Thanks for waiting. In case you missed the preview, find it here, so you know what to expect. If you are not sure what Beneath the Smile is about, please check the preview out.
The project aims at looking beyond the smiles of the next person, to see what’s really beneath, what’s really going on? How people really need help and won’t bother saying anything about it but would rather cover it up with a façade of strength, with a smile.
It’s time to look beneath the smile and lend a helping hand. People are going through real things, these are their stories.
We hope that you’d be kind enough to leave a comment. Your feedback is important to us.
First story, Beneath the Smile I by Anonymous Writer
Second story, Beneath the Smile, II retold by @Its_kash
Today, we have our Third story (FICTION), by @bRinEstAkeS
The ‘Beneath the Smile’ Project.
There are two kinds of people in my world. You’re either a pillar or a piece of decoration – a mover or a watcher. The crazy pace makes it hard to glance around while racing towards impossible deadlines. So, we specialize; we pick one of the two – and become the best we can at it. The watchers will tell you impeccable and articulate history; the movers will do whatever it takes to get the job done!
My name is Mark. I close big-money deals for wealthy (and usually desperate) clients. A popular business magazine says I’m “one of the best you won’t find around”. That’s an unfair representation, primarily because there’s something they often neglect to mention. I’m a stammerer – easily the worst you’d ever meet.
It’s been twelve years since I set upon this rocky path, refusing to do anything else. Last year, I botched four straight deals. That had never happened before; everyone said it was the end of me. But then, the next case I took grossed the firm more money than any of our rivals made that whole year! There are no ups without downs – but the papers won’t tell you that! They just make it all seem like magic.
I remember being on a plane to Quebec. Client’s daughter had been in a compromising picture three weeks before a take-over. He smelt foul-play and wanted me to clean it up. We were flying over New York when a lady started convulsing badly. Pretty dire situation. Pilot released the fuel for emergency landing at the usually busy JFK International. But control, failing to see the urgency, kept us circling. After twenty minutes of circling, I overcame my demons.
Walking briskly into the unusually open cockpit, I looked the nervy pilot dead in the eye. “Hi, Captain Ben. I know what this is. Let me help”. We called control again – and the pilot let me have the mic. It was a lady at the other end and she had this unmistakable southern accent. It belonged to a firm and exacting people. That was all the leverage I was afforded.
“Hi, Susan”, I started with typical slowness. “It’s Martha – but you’ll call me ‘Control’”, she snapped. Aha, Jane. “Listen, Martha. You sound like a responsible person. You probably have kids – two, maybe? And your parents are still alive? Well, I’ve got seventy mothers and eighteen kids on this plane. One of them is really sick. If you don’t land us in ten minutes, she will die. If you delay another seven minutes after that, all 281 of us will die. Our plane is out of fuel. It won’t be easy explaining our deaths to your kids”.
She landed us five minutes later and the convulsing woman survived. Everyone on board applauded as the paramedics wheeled her away. The pilot was so grateful he gave me his cap. It was a moment of true honour. As I fought to hold the tears, I remembered everything; not so long ago, the story was very different. You see, there are also two kinds of stories: there’s one they tell to amaze you – and there’s the more complete one. They call that the truth. And, of truths, there are few more startling than this!
I wasn’t always an authority in this business. My first three interviews ended badly; was actually walked out of two of them. No one could afford to hire me. The only open offer involved transcribing interviews for a TV station nobody watches. It was the safe option considering the doctor’s latest report. Apparently, I wasn’t even a stammerer. My real condition was a really complicated and rare worry that made stammering feel lovable. They called it Acute Kladentitis. Putting it simply, should I exceed a certain number of words daily, my jaw could lock while continuing to process words my brain had released. That would leave me the living equivalent of a broken record. Summary was: I wasn’t designed for conversation – at least not with humans. There was no cure – and worse, my daily number allocation was solely dependent on stress! Even the doctor advised me to take that TV job – but the silly voice at the back of my head said no. What did I do? I followed. Sometimes, it takes a monster to bring Jonah to shore.
I didn’t have more than 4 hours daily sleep over the next three months. Spent the time getting preparing for an opening two levels above my expectations. Finally, I applied and was invited for an interview. With a week to go, I underwent an unnecessary tonsil operation. Doctor wrote me a letter to say it may slow down or distort my speech – and that was the perfect cover.
Of course, the interviewers wanted to re-schedule till I was ‘better’. “I fe-eel per-fect”, I said with a wide smile. They pitifully agreed for me to say as much as the ‘surgery’ permitted and write the rest. But, that was always the plan; if I couldn’t succeed in spite of my condition, I jolly well could BECAUSE of it! I resumed a week later, a level below my target – but one above what I had interviewed for. I missed out on the Closer job. What I got was a pretty good opportunity – one I embraced firmly!
It took thirteen weeks for them to let me try my hands at a proper case. But, even then, it was a dead proxy case that had dragged on for months. Everyone had written it off – but I did it in one week. So, I got a second – and a third. By the seventh, I started pushing for a proper close-out. Obviously, it was impossible, considering my Kladento-whatever-the-doc-called-it. Still, I felt it more honourable to fall chasing dreams that to ride the horses of comfort. So, again, I pestered.
You must understand that a close-out is nothing like my proxy-briefs. Those were petty; you hardly needed more than good research and an articulate memo to win. A close-out is, however, very different. It involved intense research, memos, arguments, yelling, physical and emotional intimidation – and, sometimes, courtroom appearances. It was everything I was designed to fail at. Again, my heart said “go”. The first case required me to testify in court. I had studied so much the previous night that I slept off on the stand. The judge was so angry she fined the firm and banned us from her chambers.
I spent that night in a pool of tears. How on earth could I face my boss? The TV job was still available and I thought hard about it – but, again, NO! Went to see the boss two days later. This time, my words were fewer and slower than usual. “Good mor-ning. Let …… me …. fix ….. this”. My clenched fists and fiery eyes did the rest of the convincing. He gave me ten days to file and win an appeal. Eight days later, I was able to convince the appeal court that the other judge had a history of rash, temper-based judgments. We won – but the victory was more personal than anyone else knew. I had discovered a winning formula, one that has carried me since then. Study your opponent; study the field – but, above all, master yourself.
I spent every night before the appeal dissecting and analyzing every detail: the jury, the defendant, the (new) judge – and, of course, the case itself. The old judge first threw paper at a clerk three weeks into her divorce. Between then and now, her only son had been divorced, she had broken the hammer twice, tore up an affidavit. Rumour has it she even slapped a young lawyer during recess (no proof of that, however). There was a clear pattern of rage – but presentation, not fact, wins the case; everyone knew that. I documented and memorized 14 different lines of argument she might raise, said my prayers and went in. Of course, she mocked my condition when things heated up – calling it an “insult and deliberate waste of court time”. Eventually, though, we won; I won!
Got a dozen calls on my way back to the office that day; seven offering congratulations. The other five were firms who wanted me to be their lead-closer. The rest is, as they call it, history.
It’s truly beautiful in a stammerer’s mind; everything happens twice. Reality, however, squeezes itself in-between. Forget what you hear in the news; the glowing statistics are just one side of the story.
Truth is: I still cry myself to sleep on many nights. I often wonder how much easier life would be if my brain just made peace with my mouth, but I never stay down too long. Self-doubt, failed attempts, insecurity, and tears may line the road to success – but one should never settle for less. Everyone’s got a cross; history only remembers those who carry theirs uphill.
• • •
THANKS FOR READING.
A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS?
N.B. The project goes on with Monday’s Beneath the Smile, III (True story, retold) by @seuntomas
You can still send in your own true stories to email@example.com
You can subscribe to the blog (at the right column to follow the project, if you are viewing with your mobile, just scroll to the end of this page to subscribe)