Always remember to smile, she would say. As I’d sing my last breath away, always remember to smile, my choir conductor would chant. Mercy, have we not given enough?, I’d wonder, as a Grade 3 kid, learning to sing in a manner that felt way too organised with the opera singer in each of us being prompted to break through a little further than my creche nursery rhymes had set me up for. Those were the days of the born-frees, You threw your natural voice into any given tune and as long as the whole team of red, blue and green bibs was good for it, it was all systems go!
Gone were the days…
In hind sight, this smile while you sing business has always felt like a bit much. A gift Michael Bublé should be making a killing for in a totally separate income stream, if you ask me.
I do love to sing and as for smiling, the habit tends to sneak up on my face without my authorisation. The old lady who complimented my smile as I shook her hand at a funeral can attest to that last bit. (Alright, you caught me, funeral, unveiling…) I was about to hit the cemetery in all black and still had a smile worth noticing, is all I’m saying.
I don’t have to be reminded to smile, I just have trouble doing it while life is going on sometimes. And this is where the loophole is: I struggle with the juggling act of smile and…
This I notice as I walk to work, I have to keep reminding myself to not frown so much – a habit I developed from my young days
I feel this difficulty in juggling different feelings more frequently as I get older, the ability to remember all that I am blessed with while I struggle to meet a deadline at work or to make it on time even. The ability to observe and acknowledge other people and places through my various senses as I rush to work. It tends to feel as if I operate on autopilot, I leave home, rush from one step to another and boom, I’m at the office reception, whipping out my access card. These days I wonder when the walk to work suddenly got so short. I use to dread it.
But every now and then, if I can steal a moment away, I find myself stunned by the clear blue sky. It seems to sit at a distance as we buzz from Point A to B, calm and clear. I’m the first to notice a grey sky, but I find that the calm sea of blue easily seems to slip through my fingers quite often.
Besides the odd siren or protests that occur in the Pretoria CBD, the only thing that seems to grab my attention in town is hearing the two instruments I come across mostly, the saxophone and accordian. I can’t help but grind to a halt when my ears get the faintest feeling of a live instrument in the air – whipped out to disrupt the bustle. Music is the only thing that can really slow down any moment, however chaotic a situation I may find myself in.
Back when I was young and preoccupied with various frustrations such as my family’s status and composition, my social position in any space or having to take a moment to take any forced picture really (see Exhibit A, above). I suddenly realised how, while life was taking its course, I had forgotten how to smile. The muscles beneath my brows literally hurt from all the frowning I had gotten accustomed to when alone. This realisation around the age of 15 felt like some sort of awakening. I will never forget how often I had to practise to straighten my brows, it relieved me every time I felt the tension slipping from my face.
I suddenly realised how, while life was taking its course, I had forgotten how to smile.
Today as I noticed the blue sky that remained still beyond the inevitable buzz that tends to leave me preoccupied. I took the the time to stand still as the saxophone in Church Square sounded a hymn-like tune and I took it in – had a moment to myself.
And again, it felt like the beginning of a journey, the beginning of what I felt like was me making my way to myself again, just on another trip, closer to Mr Blue Sky.
…Away from the frown, and a tiny step closer to my smile.
Akani Fuko is here to offer an appreciation of the commotion we’re brought up in and the lessons it inevitably comes with. I reckon the hot mess that seems to persist in our lives may offer each one of us a unique take on life that only seeks to enrich our authentic selves. The gift of perceiving life through humour and constant reflection remains one my life’s truest forms of compensation, to say the least.