Eagle Street, Brooklyn

Photo: John St John

There are ways and reasons to smile at a stranger. In your case, the first reason was that you were an old lady and smiling at old ladies is something I regard as a minor civic obligation, a permanent personal policy. Shouldn’t we all telegraph, I see you, person whom the worst world wants to make invisible! whenever we can? Beneath that though, there’s something fuzzier and more craven — a belief that it might constitute a sort of karmic prevention against future loneliness. I am scared of the inevitability that is becoming a grumpy old body in pain. When I’m there, I think I’d want to be smiled at.

In your case, though, I smiled mainly because the sight of you nearly made me laugh out loud. First of all, you were trudging the wrong way up the bike lane, the same bike lane adjacent to the clear and empty sidewalk. This act of plain and willful orneriness struck me as magnificent. Second, you were towing your shopping bag behind you with comically visible resentment, as if it were some loathsome old dog that wouldn’t die. When I imagined you setting out and taking to the bike lane, I pictured you muttering fuck sidewalk, and I heard it in a strong Polish accent. Second, you were staring down my approaching handlebars with an expression of unrelenting grimness. Which did not thaw when I smiled my big and blatant smile at you. In fact, there was a just-detectable puckering and souring around your mouth, the physiognomical evidence, surely, of the words fuck cyclist, too as you thought them.

You kept on walking. My thoughts turned to the glorious dour of Sophia, whom everyone knows is the best Golden Girl. She once delivered the line, “Fasten your seatbelt, slut puppy, this ain’t gonna be no cakewalk.”

But here was the best bit. As I swooped past you, widening my arc out into the middle of the road, I did a quick double take to make sure, yes! — your coat was actually purple. Perfect. “When I am old I shall wear purple.And walk in bike lanes. And think fuck you to young women on bikes who think their smile will mean the world to me.