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The Strange Smile

Source of the story:  ‘The Strange Smile’ is based on an incident shared by a close friend.

I ran by the side of the moving train.

My gaze was constantly fixed on him.

I was awe struck.

“You…you….”, words didn’t come out of my throat. The train then gathered speed.

And I had to stop.

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A week back, I was relaxing after reaching home from office. Someone knocked at the door. When I opened, a teen boy, smiling, who had shining and bouncy hair, greeted me. “Hello, may I have the keys please?” As he spoke, he winked and turned his head slightly to the left which left a bunch of hair on his forehead.

PROSOPAGNOSIA took off and in minutes it was in complete control of me. If you do not know this term, it is a sort of disorder which makes a man forget faces. I have been diagnosed medically as having this disease. It is also called face blindness. I consider myself comparatively far weaker than a normal person with recognizing people and faces. I sometimes even forget people’s faces whom I have interacted with quite recently. And I would get sick with the sinking feeling of who she or he was.

But this was somewhat different. I said to myself, “How can I forget this face? He is so near to me…and so dear to me too.”

Meanwhile I heard, “Sir may I have the keys? I am Mrs. Santosh’s nephew. I have come today. But they are somewhere outside. I spoke to aunty and she said I could take the keys from you.”

“O, sure…..yeah.” I handed over the keys to the teen.

Then I took shelter in logic. Who could be my dear ones? How to find his identity? But no….it didn’t come to my mind. I coiled on my couch, absorbed in deep thought.

The next two days were nightmarish for me. Though forgetting people is quite commonplace to me, this boy had got on my nerves. I tried hard. I searched old albums, my old papers, school snaps but there was no one like this.

I went to Mrs. Singh’s house asking about their outing and discussed things and I observed him at close quarters. Once he caught me spying on him and winked and jerked his face in his usual style. Moreover, a strange smile always accompanied his gaze on me. At that very moment, the image of Satbir flashed in my mind. Satbir was my childhood friend. We used to play together, hang out, throw mud at each other and swim together in the lake. But that was somewhere else. How cum he could be here? Moreover, that was 34 years back. Though the face of the teenager did not exactly match but his activities and the way he winked and jerked his hair was a carbon copy of Satbir’s gestures. My God! how can there be such similarity? I remembered his queer way of naming things and people. He would say ‘plane aero’ for aero plane and ‘ring key’ for a key ring. He would even break some words in the middle like ‘pard leo’, meaning leopard.

I was absorbed in my thoughts when I heard, “Let’s play.” the teenager was smiling. Again he invited me with his eyes exactly in the same way that Satbir used to. I followed him spontaneously to the park outside. It was 3 in the afternoon. We played and played. When we felt tired and decided to stop, it was about half past eight. We played with a ball, ran after butter flies, even chased dogs and laughed loudly while speaking to each other. I had in fact forgotten that I am going to be fifty this October. I was breathing wildly when I stopped. Meanwhile the wink master had winked and telling everything with his eyes, gone back to his aunt’s flat.

Next day, I went to their house. I didn’t remember that I had a 9 to 5 office job and it was about half past 11. Nothing in the world seemed important to me. Only thing, I wanted to see Satbir…. I mean…that boy. But there was a lock on the door. I came to know that Singhs had gone to railway station to see their relatives off. In 5 minutes, I was in my car driving to the station.

When I reached, the train was about to steam off. I ran and reached the window where the teen was sitting. “Hello….”, he blinked in usual style.

He was looking inside, away from me, when the train whistled. I looked at his hair. Same. His eyes, exactly similar. Even the pitch of his voice was unmistakably similar. But I don’t know why, even though I gathered all my courage, I could not ask his name. He looked sad. I wanted to tell him that I was Rajesh and ask him whether he was the same Satbir who had gone to Punjab in 1982 when his father got transferred. What had happened to me? How was that possible? “You prosopagnosiac!”, I cursed myself.

The train started to move. The teen turned his head towards me, as in slow motion, he had a strange smile on his face, and said,

“Jesh…Ra…..Bye…..Good.”

I felt a cold wave running inside me. “What…what…did you say?” I was running hard but the train had speeded up. He was gone.

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It has been an hour since then. Drenched in sweat, I have been sitting on the platform. It’s high time I went home now. But sure, I am going to search for Satbir Singh Ahluwalia of Gurudaspur, Punjab on Facebook. The strange smile has to be deciphered.

About the author

Rajesh

We play different roles at different points in time during the journey called life. At this point I play a 'WRITER' and tell you tales. Those of real life, those that make you smile, those that make tears trickle down your eyes and also the ones which might be your own stories.

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