The Story of a Smile by Ceylin Erkan

“Smile, say cheese!” I heard the photographer exclaim, his voice echoing against the walls of the auditorium. He had spent about an hour trying to arrange the way we stood and looked as the students of the Orphanage of London.

Anyways, let me first start by introducing myself. My name is Rosaleen. Including the past 12 years of my life, I’ve always been smiling, even at the darkest and scariest of times. I’ve also been somewhat clumsy, although every moment I’ve tried to be active and sociable. I sometimes feel like my body is playing a trick on me. It awkwardly and involuntarily makes me do things that I sometimes don’t even want to do. However, that’s me.

A few months ago, we, as the kids of the Orphanage of London, have been informed that we’ll be taking a fun trip to the United States of America. All of us were so excited and overjoyed when we heard the news. The reason for this kind of trip is probably best defined as the orphanage’s reputation on the society. They’ll most definitely call the newspaper editors and TV shows to let them know basically how great they are.

So, today was the picture day, and its object was to publish photographs of all the people at the orphanage including the staff and the kids on a newspaper article talking about how the Orphanage of London is the best than any other in the year of 1990. Tomorrow was going to be the actual trip day to New York. I’ve been enthusiastically waiting for this day to come for about a few months, and here it was, only hours away.

Finally, the long day ended, and I went straight to my bed at night. Before I slept, I dreamed about what kind of place America would be like, and the numerous things I could do when I got there. With the comforting feeling my thoughts gave me, I fell to sleep…

 

***

 

It was an exhausting trip experience with the plane, but it was definitely worth it.  We had finally got outside the airport, and there I saw a huge city crowded with people and tall buildings. The people from the orphanage walked along the sideways, obsessed with everything they saw.  The staff was leading the students to look around the beautiful city. Finally, all of us got tired, and decided that we should just take the bus to Manhattan.

After getting a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty, I knew we had arrived. From there we rushed to a hotel and got rooms for every pair. I simply paired up with a shy and an agreeable girl whom I knew from before. It was already night, so we just slept right after we had gotten into our rooms.

All the people at the orphanage woke up at 7 a.m. We probably had a long day awaiting us in the City of Dreams. I was astonished when I saw thousands of people crowded like ants at this early hour of the morning outside the hotel.

Our first destination was Central Park. I had never heard of the name before, so from the title it was given I assumed it would basically be a park in the center of New York. If I were to be honest, the expectation bars weren’t high. We again took the bus to the destination. In the bus, there were excited mutterings about the Central Park. I was disappointed with myself that I didn’t even know anything about this place. However, we arrived. Everything in my brain was suddenly wiped out, and without needing to worry about even a single fact, I felt satisfied. I stared at the incredible place with awe.

The Central Park could be defined as “one in a million.” Sitting at the center of tall buildings packed together, there was a masterpiece of nature. I shook my head, and my brain started to fill up. The first question that came to mind was, “Apart from all these crowded buildings, how do the people manage to preserve this part of nature?”  The wonderful place could be compared to a tame animal right in the middle of a bunch of wild animals. We listened as the tour guide gave information about the history of the place, enthusiastic.

Unfortunately, just after I felt a raindrop on top of my nose, it started raining like cats and dogs. Everyone around was urgent to move to a safe place. I followed the girl from last night, but it was difficult to keep up regarding the fact that about hundreds of people were in the place. Everyone was just staring at me because I was smiling, but I couldn’t help it. I could simply not move the muscles of my face . . . And surrounded by that thought, I lost sight of the girl, of anyone whom I knew. There I was, in the middle of the stormy rain. I didn’t know where to go, nor what to do. I just stood there alone, desperate.

 

***

 

The sun had risen again a few hours later. Although the Orphanage of London is supposed to be very organized and careful, no one did come back for me. None of the staff had informed us about what to do in situations like this. I didn’t know anything about this city, and now I was all on myself.

Across from me, there was a woman watching me mysteriously. After she recognized my glimpse, she smiled and started walking towards me.

“How nice you are!” suggested the woman, then added, “You’ve been smiling almost for an hour. That is incredible!”

Oh…” I said disappointedly, “I’ve always been smiling my whole life, so it is not an extraordinary thing for me.”

The woman suddenly lost her spirits, as if she was recalling something.

“What’s your name?” the woman asked with a spiritless voice.

“Rosaleen. What about you?” I wondered.

“Where are your parents?” the woman surprisingly changed the subject.

“I don’t have parents. I came all the way from London just for a trip with the orphanage,” I explained, feeling ignored and interrupted.

“So, may I ask why you are here sitting alone for a total of 2 hours and 37 minutes?” the woman inquired.

“Well, I’m supposed to be with them . . . But, when the rain poured down a few hours ago, I lost sight of them in the crowd. And now . . . I don’t know what to do,” I described, getting gloomy, but still smiling.

“Okay, nothing to worry about. I’ll help you find them!” the woman grew enthusiastic again. She definitely had rapid mood changes, I thought.

From there, she helped me to stand up, then we started walking, discussing what to do first. Apart from all that, we both couldn’t resist telling each other something about our lives. We figured out that we were very much alike after comparing our personalities. I told her about how I had been smiling literally my whole life, although it brought the woman’s spirits down again.

The woman’s name was actually Belle. She was one of the best brain surgeons in New York, and had born and been raised in New York. At the start of our journey, we were no more than two strangers who knew nothing about each other, but surprisingly, towards the end of our journey, we were like two old friends who have known each other for years.

“I think that’s enough of talking about personal lives, right?” Belle asked me gladly. Even though we had planned about talking what to do for finding the people of my orphanage, we had been talking about our lives for about an hour.

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” I agreed sarcastically, “we should go back to our main issue.”

The woman looked at her watch and suggested, “Why don’t we just go to my house and rest for a bit? Don’t worry, I promise we’ll continue our search early tomorrow morning.”

“That makes sense,” I said agreeably, “sure.”

 

***

 

There was something that made me and Belle attract each other like magnets. I never did want to go back to London, I wanted to stay with Belle here, in New York, but I had to keep telling myself that it was impossible.

However, we arrived at the “great mansion” of Belle. It was a huge, lilac colored house. It looked very pretty from the outside, and I wondered what the inside of the house would be like. The inside was just the same, beautiful and satisfying. Belle wasn’t married, so she lived all by herself in the house. She showed me the room I’d be sleeping in, after walking about 5 minutes around the maze-like structure of her house. When it was time to sleep, I respectively thanked Belle and went to my room and fell into a deep sleep…

The next day, I woke up, and excitedly went to the living room where Belle was. Suddenly, my smile had faded, because Belle was… different.

“Come, sit,” she insisted, trying to look alive.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, looking into her beautiful sparkling blue eyes.

“Look, Rosaleen,” she started, “there is something I have to tell you. Yesterday, when I was watching you . . . I recognized something, and I got suspicious . . .”

“Come on, Belle, what could it be, just tell me straight away,” I said, hoping the issue wasn’t serious.

“Okay, fine,” Belle inhaled deeply, then added, “Rosaleen, I’m really sorry about this, but . . . my research in medical school was about a brain disorder, a unique and a rare one. And yesterday, I recognized that my research and you were somehow connected.”

“I don’t understand anything you’re saying,” I said, confused.

“Based on my research from years ago and the research I made just yesterday night when you were asleep, you have a high chance of having a genetic brain disorder. It is where the person cannot stop smiling. Just like you… The person is also somewhat clumsy in many aspects, and sometimes involuntarily does stuff. Rosaleen, does this description match you or not?”

I couldn’t speak. Words just didn’t come out of my mouth. I stared at her, not believing anything she had said. But it was true. The description she had given me and myself were like puzzle pieces. There was still that smile on my face . . .

Rosaleen continued, trying to be reasonable, “But, technically, there is nothing to worry about. I will be your surgeon. You trust me, right? Look on the bright side, after, you won’t be forced to smile, ever. You’ll smile whenever you want to. Can’t you imagine how wonderful that will be?”

 

***

28 YEARS LATER

 

How wonderful was being able to snort! I had told the phrase to myself over and over again for the future 28 years of my life. I was a woman now, a woman who wasn’t smiling all the time. My mother, Belle, had adopted me from an orphanage 28 years ago, and she had made me who I am today. Regarding the fact that she was my idol and what I wanted to be like when I grew up, I followed her path and became a brain surgeon like her. And now, just like my mother did, I cured children who were forced to smile by an unfortunate defect in their brains, just like me!

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