Blood seeps through the gauze on Salima’s foot. It’s what we notice first: the dark, rusty seepage a sharp contrast to the pastels of her pajamas and room. She’s thirteen, we learn, but the distant look in her eyes belongs to someone much older. She sits squat on the bed, chin resting on her knee. She seems mindless of her burns. Her mother and sister also survived, but three others in her family were killed when the American helicopter opened fire on their tent in Kandahar.
After training in Mississippi we flew to the southern part of California and trained for two more weeks in the desert. After the desert it was time to move again. In Maine, middle-aged women and their kids waved flags along the ramp leading from the skyway to the terminal. They were cheering. Shaking all our hands as we moved down the ramp. There were kids, too, and the kids seemed less sure of what was happening. Like they knew that we hadn’t done anything yet to deserve this and they were confused about the cause of the praise, like I was. Or they knew exactly where we were going. And they were confused about the cause of the praise. When the refueling of our plane was completed we shook their hands again on the way out.