The Smiling Man

The lights sparkled in the distance. I saw the smile on those lights. It was a smile that would seem right in any situation, a smile that would right any situation.

A man walked past. He was wearing a facemask. The kind you see in hazy days and nights. He seemed drunk and disoriented. If he could only turn and look at those lights in the distance, he will be alright. I am sure.

He reached up and snapped off a low-lying tree branch. For a moment, the leaves on the branch were connected to the ground through his fingers on one end and the soles of his shoes on the other. The next moment, the same leaves were again connected to the ground themselves, having completed a spiralling descent. This time, they will be connected forever.

The smile wants to talk.

“What is it?” I said.

“Do you know who I am” the smile said.

“Who are you?” I replied.

“I am the smile that belongs to all concealed faces” the smile twinkled.

A twinkle goes like a sped up tick-tock. There are two beats. When a quartz watch ticks twice in a row, it tells you it is low on battery. Two beats, change battery. Two beats, twinkle.  Two beats, change smile.

“I am changing you” I said.

“You can’t change what you have seen” the smile faded.

The man looked into the distance. He smiled. It was a smile for a reason one will never know of. He then turned and looked me straight in the eyes. I froze for a moment, taken aback at the full suddenness of it. It’s like he knew what he was smiling for, who he was smiling to, and when to do it. Of course he knew, and of course I knew, beneath his facemask.

I smiled in return.

He faded.

I stood up and strolled down the boardwalk. The sea felt fresh, and the night breeze was soothing. There are people milling about and chilling over food and drinks. Every wave that rolled upon the shore is different from the previous. Every gust of breeze that swept by is different from the previous. Every moment of joy and laughter that passed is different from the previous. Yet, the smile remains, constant as it is, fading in and out, changing back and forth, connecting and disconnecting.

The smile wants to talk.

“You are back” I said.

“I have always been here” it said.

“Don’t you ever go away?” I asked.

“Don’t you all ever stop smiling” it replied.

The man appeared. He climbed over the railing of the boardwalk and stepped onto the beach below. He took off his shoes. His feet were now connected to the soft sand beneath. Removing his facemask, his features were now open to the world around him. He looked at the lights in the distance, and smiled to himself.

He stole a look at his watch and waded into the gentle rolling waves.

Instinctively, I too stole a quick look at my watch. It ticked twice in quick succession. Time to change battery. The smile knew what was going on. I looked up. The man bent his knees and plunged into the sea.

He faded. The smile twinkled. I smiled.

The only constant in the sea of changes.

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