We sat in the restaurant having breakfast. This is one of my favourite meals of the day when done in proper Pakistani fashion: delicious parathas, fried circles of dough enriched with ghee, and puris, deep-fried dough puffs as light as air, with spicy omelettes and chickpea curry. Everything was fresh and hot and we washed it all down with sweet yoghurt lassi and Kashmiri tea.
Then I looked out of the window and saw three girls watching us through the plate glass. With their pale skin and piercing eyes they had to be Afghans. Their dupattas were wrapped tightly around their heads and they stood in silence, unmoving, watching steadily as I helped our daughter finish her drink, holding the straw so she could sip the last bits of lassi from the glass. They looked similar enough to be sisters, aged perhaps 5, 7 and 9. The oldest held a scruffy sack over her shoulder. They would spend the day scavenging through the bazaars of Islamabad, collecting old bottles and rags to sell for a few rupees. The restaurant’s cook, seeing them staring at us, started to shoo them away. Perhaps he thought they would put us off our breakfast – and besides, Afghans are not popular in Pakistan.
I beckoned the waiter over and asked him to send breakfast out to the girls. He nodded, smiling, and called to the cook to start preparing food for them. A few minutes later a package of food was pressed into their hands and they were shooed away. I had assumed they would eat it themselves but no, it was safely stowed away to be taken home for the family. One of them, the oldest, smiled shyly as she skipped away.
Later, when we left, I saw the girls scampering away from our car in the car park. I looked, surprised, and saw three stars which they had drawn in the dust of the rear windscreen. Three stars scrawled in the dirt, a tiny fragment of beauty in a world in profound need of restoration. The girls skipped away laughing, and, rounding a corner, were gone.