I put aside my fear of contracting SARS long enough to ask her if she also wanted to be drawn. She was too shy at first, and waited for me to draw a few others before she finally said yes. We got a good conversation going. The mask helped her breathe, she said. She had lots of questions. Not the usual ones. Not the “How did you learn how to draw with both hands?”…”Are you ambidextreeous? (sic)”…” Do you do this full time?” not that kind. She had heard me answer those with other patients. Instead, she asked real questions. Questions that don’t see me as a freak of nature, but as an honestly interesting person. She wasn't from that area, if I remember correctly. She was a bit older than I. She spoke with hints of a southern accent. She was a big fan of German rap music. She was really interested in foreign countries, their histories, their music, cultures, and peoples, but had never left her own. She was a spring of curiosity. A spring of interest and attachment to moments, hidden behind a mask. I remember her eyebrows: thick and black. I remember her eyes: clear and observant. And her will: to go places, far away; to learn things school would never teach her; to realize that a moment with a stranger could be something more than that.
Some patients that day had been waiting for care for five hours. She had been one of the first arrivals that day, and still hadn’t been helped by the time I left the room. I drew at least fifteen people there. I had already drawn a dozen more in another waiting room. My hands grew tired, but I drew some more even after that. Like always, I left each person their portrait to keep. She has hers with her, wherever she is now. So I don't know anymore know what she looked like, this girl with the mask. I don’t even remember her name. Still, I remember those eyes. I remember the eyebrows. The baseball cap, the long black hair, the slim nose. I've drawn thousands of people's portraits now. But this one girl sticks out in my mind: #3,978, the girl with the mask.
I may be a bit off, but if I remember correctly, this girl was portrait #3,978.