The story jumps to March of 1981. Amir and Baba, along with several others, are in the back of a truck fleeing Afghanistan for Pakistan. The drive is bumpy and makes Amir feel car sick, which Baba sees as another of Amir’s weaknesses. They had to flee at night and leave no evidence of their escape, because informers are everywhere. Afghanistan is under the control of Afghan communists and Russian soldiers. They have turned everyone against each other, and people inform on each other for money or under duress.
The political situation in Afghanistan has changed drastically since the last chapter. In 1978 the Afghan communist party overthrew President Daoud Khan, and there were many executions of those opposed to the new party. This led to the paranoia and betrayals that Amir describes. In 1979, external Russian forces invaded the country, leading to even more violence and turmoil.
The driver, Karim, is first taking them to Jalalabad, where his brother will drive them the rest of the way to Peshawar, Pakistan. Karim has an arrangement with the Russian soldiers that guard the road. They arrive at a checkpoint, and a young Russian soldier eyes a woman in the truck and decides to increase the price of passing through – he wants half an hour with the woman.
This is the first example of the power shift that has occurred in Afghanistan. “Assef types” are in control now, and they can use their power to act on their cruel whims. The theme of rape returns with the soldier’s demand, symbolizing the larger rape of Afghanistan by violence and oppression.
Baba stands up and tries to shame the Russian soldier, but the soldier says there is no shame in war. Baba still won’t stand aside and the soldier threatens to shoot him. Amir tries to get Baba to sit down, but he pushes Amir away. Just before the soldier shoots, another Russian stops him. When the truck starts moving again, the young woman’s husband kisses Baba’s hand.
For Baba, strong moral principles are as important as ever, so his country’s disintegration into lawlessness and atrocity is a personal affront to him. He is willing to face danger and death for his principles, but in this he is a minority. Baba tries to shame the Russian soldier, but there is little honor left in Afghanistan any more.
When the truck reaches Jalalabad, Karim tells them that his brother Toor can no longer take them to Peshawar, as his truck broke down the week before. Baba is furious that Karim kept this information from them just so he could get paid for his leg of the journey, and he attacks Karim and starts strangling him until the young woman asks him to stop.
Baba is again insulted by a lack of honor, this time in Karim, one of his countrymen, who lies to get paid. Baba is wrestling another “bear” here as he attacks Karim, trying to personally preserve the honor and dignity of his country through his own strength of will and body.
The group then joins a larger group of refugees who are staying in a basement. Amir recognizes Kamal among them, but he looks sickly and old. Amir overhears Kamal’s father explaining what happened to him – four men caught Kamal while he was out alone and raped him, and now Kamal no longer speaks, but just stares.
Rape returns here as another example of the atrocities in Afghanistan. Kamal, who, in a tragic irony, helped Assef rape Hassan, is clearly haunted by his past trauma now.
Karim finally finds a way to get the refugees to Pakistan, but it is not his brother’s truck – it is a fuel truck. Before they get in the truck Baba picks up a handful of Afghan dirt, kisses it, and stows it in a snuff box next to his heart. Inside the truck it is terrifyingly dark and the air is thick with fumes, which makes it hard to breathe. Amir is saved from his panic by the small light of Baba’s wristwatch. Baba whispers in his ear to think of something happy, and Amir immediately thinks of a day flying kites with Hassan.
Baba kisses the soil of Afghanistan, already mourning for a country that is destroying itself. Amir’s happy childhood with Hassan is here not just a source of remorse but also of strength. Flying kites becomes a symbol of hope for something better, and nostalgia for a past that was more innocent and peaceful. Amir has finally lost all his privileges and wealth, and is reduced to huddling in the back of a fuel truck.
They arrive in Pakistan and unload the truck. Amir is saddened by the sight of Baba’s two suitcases – the result of all his life’s work, along with “one disappointing son.” Suddenly Kamal’s father starts screaming, as Kamal isn’t breathing. Kamal’s father lunges for Karim and wrests his gun away. Before anyone can stop him, he puts the gun in his own mouth and pulls the trigger.
The horrors of their journey continue, as everything safe and stable has been torn away. Kamal was an antagonistic character at first, but after suffering so much he becomes sympathetic. Hosseini reminds us that these are just children – the powerless being raped by the powerful.