Mama always awoke after Papa did. He, however, would lie in bed for much longer, stretching and sighing loudly while Ma stumbled to the washroom, eyes barely open, and hair wild around her temples.
The only time during the day she’d appear like that.
Once out, morning ablutions complete, she would glide around the house, noiseless and efficient, getting breakfast together and dressing up for work. All her actions quick, measured, and productive.
And so, while we half-dozed, curled up warm under our quilt, room still dark, we’d breathe in the sickly smell of cooking oats, frying eggs, and occasionally, sizzling sausages.
And then, things would slowly, but surely change.
The pots clanging and spoons dropping would die down to be replaced by silence again. More importantly, the smells of food would vanish magically, and be replaced by Mama’s smell.
Her smell was and is made up of myriad things, held together and mixed up by what is probably her natural scent, as it’s never changed, not for a second over all these years.
Soap from her morning bath, the various lotions she’d lather on at random, warm bread, dark lipstick, steel watches, paper, notebooks.
And when we fully awoke to an empty house, we’d be able to pick up traces of her fragrance in every room.
We could smell it all everywhere. Unlike everything else about her, it was quiet, unintrusive, and soft. But also characteristically like her, it was warm and comforting.
The prompt for this post was to write about a smell that has never really left me. And as I began to think and write, a variety of smells immediately jumped to mind. Hot petrol at the pumps in Jeddah while we waited patiently in the backseat after a long day of sitting at home, the hot smell of piss that smacked me in the face when I first walked into the school that I teach in, the musty and fuzzy smell of nearly everything at home in Kannur, and then, finally Mama.
I chose to write about her because on most days she is what and who I know best. I can’t think of when her scent registered in my mind, but I’ve always been aware of its presence, and slightly in awe of it in a bemused way. That my mother can have so typical a scent in no way surprises me, though.
Even today, no matter my mood or surroundings, I can recall it at an instant, and be immediately transported back home, and to her.
And that, always serves as a heavy reminder of how powerful and inescapable our connection is, no matter how far away from her I wander.