by Mimi Evans
LOS ANGELES, CA — Riya Patel was riding the Metro Expo line alone on Saturday night when a middle-aged man in a suit approached her.
“Hey sweetie, why the long face? You’re a pretty girl. You should smile more.”
The man, James Harker, had reason to smile. As a straight white male, Harker was climbing the ranks of a pharmaceutical company while misguidedly believing his promotions were based on merit.
Harker, who had said similar things before, was shocked by Patel’s unusual response. A smile began to grow on Patel’s face until it reached ear-to-ear. Using her water bottle as a microphone, Patel began to sing “Pocketful of Sunshine” to the entire car.
Patel had been contemplating the arduous weekend ahead of her: studying for a full set of classes while balancing her part-time job. She was also trying to carve out time to focus on her mental health. But when Harker spoke, everything clicked.
“I had been going about it all wrong.” Patel proclaimed, “I was making progress with my psychologist, and antidepressants were helping. But I never tried just… smiling.”
It didn’t end there. Other people on the car began to join in. A man with chronic back pain was cured by his first grin. A hyperglycemic couple were cured of their diabetes by the end of the first chorus. And a woman solved both her marital problems and indigestion with a small smile.
“Thank you so much,” Patel said to Harker, with tears in her eyes. “For caring enough about me to encourage me to smile. It was such a selfless act, and definitely had nothing to do with validating you or dehumanizing me.”
Patel’s shiny teeth were clenched, making her words slightly hard to understand.
Harker seemed to grow agitated by the sudden empowerment of everyone on the Metro. These people were healing faster than even his company’s drug commercials implied were possible. If all of the world’s problems could be solved by smiling, his entire industry would soon be out of business.
Suddenly not feeling well, Harker sat down. A small scowl began to grow on his face.