October 17, 2006

The Smile

The modern corporation often seems a tundra of homogeneity but occasionally there are moments.

Like today as I was waiting for an elevator. Beside me stood a couple. She was speaking a foreign language which I assumed to be Russian because they both looked exquisitely Russian. His face was craggy as the Ural mountains, gargoyled with boils and dominated by a large and fleshy nose. Her dark eyes had a baggy, sunken look, like she hasn't slept in awhile, or perhaps it was natural in the way sunken eyes are for some Russian women. They may not have been conventionally handsome or pretty but the very lack was a mark of authenticity.

The elevator comes and we all board and I decide I'm going to try the only Russian phrase I know, learned a decade ago from a co-worker who'd escaped the USSR. They were getting off six and the rest of us had more to go. Since this seemed perfectly juvenile, I didn't want to say it so loud that the others would hear. But I counted on the fact that the familiarity of the language would allow one of them to pick up my quiet das vadanya -- if in fact they were Russian.

It worked to perfection. I don't think anyone else on the elevator heard but him. His partner had gotten off first and he was just exiting. The broadest smile crossed his face as he looked back at me. He replied in Russian in response as the door closed. Of course I don't know what he said.

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