Why We Smile

— Sandip Bhattacharya

तुम इतना क्यों मुस्कुरा रहे हो
क्या गम है जो तुम छुपा रहे हो
One Fall morning, I enter the office to find
Fred deconstructing his life – the pieces being placed
into self-locking boxes:  brittle stuff, of little use,
go into one – the workplace bric-a-brac and the plaque which
says Thank You – the Company needs people like You;
more pliant stuff is placed pell-mell in another box – papers, books
he still might read, opinions…; the third box remains half-empty —
he leaves some space, perhaps for Hope. He looks up and
unsheaths a scintillating smile — the weapon he will wield against
the ogres of mortgages, colleges and the middle-aged job search.
The sweet squares of raisin-rich, butter-brown cakes are laid out
on translucent china reminiscent of bone, in the recently remodeled
room – all modern and mirror smooth, all  granite and  glass;
Wisps of steam rise from the cups of Earl Grey as Meera confides
with an apologetic smile – the growth is in my gut, but chemo might
stem  it…Her 10 year old is leaving for his Little League game, so
she smiles and waves to him – play hard, make us proud, she says,
I will be waiting for you. She smiles again, a different smile.
As I gather the bounty showered on us by the sweet-gum tree,
rake and hoard the leaves like last year’s happiness,
I get a call from my father, continents away. This is a weekly
ritual, now grown much less frequent.
I wax poetic about the music of the spheres, the changing of the seasons,
how Spring will recompense Fall. He smiles at my foolishness – I
hear it in his voice…Forever the engineer, he talks about pumps and valves;
how the body is but a machine, how entropy is forever increasing in our Universe,
I smile at his nonsense. Only when he hangs up and silence returns to our lifeline
in the ether, I realize he was telling me that some Winters last forever.
 I realize, I forgot to tell him something.


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