Sunday, 13 October 2013

The smile

I elbowed my way past countless people dotting the streets of London, my backpack slithering off my shoulder as I did so. Snippets of random conversations floated into my ears as I dodged into another street, relief flushing over me. I could breathe again. Droplets of sweat lined the back of my neck as I hauled my backpack over my shoulder, pulling out a bottle of water. My footsteps slowed, the heaviness of my bag weighing me down. I cursed the summer work the teachers had handed out with joy, superficial smiles plastered onto their faces as they tried to convince us that it wouldn’t be too much work. Various insults and complaints whirled around in my mind. I imagined the hours of writing and calculating I’d have to do, frustration simmering inside of me. And that’s when I saw him. He sat leaning against the harsh brick wall at the corner of the street, eyes closed. I walked closer, noticing the thick layers of dirt that coated his face. His chest rose slowly underneath the grimy grey shirt, the sleeves of which hung limp around his slender arms. He had nothing but a couple of overflowing plastic bags, filled with what appeared to be old clothes, maybe a couple of picture frames shoved inside as well. His whole life was right there, in those two bags. I was left almost breathless, and ready to walk past him, guilty at the lack of money I had with me. As I got closer, his eyes opened, and his gaze met mine. I was near enough now to notice his olive green eyes, matching the colour of the trousers he wore, with rips and tears in countless places on the material. There was something about this man. The way he looked at me, it wasn’t a look of desperation, he wasn’t trying to beg. It was different; it was almost a look of kindness. I came to a complete stop in front of him, frozen, unsure of what to do or say. He watched me for a couple of seconds, and then straightened up, not relying on the wall for support anymore. He said nothing. And that’s when, despite the dirt that covered every part of his him, his face lit up, thin lips curling into an affectionate smile. A thought flashed through my mind. But you have nothing. How could he be smiling? A pang of regret struck me as I remembered my inner breakdown over the amount of homework I had. I’d completely forgotten I had a home, a place to live, a family who cared about me. The negativity ate away at me, the gratefulness lost behind the constant complaints. I glanced down at the water bottle in my hand. As I saw it was still half full, I bent down, and placed it in front of him. Our eyes met as I did so, and I found that the beam on my face matched his perfectly.
“You don’t have to give me that.” The rasp of his voice seemed welcoming somehow, the single-toothed smile still sealed within his lips.
“It’s the least I can do.” I gave him a last sympathetic look and walked away, my heart warming when I turned around once more to see him taking a long sip from the bottle, still smiling as he did so.