Bureaucrat Smiles by Ryan Keating

—Bureaucrat Smiles—

A bureaucrat has forty-one smiles,
each one a subtle dishonesty-
like the smile that says you aren’t getting what you want today, even though you brought all the necessary documents, or the one that expects you to apologize for asking her to do her job, which is not unlike the one that might accompany a curtsy in a tulle tutu from a princess costume on sale at the party store.

Standing on the dark side of the mystical counter, queueing masses see the edges of her mouth swivel to suggest, but never reveal, gnostic secrets for transcending the mundane maze of policy and procedure as she waves off another peasant petitioner with the backhand elegance of a purple feather boa.

Insinuations, reluctances, and requirements rise and fall in the folds of her face like planets aligning to determine futures and fortunes as she speaks down while looking up, gracing a smirk of the kind evoked when a child wears a rhinestone toy crown and a plastic sheriff’s badge at the same time.

She is a true monarch on a throne with an adjustable backrest, ruling a cubicle kingdom whose dimensions span the desk, except for the shelf shared with her colleague, though hardly an equal, whom she tolerates more graciously than she should. A tight lipped grimace squeezes out as she fantasizes about how she could  put him in his place one day.

Her impressive powers are finely focused into the authority to say no to whatever process has made a visit to her necessary, although she will not likely ever use that word, preferring to grin mournfully and wield the pleasantries of sorry or unfortunately like an LED magic wand and with all the sincerity of its one sparkle setting.

With enough practice in the mirror she will learn to smile the elusive 41st smile, designed solely for the sophisticated strategy of imposing injustice while convincing you that she is in fact doing you a favor, like a medically necessary amputation on a stuffed panda performed by a toddler surgeon in a tulle tutu wearing a feather boa, a toy crown, and a plastic badge while wielding an LED wand with a single sparkle setting.

Photo by Raddy


Ryan Keating is a pastor, writer, winemaker, and coffee roaster on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. You can find his work at Ekstasis MagazineThe Agape ReviewWords and WhispersBox, and Vocivia (forthcoming). Twitter: @keatingr / Instagram: @ryankeating77