The door of the old office opened. Light came into the room spreading its beams among dusty books, elegant furniture, dozens of maps of different galaxies...
It looked untidy but a seventy-year-old astronomy professor called Peter Crawford knew exactly where to look to get anything. He entered the room at the same hour he had been doing it for the last 40 years. Before taking off his smart coat, his hat and his scarf, Peter sighed looking around at all his stuff, at all his memories.
As Professor Crawford was sitting on his chair, the door opened again in a less gently manner. Miss Kelmanson, Peter´s strict assistant, walked across the room in her grey serious dress. She brought him daily newspapers and a mug full of smoky coffee. Miss Kelmanson is on her fifties; she never smiles and barely talks. Her cold eyes give her face a tough expression. The efficient woman threw everything on the professor´s desk.
Professor Crawford looked at her with a smile. Peter knew it was a lost battle but he always liked trying to get a glimpse of happiness out of her. She, of course, turned around and left the room quickly. But from the door, without the professor noticing her, Miss Kelmanson stared at him for a second in a strange doubtful way.
Alone again, Professor Crawford did not smile anymore. He started to read some headlines, but his eyes seemed to look beyond that piece of paper. Peter also tried the coffee but he did not drink it up as usual. Then he seated back and sighed again lost in his thoughts. Suddenly the sound of a distant clock woke him up. It´s o´clock!
The corridors of the prestigious university were crowded with students changing classrooms and groups of teachers debating and gossiping. The morning sun came through the big elegant windows creating a magic atmosphere in the big hall. Peter walked among the people in a very discrete way. In this part of the college he always looked at the paintings on the walls where there were old teachers, important scientists and a few old fashioned academic celebrities. Professor Crawford could almost feel they were alive, following him with their ghostly eyes.
Suddenly Peter got scared. Someone had touched him on his shoulder. He turned back and a group of “real” teachers were standing next to him looking at Peter compassionately. He smiled them back but Professor Crawford continued to walk right away.
Peter was now in a smaller corridor. At the end of it Professor Crawford stopped in front of a door feeling comfortable again; it was his classroom.
Peter entered a big old classroom with a grandstand distribution. He walked towards the microphone while he looked upwards, at the students´ seats. There were only six people. All of them were seated in different places of the big room and nobody seemed to care the professor presence; two students were listening to their Mp3´s, other two were playing with their computers and the rest were trying to take a nap.
Professor Crawford got to his microphone, opened a big book he had brought and looked for one particular page. Then he looked at their students, cleaned his throat and started to talk firmly, breaking the deep silence of the classroom.
-Rz-139 is a galaxy located in the mid system of Ontarius Group. Its dimension is equivalent to a quarter of the total of…- Suddenly Peter stopped. He kept looking at the book for a second. The students noticed the silence and one by one stopped doing whatever they were doing, looking at their teacher suspiciously. Peter smiled.
-That night Maggie was already asleep next to me. I don’t know if it was because of the summer heat, the coffee, or . . . the point is that I couldn´t sleep. As usual in these cases, I decided to go to the granary to enjoy the telescope Maggie and I had built through the years, part by part, lens by lens...
It was a clear night, and in my way, from the telescope, the sky was again shocking me, as if it were the first time I was contemplating it. The granary was totally dark. I could just hear the sound of a few playful mice. In a moment, I found the telescope chair. The lens was pointing upwards, like a big cannon; straight to the centre of the galaxy. The fragrance of that summer night could be felt all around. I was feeling great.
I remembered then why I was there, so I blinked my eye and put it in the eyepiece of the telescope. It took a second to adjust to the crystal, but then, suddenly, I saw something amazing—something I never thought I would find there—a smile.
In the middle of the frame, somebody up there, so far away, was giving me the warmest and most beautiful smile I´ve ever seen. I don´t know if it was a man or a woman, a human or an alien...but somehow I knew this person was intending it for me. For a second, I must admit I got a little bit scared, then I was about to call everybody and turn on all my recording equipment, but finally I knew that if I moved a millimetre from the telescope, even with a blink, the smile would disappear. So, I was there, for God knows how much time, enjoying that miracle.
Of course I asked myself a million times “Are you dreaming? “Who could this person be? Why me…? How come…? Where...? But the only thing that mattered was that in the middle of that night I was watching something fantastic .
I was there for hours but eventually I couldn´t help to fall asleep. The next dawn, when I woke up, I put my eye again quickly on the telescope, but the smile had gone.
I tried the next night, and the next, and the next…but it was useless. The quadrant, where I had seen the smile, didn´t have anything unusual.
I would never see that smile again.-Peter sighed.
My wife died last week; I never told her that story because...I felt that our union was greater than any experience or anecdote, she wouldn´t have understood.
But now...I don´t know...I think it was only right to share my story with you.
Please remember it doesn’t matter what planet he or she came from. It doens´n matter what kind of being it was. It doesn’t even matter if it was real or fantasy. What really matters is that...I saw that smile!
We have a very beautiful job. We look for stars. But at the end of the day, whatever your sky is, either you look upward, or to the ground, or even from side to side, I think that we must not forget our purpose in this world: try to find smiles.
Teacher and students looked to each other for a second in silence. Then, Professor Crawford closed the book and left the class in silence. The students were surprised for what they just had heard, but soon, one by one started to resume their activities with the mp3, the laptop... waiting for the next class.
When everyone is minding their business, Peters assistant Miss Kelmanson, appeared behind a shadow, on the last row of seats. As she had been doing it for the past 30 years, Miss Kelmanson had enjoyed Peters lesson in secret. And again, without anybody noticing it, she is smiling to him.