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The Smile Network

The Smile Network

Hello and good day!

The professor was a short, paunchy, Peruvian man. He wore thick framed glasses and had a thick head of black hair parted on the side and swept over. His stomach stuck out over the belt of his pants and stretched the lower buttons of his tucked in button up shirt.

At the top of the Santa Apolonia stairs, he saw the small blue and white Catholic church with the big white cross on top. He took the gold cross hanging on his neck out from under his shirt collar, kissed it, and then signed the cross over his body.

Walking up the Santa Apolonia stairs was to serve two purposes. He hadn't done any exercise or been to church in a long time and he felt the absence of both in his life.

"Here goes nothing," he thought to himself and began to climb the steep, grey, rounded concrete steps. In between each short flight of stairs, there was a flat terrace. On each terrace, there was a bench or a short grey brick wall where people sat or where artisanal vendors sold their wares. When the professor finally made it to the top, he was breathing hard.

He turned to look at the city of Cajamarca. The buildings and houses were all bunched together. Townsquare was three blocks down and to the left, with restaurants and old churches lined up around the outside. Further in the background were green grasslands with thinly planted pine and eucalyptus trees. Beyond the grasslands and all around the city were gigantic brown mountains.

The professor turned to look at the church. He closed his eyes and signed the cross over his body once more. He breathed in deeply and felt something like the holy spirit coming into him. A thin smile formed on his lips.

After a few moments, over the noise of car motors and honking horns and voices yelling, the professor somehow heard the sound of a pencil scratching on a piece of paper. He turned around towards where the noise was coming from and saw a little thin girl sitting on a bench staring at him.

She was young girl, maybe ten or eleven years old, and she had a notebook laying across her legs. After staring at the professor a couple seconds longer with her big black eyes, she looked down at the notebook and began to write.

The professor tried to ignore her but couldn't. He was suspicious that the little girl was writing something about him and if that was the case, he wanted to know what she'd written.

"Little girl," he said. The girl didn't respond right away. She was mid composition and wanted to finish her sentence before leaving her notebook. When she finished writing, she looked up.

"Yes mister?" she said. "Did you write something about me in your notebook?" he asked. The little girl considered her response, thinking through whether she should tell the truth.

"Yes mister, I did," she said.

"What did you write?" asked the professor.

"I wrote down how you looked when you closed your eyes and smiled," said the girl.

The professor was taken aback. "Why did you do that little girl?" asked the professor. The little girl wondered how much of her secret she should share. The man seemed friendly enough and she'd never told anybody before.

It would be nice to tell somebody. "This is my smile notebook," said the girl. "Your smile notebook? What is that?" asked the professor.

"Sometimes I sit here on this bench and look out at the city. I wait for people to walk up the stairs and if they smile, I write down what happened and how it looked," said the girl.

"You do? That is one of the most interesting things I've ever heard. Why do you do that little girl?" asked the professor.

"I do it because I love to see people smile. Later, when I am sad, or lonely, or feeling down, I get out my notebook, and I read about all the smiles I've seen and it makes me feel better," said the girl.

"May I see what you wrote about me?" asked the professor. The girl was shy. Nobody had ever seen her notebook before. "Yes, you can. Its ok," said the girl.

The professor sat down on the bench next to the girl. She handed him the notebook and he laid it across his legs.

He read. "The lonely man made it up the stairs. He was tired. Looking at the city didn't make him feel any better. He turned to look at the church and closed his eyes. Then he didn't feel alone anymore, and he smiled peacefully."

"This is beautiful," said the professor. He took off his glasses and wiped tears from his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt.

"How many entries have you done?" asked the professor. "I've filled several notebooks," said the girl. "Do you record every smile you see?" asked the professor.

"Some smiles are fake and are only used to trick another person. I ignore those. But I do my best to write about all the real ones," said the girl.

"So, you are the city's leading authority on smiles," said the professor. "Maybe so," said the girl. The idea of being important made her blush.

"Tell me little girl. What do I need to know about smiles?" asked the professor.

The little girl thought for moment. She wanted to make sure to say it right.

"There are all kinds of smiles. Some are thoughtful. Some are peaceful. Some are energetic. Some are even sad. People smile in groups and sometimes they smile alone. But they all have something in common," said the girl.

"What is it little girl? Tell me. I must know," said the professor.

The little girl took her time. She wanted to get it right.

"It has to do with your heart mister. A smile happens when something touches your heart. If it doesn't touch your heart, there won't be a smile. At least not a real one," said the little girl.

The professor closed the notebook and held it up.

"Every entry in here tells the same story?" asked the professor. The little girl nodded.

"Thank you, little girl," said the professor. He handed back the notebook.

"You're welcome mister," said the little girl.

The professor climbed down the stairs, understanding the kind of work he needed to do from then on. The little girl stayed on her bench, writing down smiles.

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!