“Sometimes I feel like you are the only friend I have.” She told me, looking me straight in the eye. “When I talk to others, I feel like they are judging me. I can smell their feelings for me.” She whispered
I sat up, suddenly interested. That was a new one. She had never told me about this smell thing. “What do you mean ‘smell their feelings’.” I asked encouragingly
“I was speaking to Judy today and I could smell her dislike for me. It reeked of sour yogurt.” She said nodding her head and squishing up her nose as she recalled the smell.
“What were you two talking about?” I asked, curious to know more
“Well I asked her if she would lend me her Chemistry notes for a day. And she looked at me like I had asked for her liver. She just stared at me, chewing her gum, and then gave some lame excuse about her cat scratching up her notebook. And all the while, I could feel her growing dislike for me. The smell surrounded her like a halo. And I don’t know why? I have not really interacted much with her, at least not enough for her to develop such a dislike for me. But there it was!” She said with a faraway look in her eyes.
“And have you ever sensed this before? This smell thing?” I wondered
“All the time. I just never mustered up the courage to tell anyone. This is the first time I’m telling anyone. So you are truly privileged.” She said and grinned uncomfortably at me
“Aww gee thanks! I take that as a compliment.” I said grinning back at her
She was suddenly awkward and played with the hem of her dress.
“Do you want to eat something?” I asked, we were sitting on a park bench, overlooking a row of inviting coffee shops.
“No. I have to be home soon. Mom will be waiting.” She shook her head.
“Tell me more about this smell thing. Is it something you have felt for long?” I prodded
“I realized it when I was about 10. One morning, dad and I were at the table eating breakfast, and I could smell something burning. Mom was making us pancakes and I kept asking mom if milk was burning on the stove. She said no. And it hit me suddenly that the smell was coming from her. It was the smell of hate. So strong that it was burning up her soul. Then dad finished eating and left for work and I noticed that the smell started to diminish. Mom came and sat next to me and we got talking about our plans for the day. And suddenly she smelt of love. A lovely lavender smell. That’s when I realized with a shock that my mom absolutely hated my dad.”
It was quite a startling story and I listened in silence.
“I began to notice more and more smells around me. Around my friends I could smell various emotions. Happiness smelt like rain. Anger like hot coals. Jealousy like burning rubber. It was crazy for me to live with these smells! I did not know what to do with this…this…I don’t know what to call it?
“Super power.” I offered
“Well, there is nothing super about it! I would rather not smell things. And it does not solve anything for me. Rather, it makes things worse.” She lamented
“Ok…let’s just call it a special ability.” I suggested
“Whenever dad was around, it was always the burnt smell. And soon their fights began. And mom would always be sad. Oh and sadness smells like decaying flowers…so it was a really unpleasant smell to live with. Burning milk and decaying flowers – all the time. Ugh…” She said squishing up her nose again.
I waited silently for her to continue.
“Around the time the fights started, they sent me off to boarding school. At first I did not mind. It was a relief to get away from the nasty smells at home. But boarding school was a bouquet of smells too! There was so much anger and jealously and envy. All these smells were driving me crazy. I kept to myself and because of that most people were wary of me. I know they called me names and cooked up stories about me behind my back.” She said shrugging
“What kind of stories?” I was curious to know
“There was this girl…she was miss popular. Oozing with confidence. Wanted everyone to do her bidding. All the girls acted like she was the queen. They ran to do errands for her. But not me. I just did my thing. So she hated me, but I think in a way she was also scared of me, because she did not know how to break me. So for me she was a mix of burnt rubber and fear.” She said warming up to the story
“Wasn’t there some incident in school?” I asked, as I vaguely remembered something
“Yeah well, this girl, she knew my routine. Every day after dinner, I went up to the terrace to get fresh air and to get rid of all the smells around me. One day she followed me up there and she started to abuse me. She asked me why I hated her. She said I was weird. A ‘creepy cat’ those were the exact words she used to describe me. I just sat there and wished she would go away. And take her horrible smells with her. But she did not go. She kept abusing me. So I walked up to her and asked her what she wanted of me. I glared at her told her to leave me alone. I don’t know why, but she got scared of me. She kept moving backwards as I walked towards her. She reached the parapet. One moment she was standing there shrieking at me and the next moment she just fell off the wall and landed with a thud on the ground.” She said emotionlessly
“Oh God! Did you…did you push her?” I asked, horrified
“They accused me of it. Her friends. They said I was creepy and that I hated her. But they could prove nothing. In the end, I was asked to leave the school. And well, that was the end of my hostel days. Then I came home. And you were there.” She said, looking at me with a half-smile.
“Your mother was very upset about this whole mess, I remember.” I said recalling how anguished her mother was
“It was quite a shock for me to come home after a gap of one year and find that my dad was gone and you had taken his place.” She said, looking me in the eye
“Well…after the divorce, your mother was lonely…and we met…and fell in love.” I said defensively
“I don’t think you ever loved my mother. But you had a thing for me as soon as you saw me. What’s the word?” She asked, her stare unwavering
“Concern?” I ventured
“No! Lust. That’s the word I’m looking for. Lust. You wanted me and I could smell it on you. But of course my mother had no idea of your feelings. Mother trusted you.” She said and looked accusingly at me
“And I love her very much.” I said in my defense.
She shrugged “I don’t think it was love. I did not smell any lavender on you when you were around her. It was a nice smell though. Maybe you liked her, but you did not enjoy sex with her. That was saved up for me.” She said and looked at me through hooded eyes.
I said nothing. And waited her for to go on. She needed to say her story and get it off her chest.
“The first night you came into my room, I could not identify the smell. I thought maybe it was care. But then the way you touched me and the wild look in your eyes. The way you stared at my breasts and touched them as though by accident…I suddenly realized what this heated smell was…lust. And I knew then that you would soon rape me.” She said, emotionless.
Silence enveloped us. I watched people sitting in the cafe across the park. They seemed like normal, happy people. Why couldn’t our lives be that way?
“It was crazy, but I kind of looked forward to your nightly visits after mom had gone off to sleep. If I let you touch me, you would listen to my ramblings. It felt nice to have someone to talk to. But…but the night you raped me…that was horrible. It was scary, painful, revolting, disgusting. And you closed my mouth with your hands and I could smell it all. Your desire, excitement, fear, lust…all of it. The smells were suffocating me. I thought I would die right there. And then afterwards…your threat to not tell my mother about this.” She narrated it all with no show of emotion. As if she were talking about the weather.
“I hated you. I used to enjoy our nightly conversations, until…that day. And then you changed. You were all nervous around me. You got me cheesy gifts.” She said rolling her eyes. “In the evenings you, me and mom would sit on our balcony and sip tea. We would share stories about our day. And it felt almost normal. You used to love the view from that balcony.” She continued
“Yes from the 12th floor we could see virtually half the city.” I said, remembering the view
“But it could not continue. It was not normal.” She said. Her voice taking on an edge
“You did not have to do that to me. We could have sorted it out.” I reasoned
“Sorted it out? Sorted it out? You raped me every other night. What do you mean sorted it out? What you did was wrong. It is ‘unsortable’. You made sure that I will never be what people see as normal. Now and for ever, people will see me as crazy. And you were the tipping point.” She said, hissing with anger
“Is that why…you did it?” I asked quietly
“I did not mean to. But that night as you were leaning against the balcony railing with your back to me, I thought of what you would come and do to me at night. All the pain I would have to endure silently. And then I just…it was just a gentle nudge.” She whispered
“A gentle nudge? Ha! You pulled my leg, I lost my balance and fell all the way down from the 12th floor.” I said angrily
“I just nudged your leg then.” She said with a shrug. “I have to go now. Or mom will get worried. You know, mom does not completely believe that you slipped and fell. But she wants to go with the idea – for my sake.” She picked up her bags and started to go
“You think of a dead man as your friend. You know that right?” I asked
“I know. Dead people have no emotions. And no smell. That’s the best part. I’ll see you tomorrow. Bye.” She said and left the lonely park bench in the fading evening light.