With a squeal of delight, she reached for the cigarette.

Her dark brown eyes flashed a glint of sunlight that flooded the scene as they focused on her prize. Her larger than life smile faded as she adjusted her red lipstick encrusted lips to change shape to receive the filter end. “I thank you sir,” said Willamina. “It’s no problem,” replied Ryan as he lit his. He exhaled slowly and watched the cloud of hot dust swirl and disappear in the early morning breeze. He sat back on the wooden bench outside of the old bus station and watched as the traffic picked up its pace. It was about six o’clock. He liked to see a city wake up with the dawning of a new day. He was always fascinated with the transformation. Streets that had been barren suddenly breathe with activity. He couldn’t enjoy it. He felt her staring at him. He looked slowly to his right and saw her sitting about two feet away from him on the bench. She was staring with a big red lipstick smile on her face. He looked and saw her just holding the unlit cigarette in her hand, smiling at him. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he responded as he fished in his jacket pocket for the lighter. “It’s okay,” she answered with a slight giggle amused with his reaction. He found it and pulled it out. He held it out to her and she took it with the same never changing smile welded to her face. She accepted it and flick a flame to life, cupping it in her hands to protect it from the morning breeze. Ryan watched as she nodded her head forward to insert the end of the cigarette into her cupped hands. She sat back up while dropping her hands to her lap inhaling the hot smoke deeply into her lungs. She release her tight grip on the butt and smiled as she exhaled. “You smile a lot, I’ve noticed,” said Ryan as he received the lighter back from the elderly woman. “You’d smile a lot more if you were me too,” she said. “Why is that?” “I’m what you would call a chicken neck.” Ryan looked at the woman smiling back at him. She could tell by his expression that he did not know what she meant. She started to giggle again and raised the cigarette back to her painted lips to inhale again. He watched her body convulse with the giggle.

“You have no idea of what I am talking about, do you?” she asked looking out at the traffic picking up on the street still with the same smile. “No I don’t,” answered Ryan wondering what the private joke was. “Where are you from?” “I used to tell people I’m from two teens and a six pack…,” started Ryan. “Two teens and a what?” interrupted Willamina shaking in laughter. “A, a, a, six pack,” stumbled Ryan trying to regain his tempo in the story. “That’s what I thought that you said,” said the chuckling lady taking another drag and coughing a bit. Ryan just looked with concern as she coughed. He watched as she moved her head back and forth with each cough. He suddenly pictured a chicken walking and how its head moved back and forth with each step. “So, where are you from?” “Lancaster, Pennsylvania,” replied Ryan turning his attention back to the traffic building up on the street and the increase of pedestrians while he thought about the image he had of chickens moving their heads. “Oh, so you probably don’t know what a chicken neck is.” “No, I may have an idea, but I’m not sure.” “Well, what is your idea?” “I’m not sure. I think that it would be better if you told me,” he said turning his attention back to the woman. “When I was a little girl, my mom used to tell me all the time to smile and smile like I meant it,” started Willamina sitting back and looking out over the events unfolding before her, “She said that people would warm up to me because I would be smiling. She told me that I didn’t have much else going for me, but I could break through this ugly shell with a smile.” Ryan was thrown off by this statement. When she first started talking to him, he thought that she was very pleasant. He could tell that she had been through a lot. He had thought that she was probably from the nearby shelter. He had decided that from her behavior and not her appearance.

“My mother told me that if I smiled enough, maybe a man would be blinded by it and ask for my hand,” she continued with a little giggle, “She always told me that if I was nice to men, very nice, that they would do nice things for me. I have made my living being nice. Do you understand?” she asked searchingly at him. “I think that I do,” asked Ryan showing little emotion as he processed everything she was saying. “You seem like a smart young man. I could tell that you were different the first time I saw you. I knew that you weren’t from around here. I could tell.” “No, I’m not.” “I wasn’t so smart myself. But then again things were different when I was a young girl. I did what I could. I had to make money to get things. You have to have things. So, I was nice to men and they gave me money so that I could get things. You have to have things,” she insisted. “So, you were a prostitute?” asked Ryan. “No, I told you that I was a chicken neck,” she said with a little tone of agitation. “I’m sorry,” said Ryan convincingly, though not sure which one he was trying to convince, “I guess that I do not understand exactly what you are trying to tell me.” “I am not a prostitute, I’m a chicken neck!” she said a little excitedly, almost losing her smile. She quickly looked around to see if anyone was close enough to have heard her. She giggled a little to herself and motioned for another cigarette. Ryan gave her another and then handed her his lighter. She continued to look around as she lit and inhaled deeply. Ryan just turned his attention back to the increasing activity on the street. A luxury sedan with darken windows drove by. “I’ve taken many rides in those,” said Willamina with her big smile again. “Oh,” was Ryan’s response. It was a quiet response. He just said it straight forward with no inflection of surprise. She looked at him. They sat in several seconds of just the sound of the traffic. “I have,” she said, “Many rich businessmen would come looking for me. I would be nice to them and give them my biggest smile. They would take me for a short ride. I would take care of them and they would give me money so that I could get my things. Oh, I had so many nice things,” she trailed off with some emotion.

Ryan looked at her. She was still sitting back in the bench, smoking her cigarette and looking out over the traffic. “I had so many gentlemen callers. My mother, she was right. She told me that if I was nice to men, they would be nice to me, so I was. I wasn’t pretty enough to be a hooker. Everyone told me that no man would want to stick his thing in you. So, I smile and I am nice to them. You see a chicken neck just does blow jobs,” she said with a smile and a little giggle. Ryan turned to look at her. She was still smiling and giggling to herself. “I can’t complain. I wasn’t pretty enough to be a hooker, so I didn’t get pregnant or catch any of them nasty diseases. But I did get a lot of great things. I had a lot of rich men callers who took care of me and helped me to get my things. But, I got stupid and did drugs and lost all of my things.” “I didn’t think that you were ugly,” said Ryan. “What?” demanded Willamina with the smile fading for the first time. “I said that I didn’t think that you were ugly.” Her expression changed to a look of horror as she got up and quickly walked away throwing the cigarette butt down. Ryan just sat and watched her as she quickly made her way from him. She walked to the street and crossed it without looking back. She glanced over once she had made it to the other side. She looked at him and then continued walking. Ryan just sat and watched her until she disappeared around a corner. He got up from the bench and started to walk into the bus terminal when he heard a familiar voice. He turned and saw his buddy walking down the sidewalk. “Hey, the car is around the corner. Do you have a lot of bags?” “No, just two small ones, I’ll go get them,” answered Ryan. Joshua stood outside looking around while Ryan ran into the terminal to retrieve his bags. He suddenly noticed a woman looking from around a corner of the building across the street. He thought at first she was looking at him, but saw that she was just staring at the terminal door Ryan had entered. He watched her staring and saw her head pop back just as the terminal door swung open and Ryan reappeared with one small backpack and duffle. “Man, you do travel light,” said Joshua with a smile. “Yeah, I do. Where’s the car?” “Just around the corner, come on, everyone is waiting to see you. I think that they are cooking a surprise for you. Hey, why do you look so down?”

“Maybe I’m just tired,” answered Ryan as he followed Josh to the car. Joshua looked back across the street and saw the lady watching from behind the corner. He kept looking over and was struck by the way she kept looking towards the two men as they walked but didn’t seem to notice Joshua staring back at her. “Hey,” said Joshua as they rounded the corner and got into the car, “There seems to be this elderly lady staring at you.” “Yeah, I think that I helped her to see for the first time.”

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