SMELL OF THE WIND
by VICTOR ALAO
hen Bill stumbled on the brochure, somewhere among the crumbled clothes that stuffed his suitcase, the feeling that swelled in him was that he had found a treasure that hadn’t been seeking.
He had, in fact, forgotten what it was he was searching for among the roused clothes whose folds his impatient hands had crushed, but he’d remembered asking his wife about it. “Check your suitcase,” she’d called from the kitchen of their resort room. Since they’d started their holiday, “Check your suitcase” had been her usual answer to every question he’d had.
“Where’s my pen?”
“Check your suitcase honey.”
“Where’s my passport?”
“Check your suitcase sweetie.”
“Where’s my wallet?”
“Check your suitcase darling...”
And now, though he had already forgotten what he was looking for, her answer had once again been, “Check your suitcase.” There was no loving term at the end of this one, no honey, no darling. This time he was just a forgetful man who made the same mistake every single day of asking this woman the same questions. When would he learn? Today he heard a new tone in her words. It hurt. And like a faithful schoolboy ordered by a stern teacher to do his duty, he made his way to the suitcase and started sifting through. There was bitterness in his heart. He hated the way she had spoken to him. It had not been like this before they’d married. Since before he fell; a tragic accident, a week after their marriage. It was not his fault. And whenever that incident played in his mind, the times he could remember it clearly, he recalled that it had been her fault. On that day, she had asked him to fix her tire. He had gone outside and noticed that it was wet. It was a rain that drizzled and left spots on a shirt, but never enough to truly dampen it. Bill thought it was probably not a good idea to fix a tire in that weather, but it was just a week into the marriage. There were so many benefits of being a newlywed. He knew that the more he came off as macho in front of his wife, the more he would reap certain pleasures from her. And there was also the matter of eternal love that knew no boundaries. Was he not the one who’d said in front of the priest, “For better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness, and in health”? He was determined to keep his promise.
The air that rose from the ground felt like a weak balm on his nose, and the wind’s blast on his shirt made it feel like a flag hung on a post. He took a step closer to the car to inspect the deflated tire. But his leg never finished that step. A drop of rainwater fell down from the sky and landed on his scalp. It was a soft drop, as light and as harmless as a piece of paper flitting on the ground. But for Bill, it was the last time he remembered anything clearly again. Something about that drop startled him. Something about it caused him to fall. Bill could feel the trickle of the cold drop making its way to the ground as he lat there; the people passing on the street stopping to gather around him.
On the days when his mind was clear, he would remind his wife of the hand she’d played in all of this; that it was her fault he no longer remembered things the way he should. Whenever he told the story, her reaction was always the same; even in front of a marriage counselor, where they had both promised to be honest.
“Honey, something else must have happened that day.” And that was usually enough to silence him and make him think. How many other people had lost their memory because of a drop of water?
The trip was his wife’s idea. She said it would bring them together in ways that no therapy would. He did not remember agreeing to it, but there was nothing he could do about it now. He just wished she would stop telling him that everything was in his suitcase. He wished she would stop being so right.
Bill tried to hide his joy, but there were moments when the smile on his face was as noticeable as the swell of a pregnant stomach. He actually loved the place and the people. Every night, he and his wife would sit outside and gaze up at the stars. The evening sky here was sprinkled heavily with light. It looked like salt scattered on black paper. If they were back home, that same sky would start as a blur and end as darkness muted by city lights. Here, there was nothing to stop the sky from shimmering with spotted colors and nothing to stop them from holding hands in the darkness. He was reminded of those times when the joy of being married was as soothing as cold water to a parched throat. That was on a dark night with no stars. That was also the night they made love, just like the old days. He remembered it, and would not let that memory go.
But why did she have to be so right all of the time? It made him feel so…it was as if he was a child and she had somehow become his parent. The day he found the brochure, he had become very forgetful; each word he spoke, each question he asked, felt like rubbing alcohol on the skin, disappearing as soon as the words left his mouth, but leaving the ghost of its scent behind. Was he even sure what it was that he had asked her for? But she had told him that it was in his suitcase. He believed her, and he found the brochure. Maybe it was what he had been looking for, but maybe not.
THE WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL SIGHT, it promised. There was a picture of a hill of strange flowers. The colors were nothing like stars in the night sky. These colors were close to each other; red sitting beside yellow, black carrying yellow, white holding purple petals. Bill’s eyes became a dry sponge that absorbed the sight. He wanted it. He wanted to be in it. Bill could imagine the way the petals would caress his hand while he walked in the field of flowers, and that smell the air would give; it would be sweeter than anything that had happened to him in the past year. A fragrance that had that poetic power to make him remember everything. That’s why he wanted to go there.
He called to his wife.
“Yes, honey,” she came into the room with the smell of peppers and onions from the kitchen clinging onto her. She ruined his imagined smell of his paradise.
“I want to go here,” he waved the picture across his nose, then handed it to her.
“There?” she took it from him and squeezed her face as she wondered why he would suddenly ask for a trip.
“Yes, look there, right there, look,” he pointed at the words and traced them, “they call it the world’s most beautiful sight…”
“But it’s not on our way. It’s going to take at least…”
“I think it can help me remember things,” Bill said the first thing that came to his head.
She paused as she looked at the picture, then at him.
“You think so?” she said at last.
“I know so,” Bill said. “Just look at those flowers, if I go there maybe something in the sight will stay with me and heal my mind…”
“I don’t know. I mean, doesn’t it sound a little…” she shook her head slowly as she spoke.
“It wouldn’t hurt to try,” he said and turned his back to her. The smell of tomatoes from the kitchen had settled in the room. His wife’s stench had become a hand that reached down his throat. He couldn’t stop breathing but he could stop looking at her, that would somehow make her stink less. His eyes moved across the room and he stared at the newspapers that he’d given up on, frustrated because somehow he always forgot what it was he’d been reading in them. They were scattered around the room like rugs protecting the floor from scratches.
“Ok,” she said. “I’ll ask Pimjon to…”
Either he did not hear the rest or he forgot. But he remembered that she had agreed, and that was the important thing..
In the brochure, the hill had fit into the rectangular corners of its photographs. Here, they had to raise their necks to let their eyes swallow the vastness. The hills were very large, and beautiful too. Just being there made Bill feel an excitement that he never thought he would feel again. Some of the flowers reached his ankles, others swayed around his knees. He bent to pick them up and smell them. The aroma surrounded him, much like the sunlight.
“Careful sir,” Pimjon called after Bill when he decided to lie down among the flowers.
“I’ll be fine. You should come here and see the view. You too,” Bill waved his wife over to see what he saw. Everything was just the way it looked like in the brochure. It was a promise that these travel pamphlets kept for the first time.
“Sir, don’t go too far, these hills are not safe,” the concern in Pimjon’s voice sounded the like that in his wife’s voice.
“I’ll be fine, it’s my vacation…”
“He’s right honey, be careful, you can never tell what lies underneath these…”
“You worry too much, this place is too beautiful for that. Besides, I think it’s working on me. I can remember the picture from the brochure and it is exactly as promised!” Bill looked at his wife, who just stood motionless. She looked as if she wanted to be far away from that place. Bill did not know what could be more exciting than their time together. The people at their resort were natives who did not speak good English. The few that did, like Pimjon, were full of warnings on how to treat the land, where to go, stories and myths that gave their land a large shadow. The only moments he dreaded here were the times of night when the crickets came out to give a familiar song, reminding him that life wasn’t all that different from life at home. And even in those moments, there was a drink in one hand and his wife near the other. This was his moment and he wanted his wife to join him. Instead, she stood at a far distance, as if being closer to their car would make him hurry his stay.
“Sir, this place it’s…”
“I’ve heard you Pimjon,” Bill’s eyes were closed. He could feel the sun’s yellowing light brighten the darkness of his closed eyes. “Relax, won’t you?” He said as he moved farther from them.
“Bill you can hear the man, it’s better to be safe than…”
“I was finishing your sentence. Better to be safe than sorry?” Bill sat in the field, the flowers dancing at eye level. He could see the petals more closely and there was no color on them hidden to him. His eyes beheld new colors that he was sure did not exist.
His wife said nothing.
“Sir, I think you should listen to your wife. This place is not a safe place if you are not familiar with the land…”
“Then why would you people advertise in in the brochure as the world’s most beautiful place,” Bill rose his hands up to make quotation marks in the air.
“I don’t recall reading that,” she said. “Do you, Pimjon?”
“No,” Pimjon said. Was he smiling?
“Darling, come and join me,” Bill called out to his wife again.
“Come on, it’s beautiful here, come and see the view,” Bill said again.
“No,” his wife said, unmoving from where she stood. “Pimjon is it time?”
“Almost,” Pimjon said to his wife.
“Time to leave? I’m not ready to leave,” Bill laid back again.
“It’s time,” Pimjon continued.
“Are you sure?” his wife asked Pimjon.
“But I’m not ready to leave,” Bill sat up.
“Very sure,” Pimjon said to his wife.
“Let’s leave,” his wife called out to Pimjon. “I’ve waited long enough. This place gives me the creeps.”
Bill watched as Pimjon began moving closer to the car. It looked like a well-planned practical joke but was his wife really leaving? With the hired native? It was a cruel joke to play on a man who could forget things easily. He tried rising, but there was a heaviness in his lower extremities, they felt like weights had been dropped on them. He looked at his legs, wondering if somehow, the flowers had knotted him to the ground. But there were no legs to see. Flowers had sprouted where the legs had been. He shouted to his wife, who just stood by the car next to Pimjon, staring down at him..
“Help! Pimjon! Help! Pimjon! Theresa! Theresa!!”
His wife looked up at him then paused. She seemed to want to climb up the hill but turned to Pimjon’s arms. He grabbed her. Then kissed her. She seemed upset, and the sound of her sobs carried on the wind, but then Bill heard her speak. “Pimjon, thank you,” she said.
“Don’t thank me,” Pimjon said. “He wanted to come here,” and they left Bill alone with the flowers...
Victor Alao has appeared in The Colored Lens, Eclectica, Sentinel Nigeria, and Jungle Jim.
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