DARWIN, Australia — I stop in my tracks for two things: the delicious scent of grilled chicken is becoming too difficult to ignore, and the sunset’s afterglow illuminating the night market is just too irresistible not to be captured. I take a deep breath, raise my camera, and work the shutter. When I put my camera down, I find a complete stranger, around ten meters away, smiling at me.
The stranger is a man, probably in his mid-forties, making his way through the crowd with his eyes fixed on me. And he’s still smiling.
I look behind me to check if there is someone that smile is really for. There is no one. He’s still looking at me. And still smiling.
Growing up, I was told I had an ugly smile. I had an overbite, something I wished my parents could do something about, but alas we were too poor to afford braces. So whenever there was an opportunity for a photo and I was within the frame, I would flash a toothless grin. Mona Lisa would be proud.
Smiling isn’t something I am good at. I can’t count the number of times my colleagues have told me to cheer up as I walk down the office corridors. I may just have one of those resting bitch faces. That or I just think too much. Walking is not just walking for me; it’s walking while attempting to crack yet another marketing strategy. Standing isn’t just standing; it’s standing while trying to figure out how to solve things, fix things. My mind is always busy. Smiling is a chore. It distracts from the job at hand.
So now that I realize that this man, now just three meters away, is smiling at me, I am not sure how to react. It’s only my second night in Australia, and I have no idea how friendly to strangers people here are. I stand still, just throwing back the look he’s been giving me. But without the smile.
Suddenly his curled lips turn flat and his eyes smaller. He’s so near now. Our shoulders brush.
He raises an arm, taps my shoulder, and says, “It’s a beautiful evening. Smile, mate.”
Where to stay: Darwin is the closest major city. Darwin YHA Hostel offers affordable accommodations right at the heart of the city center and with fast internet connection. Day tours are also available. Visit their official website or book now at: www.yha.com.au.