I passed her every day. The little Afghan girl with strikingly icy blue eyes was perched on the curb near the traffic light, waiting to charm drivers into taking pity on her and slipping her money. Her matted brown curls quivered slightly in the wind as she impatiently twiddled with her torn salwar. She whispered into the ear of a boy beside her, who couldn’t have been older than eight or nine. He was covered in the grime that came with living on the streets of a developing city. He smiled mischievously, bouncing a bundle of deep maroon roses on his knee. The girl giggled.
The gleaming traffic light over head changed from green to red, and I heard a sigh from the driver’s seat of the clunky Suzuki in which I was riding. Traffic in Islamabad was always a nightmare, but today it seemed even more sluggish than usual. The unforgiving summer sun glared through the car’s windows. Horns in all different pitches blared around me, creating an obnoxious yet homely sort of music.
This was her cue.
The blue-eyed girl rose from the curb and brushed off her stained dress. She and the boy went separately in premeditated directions. The slovenly boy held up the bundle to each car’s window, tears in his eyes, and a few drivers held crumpled notes out of the window. The children had done this before.
This wasn’t an uncommon scene in Pakistan. Terrified Afghan refugees fled to the only country that welcomed them with open arms. They crammed into busy city streets, collecting income in the only possible way for some: Begging.
The girl approached the window of our derelict car and widened her glassy eyes at us, her lower lip sticking out slightly. Her curls stuck to her dirt streaked forehead as a single tear cleared a path through the filth on her face. It was a routine as old as time, and my mother knew it as she cranked down the manual car window and unzipped her purse. She held out a one hundred rupee note, even though she knew that the money would inevitably be stolen from this sweet child. It really boosts your ego to believe you are helping the world.
As soon as the note entered her hand, the girl’s pained expression melted away and was replaced by a playful grin. She wiped the drop from her cheek with a grimy sleeve that held many past tears. She shoved her earnings into a deep pocket in her clothes, and began to slink to the next car. I felt a pang of helplessness for this girl in my chest, and turned my face out the window. Before her face could disappear into the line of cars, the corners of my lips lifted into a grin. She giggled again, her face crinkling slightly. Even her sky-coloured eyed smiled at me.
I’ll smile at her again tomorrow, I thought to myself.