September 24, 2018

Scent of Man: Letting Go is Never Easy

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By George Ojema

She’s been seated on the balcony gazing emptily at the rain for an hour now. The world has turned into a dull gray which has the effect of somehow bringing out the color from everything in view. Leaves on trees seem greener; the concrete slabs of pavement seem more defined; the asphalt on the road…a tar black. The rain drops slant as they fall, the most effort they’ll exert in their journey back to the ground and probably a nuisance to those otherwise armed with umbrellas. A slight wind aids this slant, but not by much, not enough to raise that odd, hollow low rumble in a storm. So she sits and watches the slanting rain drops with the gray backdrop and silent wind.

She curls herself into a tighter ball, wrapping her hands around her legs and digging her chin in between her knees. She smiles as the voice of her grandmother floats from many fond memories.

“You’re going to spoil that sweater,” the retiree would mutter with a crooked finger pointing at some culprit or the other. Anyone not familiar with her ways would be lost for a quiet minute before it hit them that they about a hair width away from the beating of their life. Those familiar with grandma knew to auto-adjust her digital coordinates and adjust the sweater into the prescribed mode of fashion; legs out, sleeves unknotted and out of the mouth, front facing front and only containing one human child regardless of size (Grandma always knitted or bought oversized clothes, perhaps she hoped the children would expand exponentially when they spent the holidays).

She’s actually wearing the last sweater the weathered woman knitted. It’s a loveable but embarrassing bright blue number, reliably knitted to be twice as large as it needed to be. Her petite frame did not help matters either and a wrong turn whilst wearing it often translated into a battle with the resultant folds. Getting it cleaned was another daunting task and so was finding it adequate space in her closet. Yet she wouldn’t trade it for any item on earth.

If you think she has a lingering attachment to her grandmother you would be wrong. Sure, the two of them were the smallest women in the family, an observation the matriarch had pointed out on numerous occasions accompanied by a secret language and inside jokes but that was not why the lovable sweater had become so important to her.

She sniffs at the sweater and the fading male scent wafts into her nostrils. She closes her eyes and holds the breath of air for as long as she can. Then she exhales as the memories trickle back to her. The countless movie nights where movies were half-watched and warm milk consumed abundantly. He had always persisted in his campaign against drinking milk but his strong protest was turned to naught when she presented him with a mug of warm milk. She would say it was good for him and he in turn would drink it silently only to prepare a cup of coffee if she gave him even half a chance.

Sunday was always movie night. They had arrived at this decision rather by default and the rational process of elimination. Neither of them was mad about eating out and the night life but they both loved movies. However, going to the cinema presented the challenge of eating either before or after the movie, not to mention the inconvenience of interacting with other people (read children and teenagers). Added onto this was the uncomfortable idea of public spaces etiquette. At home you can pause the movie and dash to the loo without pissing off everyone in your immediate environment. At the cinema even loud laughter can get you the stink eye. So they opted to watch the movies at home where they could cuddle on the sofa, rewind amazing bits of film, have intense playful arguments then begin the movie again. And best of all, fall asleep in each others arms before the movie ended.

She always woke up in bed on Monday morning, alarm set and the lights turned off. He’d somehow found the strength to wake up and carry her to bed, straighten up and get back to sleep then wake up and leave just before she woke.

It had been a while since they’d had a movie night. It had been a while since she had pressed herself into his comfy embrace, or heard his laugh. It had been a while since they’d shared a cup of milk.

It had been a while since she heard him joke about her sweater.

She would protest, or try to as she inevitably found herself smiling. He was a funny guy. She would try and get away from him but he caught up fast, his long strides ensuring she was secured in his grasp before she had gathered any real momentum for a true escape. And he would laugh a merry laugh and this made her laugh. Then he would kiss her. Not gently, but wildly about her face. Rapidly he would plant expressions of his affection on her cheeks and nose and forehead as she protested. Eyes pressed shut she would wait for him to stop and when he did she would open her eyes, slowly, to find him smiling cheekily at her, a spark in his eyes. This is when he would delicately plant a kiss on her forehead, it was always her forehead, and hold her like time had stood still.

It had been a while since she had been harassed by affection in such a way.

She sniffs at the sweater again. The ‘movie night sweater’ as he had taken to calling it. And it hadn’t been called that in a while. Still, she could smell his scent on it from the many cuddles and hugs and games they had played. The gray of rain had taken a less oppressive stance since their last cuddle and the tears did not choke her now as they did then. Now the tears gathered beneath the surface but rarely came out to join the rivers of water that cleansed the tar black asphalt.

She had learned that it was alright to cry if she was feeling sad. She had agreed to laugh if she remembered something funny. It was alright to remember because he had been a part of her (even though briefly). He had cried with her, laughter with her, suffered with her and celebrated with her. He was her first crush and though not her first kiss, she had fantasized about kissing him first. He had given his all to her and she to him, even though briefly.

She stares at the rain, falling with a slant and a weak wind with no bellowing grumble. A smile plays on her face as a solitary tear runs down her left cheek.

“Bye Rodgers, rest in peace,” she whispers.

She can hear the keys rattle in the front door and she lifts the sweater off her legs. A short struggle later and her hands fly out of the sleeves. She rushes through the house into the living room just in time to see Joshua shut the door behind him.

Joshua is drenched to the bone but he forces a half smile across his bony face.

“Hi”

“It’s that bad?”

“Nah, I was just walking slowly. Here…”

Joshua hands her two boxes of pizza. She can still smell the spices and feel the hot meal through the bottom box.

Then he kisses her on the cheek, gently and with surgical speed and precision. He’s not like Rogers, and deep down she suspects he knows he never will be. Where Rogers would embrace her while he was soaking wet and mine a hearty laughter from it all Joshua will place a peck on her cheek and disrobe of the wet clothes before even considering hugging her. There were moments he went off script but generally his was a laid back approach.
He wasn’t Rogers, but she still felt his pure emotions for her.

“Oh, one more thing,” Joshua says before he walks past her. She stares quizzically at him as he rummages through his coat pockets. After a somewhat drawn out search he produces a bottle of cologne from his pocket and presents it to her much like the priceless last artifact in a collector’s library. She recognizes the brand immediately.

“What’s this?”

“It’s…perfume…?”

“I know that. But what do you want me to do with it? That’s cologne for men!”

Joshua stares into her eyes and she catches his eyes quiver with quick uncertainty. “Yesterday I heard you say it was finished…so I thought I’d get you a new one?”

She drops the pizzas in dumbfounded shock. He was listening?!

Rodgers had passed on two years before and for a year she had been devastated. But slowly she had begun to pull herself together and somewhere along the winding road to stability Joshua had joined her. It was a miracle he had stayed with her this long given her strong attachment to Rodgers and the several warning signs that had presented themselves. He patiently (and silently) stood by her, ignoring the detractors and slowly she had begun to feel emotion and life and return to her former self in between intense moments of heart shattering grief. Joshua, in his silent way, restored her heart and yet refused to claim it because he understood her heart was hers to give.

To cope she had developed curious little habits. Sunday was still movie night with warm milk only she was content with having movie night alone. She had also discovered a bottle of Rodger’s cologne and had taken to spraying inconspicuous amounts of it on some of her clothes and getting lost in that almost signature scent. But yesterday the last of the cologne was sprayed and she had spent her day in a less than engaging mood.

Now the cologne is in her hands. She has the scent of man from a man whose sent she rarely wore. She throws her hands around Joshua and gives him a kiss on the cheek. She whispers a thousand ‘thank you’s into his ears and kisses him repeatedly as tears flow freely from the corners of her eyes.

Joshua remains silent and only wraps his hands around her waist.

If she’s happy, he’s happy.

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