Private Smile

And there he was.
She noticed him immediately,
sandwiched between a harried mother
and a whiny younger sister,
or rather a whingeing one, it must have been,
because it was London
on the Underground,
the stations whisking by, in and out of focus.

He looked to be eight years old. No older.
Important stuff tends to happen when you’re eight,
and it was apparent that something
had happened
to this boy. Or maybe
it was happening to her, right then and there.


She felt a flutter of mild desperation,
an impulse to give him something,
to reach across the aisle and the anonymity
to honor his shining divinity. But what? What?
Her Tube stop was coming up.
She felt around in her pockets
but all she had
was a smooth lump of hematite, given to her by her father,
and a short wand of crystal, given to her by her boyfriend.
Being just twenty years old, she hadn’t yet come to realize
that either of these objects would have been worthy
precisely because they were precious to her.
Neither did she realize that a dirty pebble would have done the trick,
would have communicated her intent, her reverence.
Would have communicated her desire
to thank him, to bless him, to acknowledge the greatness
of his burden and his opportunity.


Years and years went by,
and every now and then she remembered
her brush with the Holy Boy.
That he was an ordinary-looking probably-working-class
eight-year-old Indian boy, with a mother who was so busy
with her sari and her shopping bags and her young daughter
that she never noticed the God in her family, seemed extraordinary.

But it wasn’t.


The train was slowing for her stop.
She couldn’t approach an eight-year-old stranger,
Realized Being or not,
with his mother right there
and obviously displaying a lack of empathy already.
She kept watching him. He must have heard her thoughts,
for he turned and looked at her across the aisle,
a slow and genuine smile
spreading across his face.
And she smiled back.
And in this quiet moment, Everything happened.

It only took a second for Everything to happen, then he turned back,
soothing the younger child with a stuffed animal.
The train stopped, the doors slid open, she stepped onto the platform.
She rode the crowded escalator up to the surface, and the brilliant sun.