„My alarm didn’t go off today.”
I cough and pretend to wipe my glasses, as if that’s something of great importance. I hope that no one will notice my trembling hands wiping the glasses.
The Professor, or the Pro, as we call him, is standing at his desk, not moving an inch. I know he knows I’m late, but I hope he’s not that mad about that. Also, I know everyone else knows I’m late and I’m hoping that no one points that out, since I’m not good with lies.
Oh, boy. The Pro is pointing to the chair sitting in front of him. What can I do, besides sitting on it?
„Give me something today, Marcus. Something about our theory, or another one, or maybe about radio waves, for all I know. But give me something. Even if they are lions.”
Yeah, he’s calm, but I wish he wasn’t. If he was angry, I would’ve been screaming at him and throwing things and I would’ve been violent and maybe I could’ve storm out the door. But he’s calm and he’s only asking me for my job, which I have been ignoring lately, to be honest.
„I was thinking about smiles.”
These words rush out without me thinking about them, but I seem baffled. The Pro does not believe me and stares at me, incessantly.
„What about them smiles?”
He raises his arms, putting his fists under his chin, letting his head rest on them. I notice the wrinkles his blazer makes around his elbows and I start looking in my head for ideas. I don’t even know why I thought of that.
„Well, you know… We smile. Everyday.”
The Pro, he looks at me like a father looks at a lying kid of his.
„And we think of them as free smiles, but not all of them are that way. Some are a form of payback for other smiles or other emotions we go through. So I was thinking: what if we had a number of smiles we have to give, a definite number? What is that number and in what circumstances are they offered?”
The Pro starts raising his left eyebrown, but no other muscle on his face is moving. I must admit I envy him, because even though he has the double of my age, he looks better than me. I am a geek-wannabe, and I can’t even follow through with one idea! I don’t even dare to think about bigger stuff, like conducting experiments or even having a life.
We sit in silence for about 20 minutes. I dare not continue, since the whole idea was made up and it’s difficult for me to grasp it or to construct around it. In the meantime, I become more and more aware of the others, since they all halted their work to listen to us.
„I know what you mean.”
The Pro starts talking after that terrible, terrible silence. I’m not brave enough to sustain the conversation, so I breathe in as easily as I can, hoping for a follow up.
„When I was your age, I thought about smiles all day long. I felt life was full of fake smiles, so I needed to discern which one of them was real and which was not.”
„But are the fake smiles different from the paid smiles?”
„What do you think, Marcus?”
The Pro smiled slyly at me, leaning back on his chair and making all of my muscles tense again.
„I think they are not” I say in a soft, girly voice.
„Care to say that again?”
„I believe they are not different” I say with more determination.
„Oh, and what makes you think that?”
„Whenever we give back a smile, as a payment method, for a smile we’ve been greeted with, let’s suppose, it’s not a smile we feel entirely, it’s a smile society tells us to feel.”
„That’s a good starting point, my dear. Continue.”
„Every smile, at any point, can be traced back to the person who initiated the gesture willingly. Being a display of willpower, this means that the smile is not genuine and all of the smiles related to it are not real, therefore they are fake and they are used as that method of payment we spoke of earlier.”
„So why do you think of the so-called free smiles? What are those?”
„Those are the smiles we generate unknowingly, such as the smiles a little baby has or the smiles we have when we fall in love.”
„But the babies are programmable. They see you eat, they eat. They see you smile, they smile.”
„Yes, but they don’t know they have to smile!”
„They can be programmed to, nonetheless. In such mechanism, there is no need for the performer to understand the meaning of his or her task. They see their mother, they associate her with something nice, and they know she will smile at them, and so they initiate the gesture.”
„What about love? Isn’t that a reason to smile?”
„Please, Marcus! I thought you were a little more intelligent. Love, as proven by others a lot smarter than us, thank you Christina!, is a mix of chemicals in the right concentration. We „feel” we’re in love, we automatically „know” we have to smile all the time.”
Looking at Christina, a buxom red head with a lot of black eye liner and a wide smile on her face „Even Christina smiled at me, after I thanked her for her chemical research. Can you tell me she was not programmed to do so? That we are not programmed to „thank” with a smile and a nod every time someone says something nice about us?”
„So basically you are trying to tell me that the number I was looking for is zero? That we never smile on our own and that we are all liars?”
„Yes, Marcus. And if you’re going to be late again, please prepare a more elaborate and believable excuse. I was better at that shit when I was your age.”