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For a Smile

K. got to the platform and stepped into the carriage just as the doors were closing. 'It's my lucky day' he thought to himself, the smile that had been glued to his face all afternoon broadened into a wide grin. Noticing how stuffy the tube was, K. glanced around himself. The faint odour of alcohol typical of a late tube journey home reminded him of the previous night's shenanigans, drawing a grin out of his soft smile once again. A group of party-goers stood opposite him in the gangway, talking loudly.

Half paying attention, K. caught a few words of their conversation. 'Did you see how she looked at me?... sucker... You neither mate...' A bunch of guys going home after a seemingly unsuccessful night out. K. looked at them and grinned - he too went home empty handed the previous night, despite his best efforts.

"What the fuck you smiling at? You got a problem?"

K.'s brow knitted up slightly as he stared back at them blankly.

"Don't act dumb - if you got a problem you better tell us. Now."

K.'s smile began to fade. 'Why are you insinuating that I have a problem?' he felt like saying. But then they'd probably reply 'You don't answer a question with a question'. And he'd look all the dumber for it. Or maybe not.. He couldn't quite imagine those words coming out of either of the three guys' mouths in any case. Nor did he imagine that 'Aren't I allowed to smile?' would prove to be an appropriate reply either. Not that he didn't consider it appropriate - rather they wouldn't; at least he was quite certain of that. What he wasn't certain of were the motives of their question in the first place. 'I must have pissed them off' he thought. But that didn't advance him much and he returned to defending his right to smile. 'They misinterpreted me and must think that I'm mocking them.. How daft' he thought and looked his interlocutor in the eye, shaking his head.

"I don't have any problems mate..."

"You sure about that? Cuz it looks to me that you do, and if you do, then we got a problem too."

'Here we go again' K. thought 'a bunch of drunks who watched the Sopranos too many times' and he decided to ignore them. That's surely the best option. They'd forget about him and continue their discussion if only to glance his way every so often. So long as he kept looking away they wouldn't find any problems to problematise. But what if they get even more offended by him not answering their question? They were quite drunk after all, and drunk people usually jump to conclusions rather quickly. Wasn't that what they had done by confronting him with the question in the first place? But that was then. Now's different K. thought. Now they could see that he clearly wasn't interested in them by virtue of his answer, and so they should likewise become disinterested in him. No... That didn't make sense either. At least not in drunken terms. They could think pretty much whatever they wanted - in all likelihood, the probability that K.'s answers would satisfy them was close to zero. 'There's no point in engaging in an argument with drunks.' So that was that.

"Pussy." One of the guys said, and they all sniggered. K. walked down to the next gangway to repeated callings of "Pussy" and other insults. Turning his back to them, K. smiled once again. 'Life throws funny things at you' he thought to himself. Luckily the next stop was his. As he got off the train and started walking towards the exit, he heard more sniggering coming from behind him - it was their stop too. The very thought that 'Maybe my luck stops here' made K. smile again, as if in disbelief. There will probably be a bunch of police officers hanging around the station in any case - there usually are on a Saturday night. 'But who cares anyway! These guys don't really want to trouble me, they're just messing around and are probably going home or going to the mall or something.' K. stepped off the escalator and reached for his Oyster card, ready to touch out at the turnstiles. As he looked up, he saw two police officers standing outside the station, as expected. K. smiled a cheeky self-satisfactory smile and, leaving all doubt aside, walked out, around the station onto the little backstreet which brought him to his road.

Just after turning onto the backstreet, K. noticed that they had followed him. 'Maybe this wasn't the brightest idea after all' K. thought, unable to prevent himself from smiling at his own stupidity. This backstreet was after all particularly well isolated from the traffic of the main road. 'Should I make a break for it? What if I shouted, the police might hear me...' Too little too late. K. felt a strong shove in the back and he now found himself back up against a wall facing the three guys laughing at him.

"You thought you were going to get away with it didn't you?" One of them said, inviting sniggers from the other two. 'Get away with what?' K. thought to himself. 'With thinking that they wouldn't come after you? I should've probably taken more precautions and walked down the main road instead... I wouldn't of found myself in this situation if I had.' So much was true. 'I could still try shouting for help' K. thought. Just then one of them punched him hard in the stomach and winded him. 'Ah! I wasn't ready for that one' K. thought as he recoiled under the pain of the blow. Nor was he ready for many of the blows that ensued. The thought of smiling at his own stupidity no longer occurred to him. All he could think of was the outrageous, almost unbelievable fact that he was being beaten up by a bunch of drunks for having smiled at them. 'If only I had missed that train' he thought 'then I could smile in peace.'

He didn't even remember why he was smiling in the first place. Not that it mattered. Although it did seem to matter to them. "You thought you were going to get away with it" they'd said. As if his smile was an offensive act in itself. Why was he smiling? Was it because he had a good day that day, did his boss tell him he's been given a promotion that afternoon? 'If one doesn't have a good reason to smile, one shouldn't smile at all' K. recalled the lines of some old war film he had seen ages ago. 'Do I even need a reason to smile? What if I smiled for the stupidest of reasons, like taking a bite out of a chocolate bar or seeing a leaf fall off a tree? What if I just smiled because I thought about smiling and it made me smile? Would a sober person think I was mocking them?' K. had no answers, although the questions seemed so surreal to him that he couldn't help but emit an incredulous laughter that withered out of his mouth as he lay broken and bruised on the ground. The three thugs had left and the police just showed up.


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