I think she smiled at me

I think she smiled at me. This was at my neighborhood Lowes, my regular grocery store, she and I were reaching for the same loaf of bread, and I pulled back and I think she smiled at me. Behind her mask. For the past year and a half, I cannot always tell when a stranger smiles at me. It is easier with my bondhus (those who are late to the musings, “bondhu” is a word that denotes something much more than a friend – a virtual soulmate – a person who gets you). I have bondhus who always smile with their eyes. You see it in the pictures, you can take a picture of such as person, cover up everything and look at the eyes, and you see the real person who you call a bondhu. The eye changes, the little lines around the eye spread out in a unique way and you can see the unseen smile. And during Covid, because of the mask we all had to learn to look for those lines around the eyes. The mask saves lives. Politics, and the accompanying stupidity apart, the fact remains that the mask has saved many lives, but it has taken away the smile. A fundamental aspect of being human. With the smile we build and sustain relationships and when it is taken away one needs to find an alternative. The eyes step in. The eyes open up the heart. The mask taught us to show us our heart through our eyes. A thing that poets have waxed about for ages, focus on the eyes, the eyes say more than what words can, in the look, in the gaze, from the one of affection to the one of contempt. The eyes that fool you and the eyes that generate trust. Covid presented the eyes back to us. I remember the few days when I was with a bondhu who was suffering from Covid. The brief moments with the person were behind masks, but the eyes showed what the person was going through. And I watched the eyes. As a person who has lost some eyesight it is a challenge to see the eyes of the other person when one is socially distanced. I look out at the faces of the students in the classroom, and I cannot tell if my attempt at humor to make a point was amusing or not. In the haze that the classroom is, the students distanced ten feet from me, it is a guessing game. In the old days, I could see the whole face, today it is a sea of masks. But yet some can do wonders with their eyes. In a way, Covid has forced us to learn a new language – that of the eye – that of the body - where a smile starts in the heart and travels through the body and one can simply feel the joy and the acknowledgment and respond in the right way. There are no ghosts when you can see the smile in the eye (this is a reference to “ghosting” – a process where a loved one suddenly stops messaging and leaves you wondering what you did wrong). Except in perhaps the smile that eternally deludes, as sung by Nat King Cole, “Are you warm?/Are you real Mona Lisa/Or just a cold and lonely lovely work of art?” At times I look around and wonder how many Mona Lisas surround us in our everyday life, especially behind the mask.


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