A beautiful smile


1975, Cuba. I was 7 years old and lived in a boarding school. There were about 6 kids to a room, all different ages. The boss of our room was a skinny 5 grader whose gold front tooth sparkled in the sun when he smiled.

One day I return from school and tell the “boss” that we have to find a way to cut my hair because I was told that it was too long. That was a communist school you know – there were rigid rules. So the boss takes control, says “Yes! Right now!”, and summons everybody to prepare the terrace for the spectacle of my hair being cut.

Now, you must know that we were housed in a mansion nationalized by the Cuban government. It had checkerboard floors, black and white, huge terraces, spiral staircases – the works. So here we are – me sitting on a wobbly chair in the middle of the terrace. The terrace is about 50 ft. long and about 25 wide and its floor is terracotta tiles. The tiles are super hot under the hot Cuban sun so, as I sit, I lift my bare feet one at a time to cool them off. The other kids are running in an out of the room to fetch things that the boss needs to cut my hair. He is trying a variety of scissors. Tiny hobby scissors used by first-graders like me seem to be to his liking. I towel is wrapped around my neck. The sun is in my eyes. We are ready!

Of course the first cut is done on the front of my hair. A mirror is brought by a kid whose bare feet burn on the terracotta tile and he is tilting his body left and right when he lifts one bare foot up to cool off and then the other.

We all look in the mirror. I can’t see – the sun is in my eyes. The boss says “No. It is crooked.” So he makes another cut along my forehead. The mirror comes up again. The boss is not happy again. He makes another cut. At this point it is clear that we can not just continue doing that. So the boss commands “Bring me a right angle!” . A clear plastic triangle that kids use in geometry class is being brought in. The boss presses the triangle on my face. He is trying to get a 90 degree angle using my nose as a straight line. Then he cuts the hair again. Yes, it is crooked. He declares the work good enough and I am off to take a shower.

A day later my mother comes to see me and just about faints. She gets me a funny hat to put on until my hair grows out. Except that an 11-th grade girl that just loves me and can not get her hands off my fat cheeks claims the hat.

For the next 30 days every time I see her I run after her screaming “Give me back my hat!!!”. But she just smiles with a beautiful smile and touches my cheeks. I maybe in love, I smile in return. The hat stays with her. My hair grows out and I get the hat back when it doesn’t matter any more. Pretty philosophical situation if you ask me – that is how life goes when you are a kid and when you are not: We all fall for a beautiful smile.

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