“There are only three real men in this world, Amir,” he’d say. He’d count them off on his fingers: America the
brash savior, Britain, and Israel.
If being a "brash savior" is the definition of being a real man, then Baba would be a real man while Amir would be wishing he could be. Baba stood up to a gun-toting soldier to save an unfamiliar young woman from rape, while Amir watched and then ran away from a bully who was raping his loyal servant, playmate, and friend.
spin,wind, or twist together
He missed people milling in and out of his house, missed walking down the bustling aisles of Shor Bazaar and greeting people who knew him and his father, knew his grandfather, people who shared ancestors with him, whose pasts
intertwined with his.
My student hand, clean and soft, on his laborer’s hand, grubby and
calloused. I thought of all the trucks, train sets, and bikes he’d bought me in Kabul. Now America. One last gift for Amir.
Although the comparison here is between Amir and his father's hands, it could also be made between Amir and Hassan's hands. Amir and Hassan both got calluses from flying kites during the winter, but when school was in session, Amir had soft, clean hands, while Hassan continued to have the grubby calloused hands of a servant. Both Baba and Hassan calloused their hands to make life easier for Amir, but Baba was a rich businessman once, so his calluses came with more pain.
provide physical relief, as from pain
And that was how Baba ended those humiliating food stamp moments at the cash register and
alleviated one of his greatest fears: that an Afghan would see him buying food with charity money.
walk leisurely and with no apparent aim
I ran the stand sometimes as Baba
sauntered down the aisle, hands respectfully pressed to his chest, greeting people he knew from Kabul: mechanics and tailors selling hand-me-down wool coats and scraped bicycle helmets, alongside former ambassadors, out-of-work surgeons, and university professors.
softly bright or radiant
Lying awake in bed that night, I thought of Soraya Taheri’s sickle-shaped birthmark, her gently hooked nose, and the way her
luminous eyes had fleetingly held mine.
someone who offers opposition
I could never read the thoughts in the general’s eyes, but I knew this much about his wife: If I was going to have an
adversary in this—whatever this was—it would not be her.
tiresomely long; seemingly without end
I tossed in my sheets and stared at the ceiling, dismayed at the thought of six laborious,
interminable nights of yelda until I saw her again.
diffusing warmth and friendliness
I actually liked it when Khanum Taheri was there, and not just because of her
amiable ways; Soraya was more relaxed, more talkative with her mother around.
something that is inferred
Then her face reddened with a blush at what she had blurted, at the
implication of her answer, that “Amir Conversations” took place between them when I wasn’t there.
threatening or foreshadowing evil or tragic developments
I thanked him as I helped Baba out of the office, thinking that now I had to live a whole week with this new word, "mass,” an even more
ominous word than “suspicious.”
the trait of being uncommunicative
But there was a new
reticence to Khanum Taheri’s demeanor.
pull back or move away or backward
When his cheeks hollowed. And his temples melted. And his eyes
receded in their sockets.
moderating pain or sorrow by making it easier to bear
“As you can see, the cancer’s metastasized,” he said. “He’ll have to take steroids to reduce the swelling in his brain and antiseizure medications. And I’d recommend
palliative radiation. Do you know what that means?”
I pulled the blanket back up to his chest where ribs stretched his thin,
sallow skin. “Can I do anything else for you, Baba?”
For all the
frenzied preparations that went into the wedding night—most of it, blessedly, by Khanum Taheri and her friends— I remember only a handful of moments from it.
an affront to one's self-esteem
Baba had wrestled bears his whole life. Losing his young wife. Raising a son by himself. Leaving his beloved homeland, his watan. Poverty.
Indignity. In the end, a bear had come that he couldn’t best.
wear off or die down
When the headaches struck, the general went to his room, undressed, turned off the light, locked the door, and didn’t come out until the pain
reduce in worth or character, usually verbally
I learned that he had kept his family on welfare and had never held a job in the U.S., preferring to cash government-issued checks than
degrading himself with work unsuitable for a man of his stature—he saw the flea market only as a hobby, a way to socialize with his fellow Afghans.
violently angry and destructive behavior
I firmly believed that if I had picked up a rifle and gone on a murdering
rampage, I would have still had the benefit of her unblinking love.
any unwholesome or desperate condition
Because I had rid her heart of its gravest
malady. I had relieved her of the greatest fear of every Afghan mother: that no honorable khastegar would ask for her daughter’s hand.
strong feelings of embarrassment
Soraya joined me at San Jose State the following year and enrolled, to her father’s
chagrin, in the teaching track.
imparting strength and vitality
The idea of fatherhood unleashed a swirl of emotions in me. I found it frightening,
invigorating, daunting, and exhilarating all at the same time.
The last time Amir used the words "exhilarating" and "frightening" in the same sentence was when he was a twelve-year-old thinking about the possibility of his father clobbering a thief. In the example sentence, Amir is twenty-six and married, and he adds the adjectives "invigorating" and "daunting" to describe his own possible fatherhood, which shows how much he has chronologically and emotionally grown.
make a more or less disguised reference to
The general, ever the Pashtun, never made any queries—doing so meant
alluding to a sexual act between his daughter and a man, even if the man in question had been married to her for over four years.
capable of being imagined
The next few months were a blur of tests on Soraya: Basal body temperatures, blood tests for every
conceivable hormone, urine tests, something called a “Cervical Mucus Test,” ultrasounds, more blood tests, and more urine tests.
"Conceivable" is being used as a pun that refers to all the possible hormones that might affect the chances of conceiving a child.
marked by extreme care in treatment of details
IVF proved lengthy,
meticulous, frustrating, and ultimately unsuccessful.
uncertain or unable to decide about what course to follow
We’d talked at home about adoption. Soraya was
ambivalent at best.
relatively long in duration
The general’s shattered hip—and all of the ensuing complications, the pneumonia, blood poisoning, the
protracted stay at the nursing home—ended Khala Jamila’s long-running soliloquies about her own health.
the state of being weak in health or body
frailty—and time—had softened things between him and Soraya too.
uselessness as a consequence of having no practical result
Our lovemaking was still good, at times better than good, but some nights all I’d feel was a relief to be done with it, to be free to drift away and forget, at least for a while, about the
futility of what we’d just done.