Smiling At Strangers


Dear Mum,

Smiling is infectious, you can catch it like the flu.
Someone smiled at me today, and I started smiling too.

I mentioned in my last Letter that I’m impressed with the respect they give the elderly in Cyprus. So different from the UK. Another aspect of life here which I really like is the way everyone is so friendly. It would be unthinkable to pass a stranger in the street and not smile and say hello.

I’m always smiling at strangers. Not that I walk down the high street smiling inanely at everyone I pass. Too many strangers! Just if I pass a solitary soul somewhere. And more often than not, I’m responding to someone else who beat me to it.

But there’s one nut that I’m finding it very hard to crack.

There’s a Cypriot woman in her late fifties/early sixties who lives in a large house on the corner of a street which I pass most days. I always give her one of my best smiles whenever I see her, and say hello or good morning or whatever, in Greek.

The best response I’ve had so far after over a year of platitudes is a barely perceptible nod of the head. In fact, she now seems to go out of her way to avoid eye contact with me. I’ve never once seen her with a smile on her face.

It’s become a challenge of course. I shall continue to proffer salutations whenever I see her in the hope that one day she’ll respond. But I have little expectation of success.

She’s not a heartless woman by any means. She puts out food every day for a family of cats who have taken up residence there. There are five or six of them. There’s one less now as one of the kittens got squished in the road back in the summer. The other kittens are now small cats.

There was an incident a few days ago that any animal lover would have enjoyed.

I was returning from exercising my German Shorthaired Pointer, Cleopatra, and rounded the corner by this woman’s house to be confronted by one of the kitten/cats lying in the middle of the road. The woman was just leaving her house at that very moment and stepped over this black cat as she crossed the road to get to her car, making no attempt to move the cat.

Cleopatra has a love/hate relationship with cats. She’s a bit scared and a bit wary of them, but she always wants to have a go at playing with them. She gets very excited whenever she sees a cat and starts dancing round in circles and advancing and retreating, trying to get a reaction from them. Usually, they just run away. And who can blame them!

On this occasion though, she advanced very calmly towards this black kitten/cat and lay down in the road about two or three feet away from it, with her head between her paws. No sign of her usual hyperactive excitement.

The two of them just lay there facing each other. And I just stood there watching, wondering what this was all about. And the woman just stood there by her car watching too, probably scared that her cat was about to be attacked by a fierce dog!

After a few moments, the kitten/cat stood up and began to advance very slowly towards Cleopatra until it was just inches away. Cleo lifted her head and gave a perfunctory sniff. The kitten lifted one of its paws very slowly, its claws retracted, and smacked Cleo very gently on the side of her nose. No reaction. So the kitten leaned forwards until their noses were touching and gave Cleo a quick lick. Still no reaction from the fierce dog!

I was spellbound by this. Cleo’s passive behaviour was right out of character.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know what happened next because at that moment a car came round the corner, the kitten skedaddled, and we had to make a hasty withdrawal from the centre of the road or risk being terminated.

Without a flicker of emotion on her face, or even the slightest acknowledgement of this endearing spectacle that she’d witnessed, the woman just got into her car and drove off…


©MPB 21/January/2008


One Response to Smiling At Strangers

  1. Amin says:

    This is good….i like this….did u just make up the story or is it an actual incident?

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