Why Don’t We Smile More?

The humidity was low, and the city opened out before me: an urban desert with evening rush hour over and the daily grind heading back to its electric caves. Surprisingly for a city the size of Newark, I almost expected a tumbleweed, it was so dead.

Gripping the rail and spitting over the side of the station only to watch my saliva plummet down and hopefully hit some squirrel perched three stories below me, a young girl I saw earlier entered my peripheral vision. I caught sight of her when I first walked onto the platform, had absorbed her raggedy appearance, and quickly kept it moving.

I don’t have time to lock eyes with bums, and then do the “I’m not giving you change” gestures while hearing them cuss me out for being a greedy asshole. I don’t have time for their story, they don’t have time for mine, I leave it at that.

I never believe I’m cold hearted, but I always think I’d rather give back on a large scale by volunteering my time; not some petty change so a bum can come back the next day and keep asking me for petty change. It feels empty, even if it’s misguided or logically wrong. The feeling is important.

She walks out of my peripheral and disappears behind me. I hear her asking people for change and I know it’s imminent.

Eventually a soft and regrettably raspy voice crawls up behind me,

“Excuse me sir?”

I ignore it the first time just to make sure it’s not someone near me, but she says it again.

Keeping my body facing out toward the rail and only turning my head around at her, I craned my neck as an owl, wide eyes staring in reply.

Her youth is what struck me, the fact that it resembled my own. She was shockingly similar to me in age and the way she carried herself and her smile. It scared me. So cracked out, her lips dry and white, eyes like glowing white coals with lazy eyelids not completely opened, and hair looking like one of the tumbleweeds that should have blown through the urban desert below us. She looked like she smelled, and her clothes were straight out of a homeless man’s cardboard closet.

But her face… it was so young and her smile was so disturbingly happy. It held grief and regret, perhaps familiar with better times.

“Excuse me, sir? How are you today?”
“I’m fine, how are you?”

I was being more outgoing than usual because she looked like she could be my friend in some alternate life.

“I’m alright… May I ask you a question?”

I had never heard a bum ask me this so innocently and casually, yet desperately. It was almost professional, like an intern on their best behavior in a world of big wigs and corporate moguls.

“What’s up?”

I asked, trying to be nicer now that I realize she could have been a college student just like me, chilling and hanging with her girls and going to malls and doing better things than looking like a volcanic mess asking people for change.

I wasn’t smiling when speaking to her, and she paused for a second, disrupting her original course and interjected,

“You should smile, you are blessed.”

She got me. She was entirely right. I looked at her and cracked her a goofy, teethy smile.

“You’re right, I’m sorry.”

She began to dive into the expected pitch about her family living in the city, or her brother being murdered, or young cousin just getting out of the hospital, or father in prison, or mother has cancer, etc.

I had to cut her off because honestly, I really had nothing on me. She immediately realized the waste of time I was. Bums and business moguls alike know the golden business rule: time is money. She quickly moved on to another person who looked like they’d spare change and perhaps not just offer a smile.

Strange, sad, and briefly enlightening was my encounter with this young girl who appeared as though she should have been my friend or even a girl I might ask on a date in a reincarnated existence.

Wholeheartedly, she left me wondering why I don’t smile more.


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