Brand building through storytelling

A smile between strangers

From our loft to our rented office is a five-block stretch that I walk at least twice every day. On top of the expected walks to and from work, there are the spur-of-the-moment dashes to pick up some essential item (my calendar, say) that’s been forgotten at the wrong location. Then there are the lunchtime strolls to make a grilled-cheese sandwich in my own kitchen, just because it’s around the corner.

I’ve come to know this downtown route like the face of a friend. Its changing expressions are the flowers outside the greengrocer (daffodils when we moved here in March, begonias in June) and the window displays at the furniture stores that dot every block (one now boasts an astonishing chandelier trimmed with red plumes, like something from a bordello decorated by Zandra Rhodes). For three days in April, a little girl’s pink bike—brand new, by the looks of things—sat chained to a post in the heart of the city. When the bike finally vanished, I wondered who had ridden off on it, and whether anyone else had noticed.

It never occurs to me, as I observe the passing urban scene, that anyone might be observing me. Yet someone has been for a good while now. Carrying my groceries home the other night, I heard a man’s voice behind me: “Excuse me! I’ve got to tell you something!” A few decades have passed since the last time a strange man seemed so eager to hail me.This man looked startled by his own impulsiveness. “I own that store,” he said, gesturing over his shoulder. “I see you walk by every day. You’re always smiling. It’s nice to see a happy person. So I had to let you know.”

Always smiling. Yes, that’s me, savouring my own perspective on the world. My mother used to say I had a “secret smile.” My husband calls it a “goofy smile.” I had a boss who would sigh, as I zoned out in two-hour meetings, “Rona’s in her happy place again.” Some people are downright hostile to this habit of mine. I was once accosted on the subway by a dour, crumpled gnome who snarled, “What have you got to smile about?”

I looked at the man who liked my smile. He had a face I could trust, so I told him how my smile enrages the self-appointed guardians of misery. He said, “When you smile, I smile, too.”

I thanked him and went home to broil the salmon. It didn’t seem appropriate to tell him that my smile has nothing whatsoever to do with happiness—that in fact my pleasure in that bright afternoon, with its bounty of flowers and feathers, had been shadowed by my grief for two friends who were no longer around to walk the streets where they once chatted with neighbours and tended their gardens. I don’t think of myself as a happy person, and that particular day had been heavy with sorrow. But as I unwrapped the salmon, I thought of the man with the trustworthy face. And I yielded to a surge of pure happiness.


Posted by Rona

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