I am reading a book that will teach me how to make friends.
1. Be genuinely interested in people.
2. Do not complain; compliment!
3. Smile, even when you do not feel like it.
I am smiling now as I get off the danfo stuck in traffic and walk the rest of the way down the bridge to Obalende. And why not? It is a good day; the sun is shining bright, but not too bright. The sky is blue, but not that too-good-to-be-true blue I hate. There’s a breeze. It is a good day for a smile. It does not matter that I do not feel like smiling. The book says my feelings will follow my actions. I am practising training my feelings to follow my actions. It is still too early to tell if it is working.
I approach a beggar and my smile vanishes. The world is a sad place, is it not? The lines on his weather-beaten face are proof; he has nothing to smile about. What does it say again, my book. The ones in most need of a smile are those who have none to give… something like that. As I pass the beggar, I make a decision. Silver and gold have I none. I look in his eyes, and I smile.
He does not smile back.
The idea is to practice, practice, practice. Otherwise, nothing will stick.
I take mental notes during conversations now, and as soon as I can I transfer them into my special notebook so that next time we meet I will remember to ask Obus about the dog he is training to ride a bike, Bambo about his ailing father, Beatrice about the creep next door who will not leave her alone, Chinwe about her delightful mother-in-law.
I swallow my complaints about Emem’s excessive use of perfume and notice that the pink scarf around her neck gives her a chic look that really works for her. I say this, and she smiles and launches into her philosophy on scarves as accessories that express her mood. Every colour says something, or so she tells me. I tell Joseph at the gate that he is the smartest looking gateman I have ever known, and every day since he greets me with a salute a general would be envious of.
I have been called snub, stuck-up, Groucho Grouchinus, unfriendly, mean, silent killer, slow poison. Boring… So it is strange now, having people stop by at my desk to chat, having them linger when I smile and ask about their lives.
Look, Mum, I’m making friends!
People actually want to be with me. They ask me to lunch, invite me to mini-parties, reschedule when I can’t make it. They’re confiding in me, going out of their way to help me. The other day when I was running late, Yusuf lied for me without my having to ask. I could have charmed the boss into letting it go (did I mention the boss loves me now?), but it was touching how Yusuf just stepped up like that.
I’m getting dates.
Sister Nkoyo from church, Bose from the building next door, Ala from three cubicles away. I will go out with all three because I like all three. Then I will choose one. My newfound powers will not be used for evil. But it is an enticing thought, going for three. I’ve never been lucky with females. Maybe I can call it making up for lost time?
On the way home today there is no traffic coming down into Obalende. This pleases me. But the driver decides when he reaches the exit for Obalende that he wants to continue on the bridge. He orders “all passenger” out of the bus as the conductor slides the door open. I am practising happiness from within, happiness regardless of circumstances, so I decide that this will not bother me. I step out of the danfo and continue toward Obalende on merry feet.
I see the beggar from a distance, the same beggar from my first Smile Day. I see him every day, and I am prepping my smile for him even as I walk, like I have done since that first day. He always returns my smile with a frown; the last three days or so he started adding a growl. His life must be so sad. But he can change that easily, turn that sadness into joy. Life is all about perspective; if only he knew. This ignorance, this is the thing that is most tragic. Maybe I will talk to him one day. Does he speak English?
I walk toward him. Silver and gold have I none still. I smile, my offering to him.
I am still smiling when he jerks up from his perch on the ground as I pass and shoves me onto the path of an oncoming LAGBUS.
I will die, but at least they can truly say I died happy. This is something to smile about.