Basmina, an adorable little street urchin who begs in front of my office, has been a little brightness that greets me each day at work. I've seen her perched up in a tree as she plays with her brother. I've given her leftovers to quench her hunger. I even go outside and pretend to be a grumpy old lady now and then when the kids are shouting loudly on the street. "Yar! Yar! Yar!" I mimic their voices. "Why are you making so much noise?" Basmina laughs at me.
This morning when I arrived at work, Basmina and her younger brother ran up to say hello. I pat her head, noting that she cut her brown bobbed hair and now looks like a "bacha" -- a boy. She flashed her toothy smile, her brown freckles dotting her cheeks. Clutched in her left hand was a mini-bouquet of various weeds and grasses: She and her little brother were walking down the street picking the weeds because there are no flowers. I breathed in her warm smile again before heading in to work.
About a minute later, as I was settling into my desk, I heard her screaming. I headed outside to play the curmudgeonly old lady again, prepared to pretend to yell at the kids, but Basmina wasn't there. Her little brother was standing there looking rather forlorn, surrounded by several adults, as an SUV sped away. "What happened?" Basmina had been hit by the SUV while picking her weeds. The vehicle was taking her to the hospital. I looked at the spot where I had left her on the sidewalk next to my office, and her bouquet of weeds was lying there where she had dropped them.
I went to visit her in the hospital. She had a splint from her foot up to her waist. Her femur was broken. She screamed in pain and cried aloud, but spilled no tears. She begged me again and again for water. The doctors said no water, perhaps a rupture in the abdomen. I told her the IV saline was special water. She pleaded with me to go home. I told her she needed to stay in the hospital. She speaks decent English, enough to beg from foreigners on the street, and in her wounded, confused daze, she turned to me -- wanting water, wanting to go home -- and accidentally blurted out instead, "One dollar!" Even with her broken femur and the bleeding pain in her abdomen, we had a brief giggle. I leaned close to her, touching my cheek to hers, so that she could hear my breath as I tried to fill her with a slow calm.
She was a good girl today. I had her small hand grab my thumb and told her to look me in the eyes as doctors inserted the IV. Despite the pain she was in, I managed to get her to smile at me more than once. I went back to work, then returned at 5 p.m., about eight hours after the accident, and she had just been wheeled in for surgery. I worry that she lost too much blood. I worry that in a country like Afghanistan, the operation will go awry. I worry that she will not heal well in this war-torn, impoverished country and will be handicapped forever.
I only knew Basmina from our brief encounters, but today I felt so intricately linked to her. In the longed-for before, I saw a bright and happy young girl with the possibility, no matter how dim, of a decent future. Later, as I tried to keep up her spirits in the hospital, her tiny little frame on the hospital gurney, I grieved deeply. Basmina was the drop that made me overflow.
As these events tossed about my head all day, I learned that Basmina means "fragrance." I don't have any pictures of her. I took for granted that her freckles and smile would be there to greet me tomorrow.