I sat crushing the grapes with my bare hands.
Tender, round juicy balls kept bursting out of their black skin, oozing down between my fingers into a filling tumbler. A delicate fragrance of exploded fruits infused the book room where I sat cross-legged on floor. Viruses were forgotten. I was thinking of bees rather. And how fragrances transport us into secrets and memories and distances.
Like a fly I buzzed off to my leafy cold childhood. It is an empty house now. Mom and dad had emptied it. They were gone, each through their separate mud routes back to their origins perhaps. She went off riding on some strong incense smells. The men in graveyard burnt incense as told by the man in the white cloak. The only smell about dad I remember came from his armpits. I am now five or six and am lying by his side glancing at his smile with my open mouth glee. I’d sniff on his armpit and hide my face in pillows. He would laugh. Mom is moving by our only almirah. I think she’s folding our clothes. She’s smiling too.
But the fruit fragrance that bought me to this empty house has given away to a kitchen smell now. She is a big woman, my mother, and she’s moving left and right in a free falling gown. In a while I’ll sniff fried masala smells whiffing through our home air. We would eat the fish she fried, with rice soaked in salted buttermilk spiced by green chilly shreds. Then we’ll sleep knowing it’s still noon but a lonely mother and son wouldn’t know what else to do. She’s in bed. And I choose the plain floor for its cold. I am a child. I can sleep wherever I want to. Dad was away in some strange land in the sun. He had gone off on an aeroplane where he worked in a printing press as an artist, she told me once. And once in a while mom would read out his hand from thin tissue papers, three or four sheets. They had a nice bubble gum smell. “My dearest Joshua…” his letter would begin and I’d look away fearing she’d see my eyes going wet. But now am on the cold floor and she’s snoring in her afternoon dreams. We had a full fish food. Cicadas screech outside. It’s cold. Will it rain tonight?
I am glancing at the sun sparkles through leaf holes in our small front yard garden. My face is red in the evening sun. A sun-kissed child who plays with wind and the leaves that move for him and the pebbles that hold strange coldness in them. When were they born, the stones? I see black ants by the cocoyam plants in the backyard. Their soil kingdom darkened by worm castings. When did they do this? I squat, my feet pressing down the soaked cold earth that smells of divine mud. If mom sees my naked feet she would raise her voice and ask where’s your chappal and I’d have to run to the front steps and I didn’t want to move from these backyard smells… But no one’s calling me. My mom died a couple of years ago. Don’t you remember? She can’t call me now. But I can see her coming off her sleep and washing her face and standing by the doorsill very much missing dad. Hello yam plant, is your mother dead too?
Such a rush of time you speed through when your ride on smells. They erupt from noon kitchens, from dawn farms, and surge through the rains that peck at the earth crust. Smells bring a barrage of long gone memories that were looking for cracks in us to storm out of us. I mean wasn’t I in my room a moment ago, crushing grapes into a tumbler?
My hands keep moving feeling, squeezing, skimming and slithering through all that grape flesh, willing and getting more watery. Soon I’ll pour it all into a china jar to decay and wash myself and get back to my day. But in three days, a syrupy scent would vapour off this sealed jar on its own. Fragrances have lives of their own. They come from somewhere we know not and return there like dead mothers and dead fathers and other dead humans. It is that fragrant space where we all come from and return to, that I am amused about, to where some fragrance will take me as well one day.