Ch 2. Smiles
Jesus Josephovich had arrived in Kiev. His first acquaintance was still staring after him as he continued on his way through the ice covered Lukyanivskaya market. If he had been a strange sight before, he was now doubly so, dressed in an old robe and sandals and wearing the hand-knit scarf that the old woman had given him while carrying a potato. The contrast of the warm scarf and the light robe made him look like a character from a children’s cartoon, the absurdity of his clothes too great to be an accident.
He followed the roaming crowds out of the market and headed towards the nearest building, hoping to find a warm place to unfreeze his hands and toes. With the eyes of all the pedestrians following him he wandered into the shopping center.
It was very crowded inside and people were pushing and shoving to get past each other. Jesus Josephovich watched the spectacle in awe. He had never seen so many people in such a hurry. For a moment he considered that he might have entered a dangerous area since people were moving through it so quickly. He soon realized, however, that he was not in danger, but at a crossroads between the shopping center and some unknown destination to which everyone seemed to be heading.
While his fingers and toes were warming up, he took his time wandering through the shops and smiling at everyone who looked at him. He was surprised that they almost never smiled back, and when they did it looked awkward and uncomfortable. Sometimes they looked away quickly, or even scowled at his friendly demeanor. He looked in a large mirror behind a half-dressed mannequin to make sure that there was nothing stuck in his teeth that might be offending them. Not finding anything wrong with his teeth, he continued to walk up and down the aisles of shops greeting people with smiles.
He came to a particularly disheveled shopkeeper, a heavyset, middle aged woman with long brown hair curled up into an unflattering ponytail. Her face was scrunched into a menacing frown and Jesus Josephovich decided to see if he could find out what was wrong and cheer her up. He walked over to her and smiled his biggest smile. The shopkeeper just stared at him with an unaltered face and said, “I’m listening.”
This confused Jesus Josephovich because he hadn’t said anything to her yet. He stumbled over his words, realizing that she expected him to ask her for something. He examined her small kiosk filled with watches and jewelry, but he couldn’t find anything that he needed. He turned to her and said the only thing of interest to him.
“What is your name?” he asked with another smile.
The shopkeeper’s eyebrows furrowed into a confused grimace. “What do you want?” she asked, looking at his bare arms.
Jesus Josephovich smiled again. “I just wanted to know your name.”
The woman sighed and put her hands on her hips. “Oksana,” she answered.
“I’m Jesus Josephovich,” he said.
The shopkeeper huffed humorously through her nose. “Nice to meet you,” she said disingenuously.
“Why don’t you smile?” Jesus Josephovich asked.
The woman tilted her head arrogantly. “Why should I?” she wondered.
Jesus Josephovich shrugged his shoulders. “It’s more fun than not smiling. Don’t you agree?”
A tiny grin formed at the corner of her mouth. “Yes, it is,” she agreed.
“And it makes other people happy,” he added.
She nodded and raised her eyebrows questioningly. “What do you want?” she said more gently and with a conservative smile.
“I want to make you happy,” he said.
The woman exhaled frustratingly. “Where are you from?” she asked, realizing that this was going to be a difficult customer.
“From far away,” he answered.
“Uh huh. In our culture,” she explained in a motherly tone, “we don’t smile in public. We say that only fools smile all the time.”
“Why would fools smile?” he wondered.
“Because they don’t know that they are fools,” she said.
Jesus Josephovich laughed. “So I am probably a fool then?” he said playfully.
She shrugged her shoulders and let out a small giggle. “But you are a foreigner. We know. Foreigners like to smile.”
“Why don’t you smile? Don’t you enjoy it?”
“You smile because you are not from Ukraine. I don’t smile because I am from Ukraine,” she said half-jokingly.
“Are you happy?” Jesus Josephovich asked.
She pursed her lips. “I will be happy if you buy something,” she said referring to the watches and jewelry surrounding her.
“Ah, so you want money?” he considered. “Does money make you happy?”
She narrowed her eyes. “I need money. Everybody needs money. You don’t need money?”
Jesus Josephovich thought about this for a moment. “When I’m hungry I need food, when I’m thirsty I need something to drink, when I’m tired I need to sleep, when I’m lonely I need a friend, and when I’m happy I need to make other people happy as well.”
The shopkeeper folded her arms across her chest and listened.
He continued. “But I can’t say that I’ve ever needed money in that way. It doesn’t actually do anything.”
She looked around the kiosk. “Money keeps my store open, and my lights on at home, and food on the table. It does enough to make me happy.”
“Does money actually do those things?” he questioned. “What if I told you that everything you need to make you happy, you already have? What if I told you that it was inside of you at all times, and the only thing you needed to do to be happy was to give it to someone else?”
“Give what?” she asked.
“Happiness. Joy. Contentment. Enthusiasm. Love.” He watched her face as she listened. “There are many more. Shall I continue?”
“No, no,” she said. “I understand.”
“You do?” he asked enthusiastically.
“Yes,” she said, nodding amusedly.
“Then do you accept the happiness that I would like to give you?”
Her brow wrinkled as she considered her answer. “Yes,” she said pensively.
Jesus Josephovich smiled widely and gave her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. She laughed and patted him on the back, and though she was momentarily uncomfortable, she felt a wave of joy sweep through her being.
Jesus Josephovich took a step away from the small cubical and then returned. “Don’t forget to give it to someone else. That’s the only way it lasts,” he said with a wink. “Happiness is highly contagious.”
The woman giggled to herself and then walked to the next shopping stall. “Yulichka,” she said to her associate. “I want to test something.”
Her associate, a large middle-aged woman like herself, addressed her with a serious stare. “What is it?”
Oksana gave Yulia a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. The two women began laughing.
“My God! What was that for?” Yulia asked in bewilderment.
Oksana giggled. “He was right. It is contagious.”
She looked back at her shop to say something to the man, but the stranger had already disappeared into the crowd of anxious shoppers. Her smile, however, had not yet disappeared.