Sunday, April 15, 2012

BUS STORY # 284 (The Smile)

Mona Lisa on Bus Shelter by sameold2010
Mona Lisa on Bus Shelter, a photo by sameold2010 on Flickr.

Mom and child board the bus and take the bench seat behind the driver, right in front of me.

The little girl looks to be either a pre-schooler or a first-grader.

Both of them look out of sorts. Neither of them is talking to one another or even looking at one another, and neither is anywhere close to a smile.

Maybe they’ve just had some sort of argument. Maybe mom isn’t a morning person. Maybe neither of them is a morning person.

The girl stops at the bench seat, then turns and waits to see what mom is going to do.

Mom finishes the fare business, then heads for the first seat behind the driver. The girl takes the third seat, directly in front of me. Mom puts her purse in the middle seat, between them.

They still haven’t exchanged looks. If it hadn’t been for the girl turning and waiting to see what mom was gonna do, I’d be questioning my assumption they are together.

The girl hangs on to a plastic book bag. The bag has brightly-colored, big-petaled flowers, rainbows, and a peace symbol in the middle.

I look back up from the bag, and that’s when I notice her hair. Or rather, I notice the rows of little square islands of hair, each island pulled up in the middle and threaded through a colorful bead, and separated by perfectly even rows of skin running front to back and side to side.

(Thanks to the wonder of Google, I will learn these are called “box braids,” and that this little girl’s hair is too short to handle more than a one-bead braid.)

I am awestruck, not just by the geometrical artistry, but by the skill and patience this had to have required.

And not just the patience of mom. I am trying to imagine this little girl sitting still while her hair is being done. This would be team patience!

Maybe that is why the two of them are out of sorts with one another.

At this point, I have been staring intently and so preoccupied with her hair and my speculations about the two of them that I get caught staring.

I realize the little girl has just turned to look at me straight on. She must have sensed me staring at her.

We can’t be three feet apart, and before I can recover from my surprise, her face breaks into an impossibly open-hearted smile. So much innocent, unguarded joy!

I smile right back, almost as big. Can’t help myself. She has utterly disarmed me.

She holds my gaze, and I am the one who looks away first. I look over at mom who is either ignoring what is going on, or, more likely, is preoccupied herself.

I want to tell her her daughter just made my day.

I want to tell her daughter she just made my day.

But I don’t say anything to either of them. I hope my involuntary return smile said it for me.

At the end of the day, I still remember that smile perfectly, and I am still in thrall.

The photo at the top of this story is titled “Mona Lisa in Bus Shelter,” and is posted with the kind permission of sameold2010. You can see all sameold2010’s photos on Flickr at:

The photo in the body of this story is titled “Top view of her new do,” © All Rights Reserved, and is posted with the kind permission of eg2006. You can see all eg2006’s photos on Flicker at:


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