The smile

The line snaked around inside the coffee shop and ended at the door. Husband and I waited behind a family of four. As we bided our time, I browsed the clearance t-shirts rolled up in a basket. Nearby on a shelf sat mugs for sale. Beautiful, tempting, overpriced.

The father of the family just ahead glanced back at us. Then he did a double-take. I looked at Husband and shrugged. Next, the boy shot us a look, then his sister—a girl of about ten years old. We put in our coffee order and waited on the other side to pick it up. The family waited for their drinks too. The boy whispered something to his mother, and she swiveled to look at us too.

I furrowed my brow. Did we look familiar to them?

“This is weird,” I whispered to Husband. “Why do they keep staring at us?”

“They probably think you’re famous.”

I tilted my head. “Right.”

The girl stood with her drink, facing me—and now gawking. Then she smiled. No flash of teeth—just a serene, kind smile. I smiled back.

We left the coffee shop. The memory of the girl’s expression plucked at my outlook—and heart—and undid the strange behavior of her family.

“Have you ever thought about a smile from a stranger?” I said to Husband when we were back in the vehicle with our lattés.

“Not really.” Husband sipped his drink and started the truck.

“It’s a private exchange between two people,” I said. “What does it mean?”

“Smiles aren’t always a good thing. They can be sinister or leering.”

“But when they’re not, I mean.”

He shrugged. “They’re just nice.”


The girl’s smile in that coffee shop was a tiny gesture. It took a second and cost her nothing. But I mulled it over for a week. And it warmed me.

A simple, silent gift with no cost attached to it. No expectations or hidden messages beyond “We’re both doing life in the same place right now, and I see you.”

A smile for a stranger.


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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.