribbons are all a part of the game.

That deceptive little lie to make me seem as innocent and naive as possible. The game had to be played every day, irregardless of how fucking ridiculous I looked or felt. No matter how much of a fool that I must have looked like right at this very moment in time. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. The fucking chair was making the backs of my thighs itch.

I knew that I couldn't fucking scratch myself without seeming disrespectful and rude. 'Fucking chairs, you'd think they'd have better fucking things to sit on and especially since I have to be here for five fucking hours of the day,' I thought to myself. I almost wanted to lay my head down on the desk and go to sleep. I knew this was out of the question however.

Mullah Fahsir Khan had long since forgotten about what Papa had told him about Fahrsan. He wasn't going to give me the same treatment I had been receiving months ago. I was now being treated the same as any of the other girls and that meant I had to behave myself and try my best to pay attention, or at least pretend to do so.

I wouldn't get away with taking a nap now the way that I would have a few months ago. I glanced over at Adia. Her attention was fixed on what the Mullah was writing in chalk on the blackboard. She had moved her chair as far as she could into the corner of her desk. I knew she was just as fearful of me as she'd always been. She placed one hand on her stomach and held it there.

I wondered how well her stomach was healing up from when I'd burned her on my birthday. I knew it had to have healed pretty damn well now, but the scars I had left on her mind would never heal. They were eternal and indelible. I knew I must have caused some severe forms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Thinking this way made me wish that little Ara had not been moved to a special class. I wondered how she would react to seeing me again. I giggled to myself at the thought. Just the image of seeing her stumbling about and crashing into things. It would have been quite interesting to have a blind bitch to boss around and torture. I wondered whether Ara thought of me.

I knew that she must have. Years and years, even adulthood would not dull her memories of me. Of the severe beating that Assef and I had dolled out to her. I know that I say this about all of my victims but I really couldn't give a shit about what happened to her. I couldn't care less whether she had lived or died.

Ara should count herself one of the lucky few who get to say that they fucked around with Saria Ahmed and lived to tell the tale. After all, we could very well have had another Zainab on our hands. Another little girl buried in the ground before her time. Adia caught me staring at her and bit down on her lip in fear. She slid further down into her seat, curling in on herself like a tortoise on its shell.

The way she reacted around me was so fucking hilarious that I almost pissed myself every time I watched it. I reached across and pinched the skin of her stomach. She let out a slight yelp and whimpered, doubling over. ''Come and sit next to me, Adia,'' I ordered. She didn't even hesitate as she moved her chair closer to mine. She truly was a slave to my every whim.

I placed my hand on her leg and dug my nails into the skin. Her reactions were fucking hilarious! She bit her lip and twitched. I knew she wanted to push my hand away from her. To stop me from causing her pain. Not that she would ever do such a thing. The fear that Adia had of me was evident in every core of her body. I could sense it like a shark sending blood in the water. I noticed young Delbar, the girl that I had walked home with once before, looking in our general direction. I smiled sweetly at her.

'Hmm, perhaps I could use her as another bitch,' I pondered to myself. Just like Assef had said, I could never have too many bitches. The little girl returned my smile and then focused her attention once more on the blackboard. I really wished I could physically harm her in much the same way I often did to Adia.

It was nothing personal against her, the girl had done nothing to me. It was honestly just the way that my personality was like. I viewed other human beings as objects and punching bags to use and abuse for my own amusement. With the exception of my brother and possibly Amir as well. Would I ever hurt Amir? I pondered this fact often. I would like to think not, but I knew that the only person I would never be able to cause pain to was Assef. If Amir ever fucked around with me or hurt me in anyway, I knew that I would have to deal with him accordingly.

Still, I did hope that it would never come to this. I did care somewhat for Amir. Not at all the level that I cared for Assef, but I did care! I did. I wasn't a total monster the way some people thought that I was. There are those people who I can care for and bond with. Often times I just couldn't control my temper and actions. I knew I would struggle with walking the straight and narrow for most of my life. Well, walking the straight and narrow just wasn't part of my personslity. It never was and I doubted it ever would be.

Still, I promised myself that if Amir and so ever did and up together, I would do my level best to treat him with respect. To care for him. 'All one day, Saria,' I reminded myself. 'All in the distant future. Don't get ahead of yourself now. After all you're only twelve. Too young to be thinking about marriage and romance in any case. It'll all work out in the end. You'll see.' I said to myself with conviction.

I watched Adia and Delbar again. I had named both girls as mine the moment I saw them. The two were going to be my bitches if I had anything to do with it. Well, little Adia already was. I sniggered to myself as I thought of all the pain and total humiliation I caused to Adia since I had first met her. All those months ago. Like I said before, she was just an object to me. A possession that I could abuse and hurt for my own pleasure. God I fucking detested that child so much. So damn much! I almost wanted to bash her brains in right now. The only thing stopping me in fact was that I would no longer be able to torment her if she were dead.

Adia should consider herself very fortunate to be called my ''friend.'' After all, it's either that or be my enemy, and I know which one I'd rather be. Don't you? I wondered how the little cunt was holding up following Masood's death. I knew that she would be in grieving for her brother for quite a long time. If not forever.

I could sympathise with her somewhat on this. If Assef were to ever die I would kill myself to be with him and I mean that literally. Thinking this way was getting me seriously depressed. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I knew that if I didn't change my thoughts I would be I danger of sobbing my heart out in the middle of class.

'Calm yourself, Saria. Everything is fine!' I chastised myself. I took my compass out of my pencil case and jabbed it into the back of Adia's knee. She let out a loud yelp and almost fell out of her seat. ''Shut the hell up, you bitch!'' I warned.

I pressed the point of the compass further into her leg. She was now whimpering like the frightened dog she is. ''Now Adia, I'm going to take this out. And I'd be willing to bet that it'll hurt like a bitch. So I want you to think very hard about what will happen to you if you scream and get me into trouble. Are we clear?''

She nodded fearfully. I smirked at my bitch. I gave the compass one hard yank and pulled it out of her knee. Adia's eyes rolled back into her head as she bit down hard on her lip to keep from crying out. This was fucking priceless. I instantly felt ten times better.

Hurting Adia just had that effect on me, I guess. I could tell that she was just itching to get away from me. To run and never look back. I laughed at the thought. The knowledge that she would never escape me. Not now and not ever. She was my property and nothing could ever change that. Nothing.

Mullah Fahsir Khan suddenly slammed his thick wooden ruler into the desk. The sound nearly shattered my fucking eardrums. 'This better fucking be good.' I thought to myself. The Mullah's eyes were blazing with rage. ''AHTRAI!'' he screamed loudly. He smacked his ruler down again on the desk.

Ahtrai didn't even respond to him. She was loudly giggling and laughing with a couple of her bitch friends. The five girls were gossiping about some stupid preteen nonsense. The hatred I had for Ahtrai still hadn't wained; and I doubted that it ever would.

The Mullah continued to angrily chastise the girls. ''Are you quite finished, Ahtrai?'' he asked sarcastically. ''Can I please continue teaching?'' he asked her. She didn't even hear him and laughed at one of her little friend's jokes. Now practically every eye was on Ahtrai. The little bitch was really asking for trouble now.

''I'm warning you Ahtrai. Stop talking or would you rather I gave the whole class a pop quiz?'' he asked in pissed off sarcasm. At this, we all let out a collective moan. Ahtrai rolled her eyes and continued to talk. I could sense the Mullah's patience wearing thin. Finally he just snapped.

''That's it, Ahtrai! That's it. I've given you far too many chances.'' With this, he opened a drawer under his desk and took out a stack of papers. ''I was going to give you girls this as a test next week, but seeing as how you can't listen, Ahtrai, I might as well give it out now,'' he snapped.

He began handing out pages. Right now I probably wasn't the only one who wanted to murder Ahtrai. She finally took notice of her pissed off teacher and angry classmates. By now it was of course too late. She went bright red from total embarrassment and shame. 'Good going, you whore,' I thought to myself. Mullah Fahsir Khan placed the test on mine and Adia's desks.

She looked over at me fearfully as though perhaps wondering if I would take my frustrations out on her. I bit my lip and smiled sadly at her. I looked down at the paper in front of me. It was about 20 to 25 short questions based on Pashtun History. What we had been learning about recently. This would be fucking simple for me. Still, I didn't much care for getting punished, so to speak, for Ahtrai's misbehaviour. And who would? Ahtrai's face was as red as a fire truck as she tried to avert the eyes coldly looking at her. I kept staring coldly at her for a few moments.

Adia tapped my side. ''If you don't finish your test you're going to get into trouble,'' she said timidly.

I nodded, knowing that she was right. ''Okay,'' I replied. We continued to answer the test questions in total silence. I wished I could go over to Ahtrai and throttle her right then and there. I bet I wasn't the only one who wanted to do this.

Even Ahtrai's friends were looking at her hatefully. I could tell she just wanted to disappear. To vanish from sight. I wondered whether she had behaved this way in her old school. The school she went to in the Karteh-Char district. I whizzed through the test with extreme simplicity.

I had a feeling I would be getting near perfect marks. The other girls didn't seem quite as happy with their tests. One let out a slight moan of disappointment when Mullah Fahsir Khan insisted he was going to collect them. Delbar looked as though she were about to cry. I rolled my eyes at this. I would give her a lot more reason to cry should I ever get hold of her. We grudgingly handed our papers over to the Mullah as he stacked them and placed them back in his desk. ''I'll correct these and have them back to you for next week,'' he told us.

He chastised Ahtrai again. ''And, Ahtrai, I hope that this is a lesson well learned for you,'' he told her sternly. ''You'll know better than to talk during my class next time, won't you?'' He asked.

She nodded empathically. ''Yes, sir. I'll know better. I will,'' she said in a rushed voice.

He nodded, seemingly satisfied with her answer. ''You may leave,'' he said at long last. The room was suddenly filled with a loud metallic scraping as we all pushed our chairs back and stood up. Everyone was eager to get home and who could blame them.

''What did you think of that test, Saria?'' my bitch asked.

''It was okay. Easy really,'' was all I said in response to this and she knew better than to push the issue any further. She began packing her books and pencils away in her oversized book bag. She must have been just as eager to get the fuck out of here as I was. Assef once again was collecting me.

In fact, neither of our parents had bothered to do the school runs since we'd been back from Islamabad. I honestly think that Mama still had some form of severe depression from what had happened to Fahrsan. I could care less about this. As I already wrote before, Assef has been more of a parental figure to me than they ever could hoped to be. He cared for and loved me much more than they could ever dream of. I could go and on about this.

I don't need to say again how much I love my brother. The hallway was almost deserted as I made my way through it. Of course I had had trouble putting my books in my bag so I was just holding them clutched to my chest. I shuffled along, my eyes downcast. Stupid, retarded girls whizzed past me like flying wasps. I tried my vey best to ignore them as I trudged past them. Little Adia had already been given my permission to leave without me. She was probably getting into her car right now and Javid was taking her home. I could give two shits what she was doing.

I continued to walk through the throes of students. Girls ran past me laughing and shrieking. ''Stupid bimbos,'' I said aloud in German. I rolled my eyes at their childish behaviours. 'Fuck this shit,' I thought as I meandered my way towards the fire exit. Technically, we weren't allowed to use the fire exit, except in an emergency, but the Mullahs never really enforced this rule. Besides, this would get me out to Assef faster.

I trotted through the gangs of girls, trying to avoid eye contact with any of them. Not that anybody cared either way. I had no friends in this entire place. Nobody wanted me as their friend in any case. Do I even need to mention why this was? The hallway had been recently cleaned, so my black patent shoes were making it a fucking chore for me to walk without slipping. I clutched onto my books as I walked tentatively through the hall. As I walked, a small girl of about seven or thereabouts, raced past me with such speed that she slammed right into me.

''WATCH IT!'' I yelled loudly as my feet gave way from under me. I toppled forward and landed on my stomach, flat on the floor. The little cunt didn't even bother to apologize as she hurried away from me. My books lay strewn all around me. ''I should slit that cow's throat for this!'' I spoke loudly in German. I got on my knees as I crawled over to retrieve my books. Just as this was happening, somebody stepped into view. I glanced up to see Ahtrai bending down to pick up my Maths book. She bent down and pushed me right over, causing me to fall flat on my ass once again.

I hissed up at her like a feral cat. A crowd had now gathered around her. Here obviously to take pleasure in my obvious discomfort. Ahtrai placed her hands on her knees. ''Aww, what's wrong, Saria? Can't get up?'' she teased. I lay there, feeling totally degraded as I watched everyone stare at me, ready to make a laughing stock of my total discomfort.

Ahtrai bent over me. Her eyes sharp with hatred; perhaps she was trying to make up for what happened in the classroom earlier. I didn't honestly know. I watched her make a complete laughing stock of me. She grabbed me by the collar and pulled me in close to her. ''Aww, the poor little baby, look at her in the floor,'' she teased. I bit down on my lip as the other girls began to laugh and snigger.

I felt so fucking humiliated. Ahtrai drew her hand back and slapped me right in the face. With a primal burst of energy, I jumped to my feet. I faced Ahtrai head on. ''Do that again Ahtrai,'' I growled, wiping spittle from my mouth. ''Do it again. I dare you. I dare you!'' I hissed.

"Hey, you little freak!" one of her friends piped up. "Why don't you shut your mouth, huh? Or should we shut it for you?"

I rounded on the little bitch, bearing my teeth like a wild animal. ''Bring it, you fag. Anytime, anywhere!'' I held my arms out at my sides and dropped them again in emphasis. I looked at all of them menacingly. I want going to let anyone get the better of me. The word control reverberated in my mind.

I couldn't lose control or I would be seriously implicated. The girl I has just threatened backed away. Apparently she wasn't as brave as she'd like to have thought. I held my hand out, palm up, to Ahtrai. ''May I please have my book?'' I asked. She shook her head as she tossed the book to one of her friends. I watched as they had a fucking game of catch with one of my belongings.

Suddenly, Ahtrai dropped the book at my feet and scarpered with her friends as she spotted one of the Maths teachers coming our way. He put his hand on my shoulder as I bent down to retrieve my tattered Maths book. ''That girl is going to be in a lot of trouble come tomorrow,'' he said by reference to Ahtrai.

''I'm kinda used to it by now. Not a lot of people wanna be my friends,'' I replied innocently.

''Well, that certainly doesn't give her the right to tease you like that. You'll tell one of us if it happens again.'' It wasn't a request so much as an order. I nodded. I didn't say so much as one word to him as I charged out the door and down the steps.

My eyes scoured through the throes of parents, searching for my older brother. I finally spotted him and went hurtling towards him, full speed. I hugged him tightly round the waist, wanting to feel the warmth of the one person who truly loved me. The breath was nearly taken out of him. ''Well, hello there, kiddo. And how was school?''

I looked up at him with tears in my eyes. ''Oh, dear,'' Assef said in a low voice. He gave me a sympathetic look.

''I wanna go home,'' I sniffled. I latched onto Assef's hand as we began to walk.

''Are we going to talk about it?'' Assef asked. I was glad he wanted to help me with my problems.

''It's just Ahtrai again. First some cow knocks me down and then she starts making a laughing stock of me and slaps me in the face. Just who does she think she is!'' I grumbled angrily.

''Did you hurt her too, kiddo?'' he asked.

I shook my head. ''God, I wish I had. They were all just standing around laughing at me. Like I'm some animal in the fucking zoo.'' I buried my head in my hands and let out one long, loud exhale.

''That Ahtrai had better watch herself, kiddo. If she hurts you then she hurts me too,'' Assef said, pointing towards himself in emphasis. I sniffled and squeezed his hand tighter.

''Thanks for listening. I know I can go and on sometimes.''

He waved his hand dismissively. ''What are big brothers for, eh?'' he asked. ''You know you can come to me with anything. You know that.''

I nodded. ''And you're the only one I'd ever tell anything to,'' I told Assef truthfully.

He smiled and kissed my forehead. ''In any case, kiddo, how's about you and I go play some volley ball when we get home?''

I nodded, bouncing excitedly. ''Yes, yes I would love to,'' I exclaimed. Assef knew how much I loved volley ball. He had instantly lifted my spirits. We walked home in the space of about five or so minutes.

''Drop your bag and meet me outside, kiddo,'' Assef said. I nodded, smiling in delight. I tossed my bag in a heap by the fireplace, then followed my brother out into the kitchen. I caught sight of my mother sitting on her own. Her face buried in her hands, tugging at her hair. I stopped for a moment as I stared at her.

''Mama?'' I asked in innocent concern. She looked up and smiled sadly.

''Hello, sweetie. Did you have a good day in school?'' Like I would ever tell her the truth.

''Yes, Mama. No homework or anything.''

Assef poked his head around the door. ''Kiddo? You coming?'' he asked. I nodded. Before I could open my mouth to reply, the phone rang incessantly.

''I'll get it,'' Assef said, coming in just as Mama half-made to stand up. He pressed the receiver to his ear. ''Hello?'' he asked. He bit his lip and smirked at me. ''Oh, hello, Amir jan. How nice to hear from you again,'' he said. I bowed my knees in excitement and looked up at my brother. He beckoned me over. I went to stand at his hip, and he drew me in close.

Assef continued talking. ''Well, yes, we'd love to go to your birthday party. Yes, Saria's here. She'd love to come. 7:00 PM is it? Alright. See you then. I'll let Mother and Father know, yes. Right. Okay. Goodbye now.'' With that having been said, Assef hung up the phone.

''Your Amir's been kind enough to invite us to his birthday party. How does that sound, kiddo?''

''Like fun!'' I exclaimed.

''What sounds like fun?'' Papa asked, coming in with his hands on his hips. ''What kind of trouble are you two getting up to now?'' he asked teasingly.

''Oh, no trouble, Father. Amir jan just invited us to his birthday party tonight,'' Assef said sweetly. He placed a hand on my hair. I giggled and bounced childishly. I truly felt like a fucking idiot behaving in this manner.

''Well, that was very nice of him. You two are going to have to pick out a present for him as well,'' Papa told us. Assef nodded, running a hand through my hair.

''And I know just the thing. Come upstairs with me, Saria.'' I followed my brother into his room. He knelt down at the foot of his bed and felt around under the bed. He took out an old, worn copy of Mein Kampf. The biography of Adolf Hitler.

''Well, what do you think, kiddo? Think Amir will like this present?''

I chortled in response. ''I think he's going to love it,'' I responded. ''But, Assef, isn't that your favourite book?''

''Oh, I have another copy. I'll say this is from both of us,'' he grinned at me.

Amir's party was one of the most extravagant that I had ever seen. His father had hung dozens of blue and reds all through the trees, they flickered like little stars above us as we passed through into the kitchen. Hundreds of guests mingled outside, trying their hands at the food that had been left outside on the tables. I clutched tightly to my brother's hand as we approached the birthday boy.

I didn't like crowds. Amir had just received a book or something from Ali; Hassan's father. He looked up with extreme nervousness plastered on his face as he saw us approaching. The poor thing! ''Happy birthday, Amir,'' Assef exclaimed, stopping in front of the birthday boy and his father. Yusef was all smiles for us. I continued to play up the innocent little girl act. Grinning like a fucking retard.

Amir looked up at my brother, a hundred different emotions flashing through his eyes. Fear, hatred, shame. The works. ''I picked out your present myself. We both did, isn't that right, kiddo?''

I nodded. ''I think you'll really, really like it,'' I said in a sugar sweet voice. Amir still didn't respond. His father was getting a bit pissed off at him, not that I could blame him. This behaviour was not go one should treat their guests. Yusef began to make conversation with my brother.

''Still playing soccer, Assef jan?'' he asked.

Assef nodded, one hand placed on my shoulder. ''Yes, Kaka Jan.''

''Right wing, I assume?''

Assef shook his head in response. ''Actually, I switched to centre forward earlier this year. You can score more goals that way. You know, we're playing against the Mekro-Rayan team next week. That should be a good match. I'd say they have some good players.'' Yusef nodded, engrossed in this sports-orientated conversation.

''You know, I used to play centre-forward too when I was your age,'' he told my brother.

''And I bet you still could, if you wanted to,'' Assef replied, winking at Yusef.

I spoke up to my Amir. ''And are you enjoying your party, Amir?'' I asked the now thirteen-year-old.

''Yeah,'' was his only response to me. I could tell Assef was getting a bit peeved at the rude one word answers as was Yusef.

''Wali and Kamal are here too. They wouldn't miss your party for the world. Say, how about you come up to our house some time for a game of volley ball? Saria's always saying she'd like to see you more often. Bring Hassan if you want to.''

'Yes, so he can get raped again. Might even kill him this time,' I thought. Amir just shook his head 'no.'

''Um, I don't really like volley ball,'' he responded to this. Assef rolled his eyes as I did the same.

''Oh. Suit yourself then. But you have an open invitation in any case. Now, before I forget...'' He held out the wrapped birthday gift to Amir. I couldn't wait for his reaction when he saw what it was. ''I know how much you like to read so Saria and I got you a book. One of our favourites.''

Amir just stood there, dazed, like someone who's been in a head on collision. Staring at the package in my brother's hand. Yusef jabbed him in the side with an elbow. ''Assef and Saria are giving you a present,'' he snapped.

''Oh.'' Reaching out, Amir tugged the present from my brother's hands with no word of thanks.

''Aren't you going to thank them?'' his father asked, voicing my own opinions. ''That was very considerate of them.''

''Thanks,'' Amir muttered. He began backing away like a cornered animal. ''Thanks for coming.'' He turned on his heel and scurried away from us. 'Disrespectful little shit,' I thought. I didn't like thinking about Amir this way. I did care for the boy, but his attitude needed a serious adjustment.

''Well, enjoy the party and thank you again,'' Yusef said again. He left us to our own devices as he went to entertain his other hundreds of guests. I led Assef by the hand over to one of the tables.

''Having fun, kiddo?'' he asked, popping some finger food in his mouth. I nodded and did likewise.

''Amir's being very rude,'' I stated matter-of-factly.

''He should feel lucky that this is his party or else the brass knuckles might have been brought out. No offense, kiddo, I know you have a soft spot for him,'' Assef replied.

I shook my head. ''If that's what it takes for him to learn manners. Where is the birthday boy, anyhow?'' I asked.

''You know something, kiddo, that is a really good question. I have no idea.'' Assef rolled his eyes. ''You'd think that he'd be around, after all this is his birthday party. Or maybe he's gone inside.'' A group of children about my age or younger raced past us, laughing like little hyenas.

I nearly lost my footing as they thundered past. ''Dumb bitches,'' Assef swore in German, grabbing my arm to stop me from falling. ''Are you okay, kiddo?'' he asked. I nodded.

''Yeah, I...'' I nearly jumped out of my fucking skin as a loud bang sounded from somewhere in the garden. I cocked my head up at my brother.

''Assef, what's that?'' I whispered. Assef pointed towards the sky in answer.

''Look, Saria, fireworks.'' We stood there for God knows how long, my arm around his waist, gazing at the sky, the brilliant showers of colour miles up above us. To me, this very moment felt peaceful. It felt calming to my soul. Assef ran his fingers over my scalp as we just enjoyed each others company. After a few moments, we spotted Hassan timidly approaching us, a drinks platter in both of his tiny hands.

His head was bowed. I bit my lip and giggled at the memory of what Assef had done to him. Assef grabbed the young Hazara boy by the collar and drew him in close. He took two drinks from the tray and handed one to me.

''Thank you,'' I said. My attention was fixed on the fearful look in Hassan's eyes. He tiptoed away quietly, not even bothering to look back at us. Assef and I both looked at each other and cracked up.

I doubled over, palms on my knees, wheezing with laughter. I hadn't really laughed this much since the rape. Nobody seemed to have payed attention to this, not that I minded in any case. The party lasted until about twelve o clock or thereabouts. As we were leaving, I noticed something sticking out of the bushes, amidst a tangle of weeds.

It was covered with muck. I bent down to retrieve it. I wiped the mud off the cover. My face fell as I recognised what it was. The book that Assef and I had given Amir for his birthday. I bit my lip and narrowed my eyes angrily at it. ''Nice, really fucking nice, Amir,'' I whispered.

Assef turned to me. ''What ya got there, kiddo?'' he asked. I held the book out towards him.

''Here,'' I half-spat, pushing the book into his hands. Assef took it from me. He just stared at it for a few moments.

''The fucking nerve of him,'' he swore loudly. ''What do you see in that boy, Saria?'' he asked, puzzled.

''A lot less than I used to. That's for sure. I'm telling you now, if someone disrespects my brother, then they disrespect me too,'' I said passionately.

''In any case, kiddo. Let's get home. You must be tired.'' I nodded and we slid into the car. Mama's mood had seemed to have lifted slightly. She smiled at us in the rear view mirror.

As we drove away, I turned back and stared as Amir's house got smaller and smaller. I spotted his tiny form slipping back into his house and glared at him. The love I had for him was slowly dwindling. Nobody got to disrespect me or Assef like that. Nobody had the right to treat either of us that way. ''Kiddo?'' Assef asked, tapping my shoulder.

I turned back to face him. I leaned in to whisper in my brother's ear. ''Believe me, Assef. That boy will learn to respect you. To respect us. Either that or he'll pay the price for it. Sooner or later everything will fall into place. I promise.''

In the next chapter, Saria finally gets her ultimate dream, as Hassan leaves Kabul forever. As always, any comments, queries or the like, feel free to contact me. :D Ideas are also welcomed. Please feel free to PM me.

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