The Queen of the Arab world did not know how to sire a son and so, the women of the harem tried to help. A woman was summoned to teach her how to fish for a son, in the middle of the desert, in a castle built of mud, clay, silt and desire. The King, a caliphate married her out of season. A Queen from the isle of the blue Grecian sea. She was considered neither beautiful nor had the wits to seduce her husband. And yet she had one thing about her, the knowledge she was to be killed and replaced if she were unable to bring on a son. For that she was forgiven everything and it was her game, her playing field to do anything, or go against time for she her head was in line.
The women whispered, the alchemist, he is the only one who can give you a son in time, and no one would know any better. The King lived in another castle. She was left alone to figure out how to have a son in her own castle. She was surrounded by eunuchs, the alchemist was the only one in that castle who could give her that one precious thing in the world that could save her life.
The woman, Esmelta was next in line. She could bribe the soldiers and had a lover of her own who could give her a son, once the sitting Queen was out of the throne. She was only a consort but had her wits about her.
Problem was, the alchemist fell in love with the Queen. He could see through her blue, glassy, cerulean eyes the sea and the fishes and fiendish creatures that lay beneath the surface of the ocean. Her eyes were like his flasks burning in single flame burners. There was something in there. Beneath it lay the secrets of his passion. He loved her at first sight when she drew her hajib to reveal her eyes from the isle who knew of her hidden beauty. She had skin so fine like the mossy blankets of the deep belt of the ocean deep. And he so wanted water. He had glimpsed the sea, once as a slave who was taken through the desert sands and saw it, the poison that could end his life because he knew his life was at the edge of nothing. But it was known that he had the skills for alchemy from another crusade and so was given pardon by the king and was made to live in the castle with his knowledge intact, but was to live a life of a prisoner, within the inner caverns of the castle, to create whichever salve was needed by the King. He was given a garden to tend, and from time to time, the chance to seek out the secrets of the nearest blue sea. Often, he had wanted to swim away and find another land to market his wares. But he was more prone to drink the sap of the sea or the bark of a poisonous tree to end his life for what else lay ahead of him in life, but one of loneliness and misery tethered to a cruel King who could not appreciate the wisdom of the esoteric of his trade.
Esmelta brought the Queen down the labyrinthine underground of the castle with a whip of a torch lit through the dark passages. It was dangerous for her as well but it made the cog of the wheels of her plan roll to work. Idleness had sharpened her wits to which the alchemist was equally knowledgeable of how this woman could compound the situation. He knew how her mind worked but nonetheless fell deeply in love with the blue eyed Queen who had no one to stand by her now and in the throes of being killed. He did not know why no one thought the Queen beautiful when water was the one cursed need they all craved. Within her eyes he saw water like a secret only to be drawn when the key to her heart was revealed.
Once when they were at his garden, he brushed her fine skin and she lay her head on his shoulder. He kissed her then and cut a flower from an orange tree. He crushed the petals within the palms of his hand and brought moist sweet metallic smell towards the nose of the Queen and told her to remember the scent of Neroli for it would lead them to each other in another lifetime if not in this life then the next.
However, they went on to betray the King and found ways to make love, until the Queen missed her red marking days which was what Esmelta hoped for. She touched the skin of the Queen and it was dent in roundness which proved it was to be a son. She felt threatened and readied herself by turning to her own lover and got herself pregnant as well after the roundness of the moon to pave the way for a son of her own to give the King when he arrived.
The alchemist made the Queen a perfume of Neroli he funneled into a bottle for the Queen to soothe her aching skin as it belched to reveal a roundness that stretched into aching pain. The King would not know it was another man’s son, because he neither knew the workings of time nor the machinations of fertility.
Each night, the Queen would whisk a line of Neroli on her wrist and visit the alchemist where they would find each other in tight embrace. He lay, like a dark line in the night for he was slight like a crack of a moon in eclipse. The Queen’s eyes glowed like a mossy blue blanket round like a fruit. Sometimes they would lay together after fornication and he would sing to her, songs from the other countries he had been to during the crusades. She would sing to him as well, of love from her country, a middling isle in the Grecian sea. They spoke in songs, like prayers for the outcome of a healthy son for it was their plan for the King to raise his son in the castle keep while they went on with their affair while the King was away.
But when the King learnt she was with child, evidently a son, he summoned the Queen after two moons’ time. The lovers were now apprehensive. And so, they planned to leave the castle and live a life forever in another land, as a family, away from it all.
They were now to deploy a plan of much sedition. One night, they slipped by bribing the soldiers and fled. The plan was to go on foot to the nearest town and there find camels to ride towards another land far away from the King’s grasp.
Sedition. Esmelta sent word to the King of the true nature of the Queen and how she and the alchemist had already set on foot towards the ends of the earth and beyond.
The alchemist lay his head on the lap of the sand and heard them, the hooves of horses enroute to find them.
The night sky kissed the orange undulating sands and rained upon them shards of stars and parts of the moon now broken by the midnight dark. How should they go on, the alchemist could not know. He pulled the Neroli bottle from her Queen’s pocket. She stood before him with her wide blue eyes and wondered what he meant. He told her they had to drink the Neroli before the King catches up on them and kill them in unspeakable ways.
Finally, the blue eyes of the Queen broke into fragments of tears like fishes of the sea and creatures of the deep, they all poured out like hidden secrets of the isle where she came from. They came out and he saw how she played by the sea and swum in its warm waters as though there were no tomorrow.
But before they could drink the Neroli, a warm gust of wind swept them in a swirling whip of unknown source to which they clung to each other and the last sight of the alchemist of his beloved was of her wide, blue eyes turning into an ocean tide of fishes and creatures of the deep blue sea.
Lucien scraped his palm over the rough wall of the University in the dark lit by sconces of electric light. He was walking through a dark passage and at the end was light. And a rowdy classroom of high school students who quieted as soon as he stood before them with a pile of books he dropped on the table before them. He adjusted the glasses on top of his nose and gazed at the students suddenly not knowing what to do. He was about to write some formulas on the whiteboard when his gaze wandered towards the window where an orange tree stood with its white flowers and stark orange fruits were in full bloom. The scent of the orange tree wafted inwards to the classroom and he felt weak all of a sudden.
He wrote the equation on the whiteboard and told his students to research and solve the problem. They were welcome to stay in the classroom with their laptops or go home and do it there. He sat down and played with his pen which he twirled like a mannerism he just learnt to play from a lifetime he was just beginning to remember. It would happen to him sometimes, stop in his tracks and remember he had a life to live, this life and no other and yet he felt as though there were other lifetimes before what he was living.
After class, he left the room and walked towards the tree, picked an orange fruit from the tree, was about to peel it when he became more interested in the flowers. He garnered a few one of which he crushed in the palm of hand and smelled with a swoon, Oh, sweet Neroli.
Lucien was a chemistry instructor taking a Phd for Chemistry and waiting to become a full professor. He loved it. He didn’t know why he loved it so much. Sometimes he thought because it allowed him to find the desired product and the process by which he did his research was all suited to his temperance. He had the patience for the elements and to know what constituted everything in matter was a kind of power in itself.
She remembered pounding odd plants on a stony mortar and pestle as a child and using the sap to paint flowers of different colors. She would learn to taste them as well and one time was driven to the emergency room of a hospital vomiting the flowers she ate with complete disregard to their bitterness. They were poisonous harmless looking flowers but she so wanted to taste what she smelled as though they all came without polarity between the life-filled colors and the death-grip of their taste.
She almost died and through it she would recall things, a cold desert swelling below a midnight sky so blue it reminded her of heaven and hell, a twist of wind that captured her completely she was turned to sand like the granules in the hourglass of time.
She learned to hate watches after that. Time became an annoying factor. It became almost irrelevant to her.
After that encounter with what she could only term as time, she was reduced to smelling things. Differentiating the different smells from the repugnant to those that held her attention. She came to love oranges and would ask her mom to buy more from the grocery. It was as close to something she could not name and yet it wasn’t.
Oranges. She learned to eat them a lot until her guts hurt. Some books she read said orange is a sign of marriage and so it was. But what of it. She learned to sprout the seeds and bury them beneath the soil. Some grew and bore fruits and flowers. Strangely, she climbed the tree one day and picked a flower, crushed it within the palm of her hand and inhaled it. The scent of Neroli never left her from that time on. She grew up learning the art of perfumery, realizing she had the nose for distinguishing the seven different types of smell. She started buying little vials of perfume and mixing them up to create a new scent and had so much fun in the process.
Neroli, however, haunted her. It was like that dream of orange sands and a deep blue sky above it that never left her. These three elements became a source of mystery for her that she needed to fathom. It was as though there was something to find among that scent.
Later on, when she was to decide on which scent to create a perfume with, she chose Neroli with the idea that if she created it, it would attract that which she was searching for like a scent that left a trail of elusive memories behind which she so wanted to know, to feel, to love and to be loved. Why she felt so strongly about it was beyond her comprehension. She knew it had to do with time and her repugnant attitude towards it. And yet she wanted so much of it, she was almost desperate to find it and what it had to do with the scent of Neroli.
Tonight, the Professor, Lucien, attended a perfume opening.
The atelier was situated in downtown and looked like a rundown church with old beams running up the ceiling made of old planks of wood. The whole atelier smelled of ageing wood and fresh paint. There were good pieces of modern art upon the walls. It was a bit dim and yet the lights were placed to bring good angles of view for the art. In the middle of it all was the perfume basked in warm, limpid light and he could see that it was expensively encased in shapely flasks like those used by alchemists. He was attracted to the design of the bottle because it reminded him of something he could not put a finger to. He knew of the alchemists. They were the original chemists of old. They had been thrown out in Roman times and were salvaged by Arabs for they must have still given something important to the Arab kingdoms. There was a time he became fascinated with alchemy, as a child but relegated it to New Age mania rather than a form of practicality he could teach his students. Still, they belonged to the books of history. They were the pre-cursors to the chemists of modern times. There was something to be owed to them despite what modern times had turned them out to be, an esoteric concept relegated to the dusty shelves of libraries. He was definitely cynical about it.
He picked a piece of paper and sprayed a slight sample on the paper. He held it below his nostrils and was assailed by a strange feeling. He could not define it but it lifted his spirits for the rest of the evening.
They sat on chairs and were presented with a dance by the university students. It was a rendition of an Arab music which played from somewhere behind them. Garbed in blue, Moorish costumes they danced an exotic rendition of Sarah Brightman’s Harem that sent his heart pounding with the scent of the perfume exploding in his head like a rush of blood to his skull. Then he found her, on the other side of the dais, was a woman dressed in sheer dress with her fair hair up in a bun but with some loosened down to frame a face that was at once entrancing and youthful. He braced himself as though everything scintillated at that precise moment. The woman smiled at him, her eyes, blue, kohled and penetrating. Her smile was warm and reassuring, he warmed towards her and enjoyed the rest of the dance.
After the dance he was led to the woman who smiled at him during the dance and held him into grips of reality for otherwise he would have swooned.
“Hello, Professor.” She replied and then remarked, “I must say you look familiar. Have we met before?”
“I’m afraid not but you may call me Lucien. Your perfume though, is a familiar scent, Neroli, yes?”
“Yes, my brand.”
He could not help himself but he found himself very attracted to this woman and he had never fallen for anyone before as much as this was turning out.
“Here, take another whiff.” She held out her wrist. She pulled up the sleeve of her sheer dress and he bowed to scent her skin, so near now and yet he felt so far for she was only offering him her creation.
The perfume smelled so familiar, he looked at her wondering if she felt it too. She looked at him when he raised his head and looked confused. She quickly rearranged her sleeve and he could see alarm in her face. There was a pulse in her neck where scents were sprayed sending a message from the perfume of choice. She smelt of Neroli, of a hidden desire towards hedonism, a slight need to let out some delight past borders of containment towards desire.
He adjusted his glassed and mustered the courage to ask her…
“Would you like to go out of here? There’s a nice pizza place nearby. I think they’re still open. That is if you’re free?”
“Yes, please, I mean. Yes, thank you. I would like that very much.” He smiled warmly at her through his glasses.