Short story called ‘Don’t Forget to Smile’

Don’t Forget to Smile

By Laksala Mendis

A young Afro Caribbean woman walks down the road. She is dressed humbly in a brown skirt, a black jumper and a black jacket. She holds a walking stick but because of her youth no one really pays attention to it. She is of an innocent deportment. She looks for signs of kindness and warmth but they elude her for most of the day. She tries not to cry, she knows there are good folk out there. She carries on walking wondering when she will finally meet a friendly face. She encounters this old woman. There’s an awkward moment when they both step to the same side to get past. She looks at her face to smile, arching her eyebrows, and fumbling, trying to acknowledge that both of them made a mistake. This is something any polite individual would do, but the old woman just looks away, her chilly personality not allowing her to interact with the innocent. Even as the old woman leaves the innocent tries not to feel disappointed about being ignored and she chuckles quietly to herself.

She goes and sits outside a cafe called The Bite. She is a regular and some of the staff know her and are usually friendly but none of them are there that day. She sighs, feeling as though she could have really done with a chat. She wasn’t able to pay her heating bill and the company switched it off. Her fire heater was considered dangerous so she was using the fire from all four hobs on the gas stove to warm up the front room. She daren’t go into the actual bedroom. The walls were like the Antarctic. Even though her predicament was difficult she still smiled at her own Antarctic joke. After all, it is better to laugh than cry. But she did want to talk to someone about it, and the usual barista often stopped to have a chat.

The new one came over to take her order. She just wanted a latte to warm up. She tried to tell the barista why, but the barista just turned around and walked away, the innocent’s words hitting the air and falling like rain. Anyway, she thought to herself, she would be seeing her friend in a few days time, not long to go to talk to someone.

She noticed a business woman in a suit only a few seats away. Again she tried to smile, a simple mark of affection between two strangers, both human.

The business woman looked up sensing the innocent’s gaze. She knew that it would have been easy to smile back at this woman, but she thought that she was probably homeless and didn’t want to give her an incentive to come over and ask for money, so she put her head down and continued to read her book. The innocent realised that the business woman didn’t want to engage, but she didn’t understand why. She was a kind and friendly woman, why weren’t these other humans being friendly back? It made no sense at all.

Tears were now forming in her eyes. She was strong and positive and always upbeat, but this was becoming too much to deal with. The world seemed like a harsh and faceless place and though she tried to remain positive it felt as though she didn’t have anyone to turn to.

On her way home, she wiped her eyes, and again trying to remain positive she thought of the friend she would see in a few days. She always had kind and helpful words for her. Her leg started to hurt. She had been in the military and stepped on a landmine one day. That had finished her military career, and she had struggled to find work after that. She did find part time work in a warehouse which was something, but it was often difficult with the pain in her leg. She carried on nonetheless, never complaining, always positive.

You might ask yourself at this point how such a woman, with such a life could remain so positive.

The innocent was finding it difficult to remain positive. These harsh interactions and a general lack of compassion in society were really starting to hurt her. On her way home she passed a young woman with a pushchair. She was waiting at the bus stop. She hadn’t been allowed to get on the previous two buses because of the pushchair, as there were already other pushchairs on the buses, so she had been waiting for over two hours to get home. She had been sobbing. Though the innocent had suffered too that day, she forgot her own woes to give a tissue to the young woman and lend her a friendly ear. She quickly wiped her own tears, and turned toward the mother to hear her story. She said how grateful she was to have met her that day as she was finding it difficult to get by after her sister had passed away. She put a hand to her face, and lovingly said that she reminded her of her sister. She had been in the air force and had died trying to save one of her men from a bullet. She was classed as a heroine and the mother said to the innocent I can see that you are a heroine too. The innocent started to sob, as all the suffering she had experienced came to mind. The mother nodded knowingly because she understood how life had affected her and how even the most positive human can feel upset sometimes. The mother thanked her and she went back to her house. The house was still freezing but she remembered that she would be getting paid soon so she could get her heating back. She made her favourite dinner and sat down to watch a Morecambe and Wise show that she had recorded, and she started to laugh and smile as before.

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