The billionaire stared into the pristine mirror, calmly rinsing his hands, smiling to himself, with a broad, billion dollar smile. He oozed with unadulterated wealth. With riches, that sent a pulse of sweetness shivering through his body. For he had once lived a dreadfully poor life as a child, and now, as an adult, he had made his mark with honest, hard work, and his wealth helped others, not only himself. He was so rich that it felt serene. And serenity exuded from him, with his beautifully fitted suit, thriving complexion, smooth skin and well-groomed hair. Every time he regarded himself, he was instantly reminded at what he and his family had been before; some of the most wretched of existence. He remembered the desperate face of poverty that he used to wear, and then that fateful meeting with the man, with the smile of money on his face, the rich man, who had taught him that he had to shed, hard and honest, blood, sweat and tears to wear such a smile on his own face. And that he did. Until he had made it. Every mirror thus reminded him of that lesson. And with every recollection the sweetness delighted him that much more.
He walked out of the luxury bathroom on the ground floor of one of his many skyscrapers, smiling at the security guards dotted around the vast reception area. Both they, and all the other employees, seemed to part and stop what they were doing, acknowledging him with grateful nods and wistful gazes as he passed by. They smiled at him with admiration and respect, for the billionaire was generous man to work for.
As he strode along up to the swinging doors, with his driver and car at the ready outside, he caught a glimpse of his face in the glass, the broad, confident smile flashing in front of him momentarily. The world was at his feet. He could do most things he wanted to do. He had forgotten fear. His money ensured that every threat could be planned and confronted with ease.
And no one wore a smile like his.
But, on the other hand, no one wore a smile like the taxi driver either.
The limousine glided through the down town traffic until it stopped at the lights. The billionaire had been gazing at the familiar sights of the city, the hustle and bustle, spirited shoppers marching up and down the high street, mannequins staring wide eyed in their cool poses from designer store shop fronts, when his eyes lighted upon an unkempt taxi, with an open driver’s side window. And it was driver of this vehicle who had profoundly caught the billionaire’s attention.
He hadn’t seen anything like it. That smile. It was broad like his, and deep. But what oozed from that smile the rich man could not figure out. It wasn’t money, this was a poor man, struggling to keep afloat. And it definitely wasn’t drugs. His childhood had taught him many times how to recognise narcotic euphoria to real cheer. This smile seemed to last, endure; it was sweetness. Infinite sweetness. The taxi driver was hiding some kind of secret.
It instantly became the rich man’s obsession. For in his long, illustrious career, he had only met two other people who wore similar smiles to his own. And they had all earned it through their tenacity and hard work also. He had met contented poor people, people happy with what they had, living according to their means, pleased with their simple blessings. He knew their smiles very well. He knew genuine smiles, artificial smiles, arrogant smiles, tragic smiles, insane smiles and the smiles of lovers. But to this day, he had never encountered a smile which seemed to leap into an air of infinitude, of some sweetness which seemed to last forever.
He watched the taxi man and his smile intently. He was a rather ugly man with undistinguished, grizzled features. But the smile enlightened his face with a beauty the rich man had hitherto never seen.
“I know this may seem a strange request. But can you follow that yellow cab, right there, two rows to the right.”
Wilkins, the trusted chauffeur, obediently looked across.
“That one, nearest the lights?”
“Yes, that one, I think I recognise the driver. Someone from back home. If it doesn’t take too long, I’d like to catch up with him and say hello.”
“Okay sir, we’ll be right with him.”
The lights changed. The limo swapped lanes until, after a few moments, they were neatly behind the yellow cab, cruising through the city streets.
The yellow cab weaved and threaded its way through the early evening traffic, charging ungracefully down the long high street while the limo cruised patiently behind.
For a minute, they lost sight of it. At one moment the taxi was right in front of them. The next, gone. The billionaire’s heart dropped. They’d lost him. He would never know the answer to the question that had been playing itself unstoppably in his mind. But sense told him to let it go and that time would teach him the answer.
“Oh, look sir, there he is!” The chauffeur pointed to the taxi, turning into what looked like its base, a big underground garage, filled with identical yellow cabs.
They followed quickly and turned in. In no time, the billionaire was stepping out of his car, and was walking behind the man with the smile.
The taxi man turned. The smile sent a tremble into each and every pore of the billionaire. He had never felt this weak before, except when he used to be a poor boy in the slums. He winced, in unknown territory.
“Yes sir, how can I help you?”
“I..I,” the rich man hesitated. The taxi man held his smile, waiting.
“I wanted to ask you something.”
The taxi man looked rather bemused, “okay, go ahead.”
“Why do you smile?”
The taxi man stood silent for a moment. The smile deepened further into the unknown.
“Why do I smile?”
“Yes, why do you smile?”
The taxi man closed his eyes for a moment, a tear delicately rolled down his cheek, and he smiled to himself with a sweetness that the billionaire craved.
“I smile, because I am rich.”
“You mean, because you are content with your life?”
“No, because I am rich.”
They were both silent for a moment. The rich man was becoming increasingly frustrated.
“But what do you mean? Either you are content with your lot, or you have money. I don’t understand?”
The taxi driver looked deeply into the rich man and thought for a moment.
“Look. Where I come from, there is a man. He is no ordinary man. And he once taught me to recite the Name. And I kept reciting the Name, like he told me to, until I was shifted from the Name to The Named, and now…I am rich, all the time. And I smile because the Named makes me rich. And it feels sweet, really sweet!”
“What name? What are you talking about?”
“That’s all I have to say.”
After what he thought a rather mystifying explanation, the billionaire shook the taxi man’s hand, apologized for taking his time and went on his way.
“So, was it the man you were looking for sir?” Asked Wilkins, as they drove back to his mansion.
The rich man didn’t answer.
“What? Oh sorry Wilkins, no, it didn’t happen to be the person I was thinking of.”
“Oh, that’s a shame. Seemed like a happy man, for a yellow cab driver. Big smile on his face!”
“Yes,” replied the billionaire, “Big smile,” and as he stared at this own reflection, it seemed to morph into the taxi man’s image, and he heard those haunting words again: “I was shifted from the Name to the Named.”
And then, to his horror, for the first time since he was a boy, the billionaire felt that terrible hollowness again deep inside. He was a poor man again.