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by Sarah Shortt
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A Friendly Smile
It is a cloudy day in 1873. My father and I are visiting my Aunt Clara and Uncle Bernard
in London. We live in a smaller town farther south. I have never been to London, but father has once or twice for business reasons.
Uncle is a shoe salesman. So we're traveling through the business district to reach his shop.
The streets are busy this evening. I hear Big Ben chiming the hour. People hustle about from shop to shop, some buying, haggling for
the best price. Many at street booths shout their merchandise. A few linger beside shops, perhaps waiting to meet a friend or a relative;
others scurry on errands. Many hurry to finish last-minute business before the day is out. I am not used to the noise of the city
or the horrible stench of the streets. Sweating horses, animal waste, cigar smoke, people seriously in need of a bath.
There are so many people! English, Scottish, Black, Asian, Gypsy, German, Irish, so many different nationalities in one city, in one
district! I stopped trying to distinguish them one from the other. Their voices blended together my ears in a muddle.
It is getting dark. People bump us from every angle. It takes skill to remain on my feet! Father tries to stay as close to me as possible
as we maneuver through the crowd. He caught my elbow suddenly and said, "We should try to get off the streets. It's time for the workers
in the factory to head home." He pointed me to a small bread shop, and we press toward it as quickly as possible.
A short man with a round, black-smudged face tips his dirty derby to me. He's older than twenty, about thirty or so, and not very
handsome, but I like his smile and friendly eyes. Judging from the amount of black on his clothes, I would say he works with a coal
His work is difficult; he has seen hardship. His face shows it. I notice creases
under his eyes and across his forehead. He is a little grimy, but I don't mind. While everyone else shoved us and pushed past, he
was kind enough to give us a friendly smile. I nod and smile back. We gain a few more steps, and I can't see him anymore.
We enter the bread shop. The clerk and I talk to pass the time until the streets clear enough for father and I to make it to Uncle
Bernard's shoe store; I know he is probably waiting for us.
I mentioned the friendly worker
to the clerk. She happened to know him.
"He passes the shop every day on his way home from
work. I know he has a wife and three children."
The next day, I met him outside the shop
with a basket full of homemade loaves
and sweets. I wanted to return kindness for kindness.
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