When I think of Bella, I think of dust, for the arid country in which she lived was no friend of the meticulous housewife. And as I begin to feel the swirling dust exfoliate my skin, my right hand automatically, subconsciously drifts to my left wrist, feeling for the plastic bracelet I lost long ago and finding only the memory of its origin. Bella came to me in the summer, when the sun was high and hot, and my hair had begun to turn red with its heat. More factually, I went to Bella, in a group of thirty, on the quintessential summer mission trip to Mexico. Filled with our romantic plans and burdened with craft supplies, we entered a small, worn, and obviously loved gym. Our first project was to advertise, and as we set out into the surrounding neighborhood, I began to miss the smooth pavement of America.
The next day, having used my allotted eight minutes of hot water and five minutes of mirror time, my feelings of discomfort were far from alleviated.
I was to be a group leader, meaning that I alone would be working with a small group of children whose names were as foreign to me as the wind to a worm. By this time, I was so far from my comfort zone I was beginning to lose sight of it, and a few more steps would put me in danger of getting lost on my way back.
This is where Bella floated into my life. As we sat on the gym floor, me trying desperately not to show my fear, Bella and her sister coloring contentedly, my eyes fell on a subject guaranteed to generate conversation: jewelry. Bella had adorned her small wrist with a bracelet woven of thin strips of plastic. It had an unmistakable air of mission trip about it and as I pointed to it and gestured my admiration, I envisioned her sitting on this same hard floor with another girl, one hopefully more adept than I. The thought that Bella had done this before, that she knew the routine made me relax, and after a bit I even found my waxen smile melting into one of genuine pleasure.
Over the next four days, Bella became a constant in my life. Every morning, bracelet donned, sister in hand, she marched through the crowd of surging children and found me. She repeated this routine with such a steadfast air, that I felt sure she would have found me had I suddenly relocated home. Her regularity was comforting, and if nothing else, I appreciated that it was me she found, eradicating the possibility of my ending up with a new name and face to learn every day. Bella marched right through the week and ushered in Friday with all the assurance a nine year old commands.
We wrapped up the week in true mission trip style: with candy and lots of it. Our fructose-packed handfuls engendered so chaotic a frenzy that when Bella’s turn came I could only manage a quick bye and a smile in the direction of her and her sister before I was again absorbed by the hyped crowd. With a fond smile I watched her small back grow even smaller, and as I turned to focus on the other children, I had an extra bit of patience to share. Just as I sorted out who had already been given candy from those who had not, I felt a small tap, lighter than the landing of a bumblebee. Resisting the urge to pretend I had not felt anything, I turned. There stood Bella. In one small fist she still held tight to the hand of her sister, never letting anything separate them. In the other fist, the one she was holding out to me, was Bella’s plastic bracelet, the one she had worn every day. Speechless, I took the shyly offered gift, and this time to give her a real hug. Not knowing what I wanted to say, nor how to say it if I had, I could only hug Bella and her sister and murmur thank yous one after the other. Bella soon skipped off again, leaving me with more that a little to ponder.
As I fumbled with the plastic laces, I slowly began to realize the magnitude of this gift. I began to remember the homes I had visited that first day. Incredibly small shelters that were once worthy of the title hut, their walls and ceilings were now formed with the things I once used to make forts. Mattresses, scrap wood, wagons and tires were used in place of glass and concrete. Somehow I had removed Bella from the town in which she lived, and in that single second the realization that she lived in one of those achingly mismatched homes threatened to knock me over.
It is humorous how quickly my outlook on life was altered. The generosity of one small girl in a village reversed my thought process and sent me from self absorbed and unconcerned to the beginning of conscious member of society. The weight of one small bracelet resting in my palm brought with it a new knowledge and comprehension. I understood for the first time that my small network of contacts was not the only plot line, that my small pool of acquaintances was not the axis of the earth. It was in the few seconds that it took for me to fasten that tired yellow and black bracelet around my wrist, and the several years it took me to lose it, that Bella’s gentle unassuming influence altered my life.
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