Smile encounter

I ride the Seoul subway, line six. A small young woman in a colorful dress gets in and takes a seat. She is not Korean and she wears a scarf. As relative outsider in this monocultural megalopolis, I instinctively feel solidarity with the timid girl, whose face was ridden with acne. I smile at her.

When I sit down I leave a respectful distance between me and the muslim woman, but I notice that the laces of her right shoe were neither properly tied nor tucked inside. I hesitated. Should I tell her? Or is looking at a female foot frowned upon in her cultural paradigm? Would it sound like a lame excuse to start a conversation of the kind her religion tends to guard so strictly, the kind with an erotic dimension, with distant fantasies of impossible lovemaking as pleasurable distraction from the spleen of our daily lives?

I decide to say it.

“Your shoes.”

The young woman’s face shone. She smiled at me three times and thanked me after she had put her footwear in order. Then she thanked me again as she alighted one station before mine, her eyes twinkling and vital. I observed the unapologetic smirk on my own face in the opposite window. This is the kind of experience that makes me make sense of the world. This is the kind of scene I love to write about. I want to convey, and understand, how a few seconds of interaction, wordless and genuine, can make us so happy.

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