When Langston thinks of it now, it’s hard to separate the truth from the lies. All he sees is her. He feels her go limp and soft under his hand. He sees her pretty eyes close slowly. He feels her give in. She was everything he ever wanted. Everything he ever imagined. He still doesn’t know how it went so wrong.”
We meet Langston in the interrogation room of a Philadelphia Police Station. Handcuffed to a table. Charged with a serious crime. All because of a beautiful girl named Sonrisa. Sonrisa whose name means smile, though she rarely ever does. Sonrisa, a girl who would be his undoing.
When Langston thinks of it now, it’s hard for him to separate the truth from the lies. All he sees is her. He feels her go limp and soft under his hand. He sees her pretty eyes close slowly. He feels her give in. She was everything he ever wanted. Everything he ever imagined. He still doesn’t know how it all went so wrong.
A tall, lean female police officer strides into the interrogation room and takes the seat across from him. She adjusts her gun holster and leans forward on the table. Her wide, dark eyes look tired and a bit sad.
“I’m Sergeant Godmen, and I’ll be taking your statement this evening.”
Langston takes a deep breath and looks at his hands. His knuckles are scraped and bruised. His wrists handcuffed to the reinforced steel table.
“You’ve been informed of your rights?”
“Yes,” he answers quietly.
“And I understand you’ve waived your right to counsel?”
“Okay, then, Mr. Black. I need you to tell me exactly what happened. From the beginning.”
From the beginning, he thinks to himself. He still isn’t sure how this chaotic chain of events brought him to this moment, but the beginning…the beginning stands out in his mind in vivid clarity.
“Her name was Sonrisa,” he begins after licking his lips. “In Spanish, it means smile which is something she never does. Not often anyway. But when she does smile…it’s something to see.”
Langston presses the heels of his hands into his eyes, feeling desperation rise into his throat like a scream. There is no way out of this. He has to do the right thing. He has, to tell the truth. “All I ever wanted to do was to make her smile…” he begins hesitantly. “To make her happy.”
Langston caught the ten o’ clock train to the Coca-Cola bottling plant in New Jersey almost every night. He worked third shift. Many young men of his age would complain that working third shift interfered with their nightlife. After all, he was heading to work when most of his friends were preparing to head out to bars and strip clubs, but Langston didn’t mind. Hanging out at bars and strip clubs was never really his thing. Besides, working third shift allowed him plenty of time to indulge in his hobby–photography. He also loved riding the train. The gentle rocking motion. The pseudo-silence of the railcar click-clacking over the tracks. It soothed him in a way few things did.
The first time he noticed her was on that ten o’clock train.
She boarded at the Market Street stop with a group of friends. They crowded at the front of the railcar. Loud and disruptive the way that groups of young people usually were. All except her. She watched them quietly with wide, slanted, brown eyes. Now and then she cracked a little, crooked smile at something one of her friends said. She had a slight overbite. She probably hated it, but he thought it was sweet. That overbite gave her the cutest lisp. It was barely noticeable because she was so soft-spoken, but when she did speak up, he could hear it. It made her tongue lie flat when it should be rolling and thrust against her teeth when it should be lying still.
Of course, Langston observed all of this from a distance. Safely and unobtrusively perched on the outer fringe of her group while he quietly watched and memorized her simple gestures frame by frame.
The ten o’clock train had it’s regulars, fellow plant and warehouse workers like him, and soon the cute girl with the overbite and her friends were, too. He was content to watch her from a distance and did it for quite some time. But as the days wore on, he began to feel a yearning for more. Just a look of recognition from her. One of those crooked smiles thrown in his direction. He must have worked out a million scenarios where he introduced himself, and they got to know each other. All of which seemed to fall flat along with his self-confidence whenever he was near her.
Langston didn’t consider himself to be a man that any woman would take a second look at. He thought he was too tall—too awkward. Too dark-skinned. His face was a confused mixture of features which he thought were attractive individually, but crowded on his face they looked odd. He disliked his nose the most. He’d once overheard two girls talking about him. The prettier of the two had said that he would be handsome if it weren’t for his unfortunate nose. Unfortunate. Since that day he hasn’t been able to see anything but his unfortunate nose when he looked in the mirror. And he didn’t expect someone like the pretty girl with the shy smile and cute overbite to be able to either. So Langston ruled out any hope of a real interaction with her, but he thought of her endlessly. Allowed his imagination to run wild with thoughts of two of them together. And that was what he was doing the night she finally spoke to him.
He was sitting in the back of the railcar smoking a hastily rolled joint. He knew was taking a chance smoking on the train, but he needed it. An inexplicable bout of sleeplessness had his nerves on edge, and he wouldn’t make it through his shift if he didn’t calm down. So he settled into his seat, closed his eyes, and breathed the thick, white smoke in deep.
She boarded the train with her friends at their regular stop. They were loud—as usual—and he found himself slightly irritated with their presence until he saw her slip through the doors.
Langston’s chest tightened with a painful longing. He drew himself up straight when the group chose seats closer to him than usual. He focused in on her. He observed a small indentation on her chin; a scar of some sort that he hadn’t noticed before. He imagined himself kissing it. He noted the black, feathery shadow of her lashes against her cheeks. The fullness of her upper lip and then…she looked at him.
She looked right at him.
Brown eyes met brown eyes, and his heart stopped. He, of course, looked away. Too shy to hold her gaze, but too drawn to her to keep from glancing at her sidelong when she wasn’t looking.
During a lull in their conversation, she separated herself from the throng and walked directly over to him. Langston’s heart pounded in his chest, keeping time with her steps. The blood whooshed in his ears so loud that he was surprised he could hear her when she said to him softly, “Pasa la mota.”
In a daze, Langston passed her his joint. He watched her take a long, slow drag, pausing for a moment to spit out a seed. Langston cursed himself for not rolling it tighter. If he’d known that she was going to wrap her full lips around it, he would have made sure it was rolled perfectly. When she passed it back to him, and he took another toke, Langston reveled in the fact that just moments before her lips had touched the same place.
She seemed quiet and a bit serious. She didn’t talk loud or laugh often like her friends. She wore her skirts and her hair short. Very short. Her hair was clipped close to the scalp in soft, natural curls and her skirt barely skimmed the curve of her ass. Langston’s eyes followed the shapely line of her bowed legs from hip to ankle. She stood with her feet in first position. A ballerina. Her feet were sheathed in patented leather, ballet flats.
“Are you a dancer?” he asked.
A smile bloomed in the corner of her mouth. It revealed a tiny dimple there that he wouldn’t have noticed if she wasn’t standing so close.
“How’d you know?”
He pointed to her feet, which she immediately righted. When she looked up at him again, the smile had disappeared. He realized then that a smile from her was very rare.
“I haven’t danced in years,” she said in her soft, whisper-lisp. “You’re that guy who always walks around with the camera, right?”
Langston nodded slowly and then produced his Nikon digital camera from where he hid it under his hoodie.
“What do you take pictures of?”
Langston shrugged. “Anything that catches my eye.”
She smiled at that. “I’ve seen you down on South Street. You live in Philly?”
He nodded and passed her the joint again. She took it from him, eyeing him quizzically as she inhaled.
“What’s your name?” she asked, passing the joint back to him.
“Langston,” he replied.
“Langston,” she repeated with a nod. “I’m Sonrisa.” She chuckled. “I never thought that I would meet someone who talked even less than me.”
Then she turned and walked away.
Langston pulled out his camera and watched her as she rejoined her friends. They crowded at the doors and to wait for their stop. When the doors opened, she glanced over her shoulder at him, and he captured the frame. A small hint of a smile on her lips. A smile just for him. She followed him with her eyes until the train slipped into the darkness of the tunnel.
Langston sat down, feeling slightly breathless. He looked at the image he’d captured on his camera’s viewing screen. It was fuzzy. Everything was out of focus but her melancholy eyes. He smiled as he thought of her how tongue pushed against her teeth when she said the ‘T’ in his name, making it sound more like ‘Th’.
“Sonrisa,” he whispered as he finished off the joint. Now he knew how that cute lisp of hers shaped around his name.