We all know that faces weren’t given to us merely to look pretty or plain. No, their prime purpose I’m convinced is to function as the hall of expressions. Watch a lip curl one way, or watch it stretch tight, and observe the eyes as well how they coordinate with those lip curls or lip stretches ... and we, the observers become the readers of expression, of body language.
Oftentimes, our faces speak for us without the need to open the mouth. Which, in many instances might be a good thing because as someone once said, silence is a good thing so why spoil it by opening one’s mouth?
Anyhow, it’s the facial expression I had in mind when starting this column. I had temporarily transported myself back to the 1970s, the decade of my teens, and I was picturing the wide-eyed looks of sheer astonishment on the faces of both my parents when I informed them that I’d bought a car for $5,000. My mum would have collapsed into the nearest chair and felt her heart for any telltale palpitations while my dad would have, in characteristic fashion, stood there spellbound, in silence, for fear of opening his mouth maybe.
Five thousand dollars? I could hear them ask, with wonder. Wondering simultaneously where I may have got the said sum from, no doubt. Because five thousand dollars back in the 1970s in my life was a bit of an illusion, a mirage. And we were not even a lottery-ticket buying family, so it would have ruled out a lotto win. No, the conversation could, at best, only have been fictional. But if it were real, this $5,000 car would have been the pride of our large railway colony front yard. It would have received the attention and adoration befitting of another child in the house.
The neighbours would have come to know of its pedigree and its cost and many a little figment of exaggeration would have been attached to its history. Nobody in the railway colony in those days drove a car, unless it was company-owned. If one had a scooter one was doing ‘pretty darn well’ as a visiting Texan may have said, but mostly one rode a bicycle and that, to be honest, cost a pretty paisa, so was often acquired second-hand.
OK, so setting the dream 1970s $5,000 acquisition aside, flash forward to the present day. My parents are sadly not around to offer the wide-eyed disbelief, but my sisters still are. So when I tell each of them that I’ve acquired a car, a tiny Suzuki Alto, for $5,000, the reaction is not at all what I’d been anticipating. Nor should I have anticipated any such reaction in the first place. One sister frowned, the other crinkled her eyes and if I am anything of a face reader, I’d say they were on the verge of cringing, looking for the nearest sofa to dive behind.
So I temper things a bit: I tell them that I really wasn’t looking for a car, but this one was actually pressed on me, to help another elderly couple who no longer needed it and could no longer drive it, but who still wanted it to be owned by someone they knew and could trust and who could drive them around in an emergency or when an errand was needed. I see their expressions soften. One of them even reminds me, “But you hate driving” while the other adds, “That’s a good thing you’re doing there.” And I realise that it’s sometimes possible to misread facial expression. It can change with context.
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.