“I married my husband, Tolu, because he understood, to an extent, the sanctity of scents.”
THESE DAYS, I smell like someone else. No, I smell like many people else.
I changed my perfume as soon as Thomas passed. Haha. It’s funny the way we say ‘passed’ as if we are talking about something very simple, very easy.
Who came up with such a bland word for death?
As if he passed his exams. As if he passed a baton in one of those races he ran. As if he did not leave forever.
A child is supposed to bury the mother, isn’t it? Isn’t that what we prayed for in church: we will not bury our children, in Jesus name? So, when did God take a vacation from listening to our petitions, my petitions, when did he leave and let the evil thing called death snatch my son away from me?
I smell like someone else, because I don’t want to smell like me. Because scents remind me of so much, they remind me of who I used to be, of the hurt and then the happiness.
I had a scent before. My scent –– musky yet feminine, the scent reminded me of orchids, white delicate orchids. If my perfume was a flower, it would be an orchid. I had discovered it while in Law School; before then, I had explored many, many perfumes, trying to find the right one for me because to me, perfumes were more than just scented liquid in glass bottles, they were a symbol, an imprint, a representation of one’s personality.
My romance with scents did not begin today. My mother told me that as a child, I’d often sneak into her room and leave smelling differently. I had not pilfered money or meat from the pot, like other children did – I had pilfered perfumes. The bottles, of all sizes, I wrapped in my floral pillow case and hid it in my cupboard.
The men I dated were often chosen by how they smelled. I had crushes on men because of their scents.
My first boyfriend, Jesse of the fiery scent, did not understand why I would suddenly snuggle close to him at odd times –– at seventeen, I was determined to keep my precious virginity.
“Don’t kiss me,” I would say when I sensed him moving in for something more than a chaste cuddle.
Then why are you so close? he would ask in a pouty way, because at eighteen, with hormones raging like a storm, he did not appreciate being teased.
I like the way you smell, I would respond.
Scents were more than just perfumes; perfumes no doubt helped to enhance and give definition to one’s scent, but there was a natural, earthy scent that never left no matter how much you scrubbed or how many times you bathed. That scent clings to you like a breastfeeding baby. It becomes you. It is familiar and comfortable. A different or indiscreet kind of perfume could disrupt the serenity that you have become so familiar with – which is why the process of choosing, buying perfumes is an art.
I married my husband, Tolu, because he understood, to an extent, the sanctity of scents. The first time he wanted to change his perfume, while we were still dating, he asked my advice. It was something no man had ever done for me and it was that singular act that made me think: this is someone I can actually marry.
When I had our first child –– Lucille (because Lucy was too common) –– my husband gave me a wrapped perfume.
“Thank you for carrying and bearing our baby,” he said.
I did not cry while I writhed in pain to bring out our baby but when he said those words, tears sprung to my eyes.
Lucille was so different from me it hurt. From the moment she was aware of her surroundings, I began to introduce her to scents; I took her out in her pram, to gardens, picking flowers and teasing her nose with it. She ended up sneezing and bursting into hiccup-y tears.
“Stop doing it if she doesn’t like it,” my mother admonished.
“Of course she likes it. She just doesn’t know it yet.”
She didn’t like it.
I tried a different strategy: as soon as she turned one, I got her her own perfume –– a mild vanilla-scented perfume that I loved. Two weeks later, she destroyed it by somehow unscrewing the cap and pouring it all over my bed.
It was the first time I spanked her. It was the beginning of our many fights.
“You have to take it easy, Rachel,” my husband said, often.
“She’s spoilt. You’re spoiling her. She’s destructive and does not appreciate beauty.”
“She’s two and does not understand beauty. Let her be. She will grow into it at her own pace.”
She never did. In fact, the older she grew, the more vehement her rejection of perfumes seemed. She sneezed every time I sprayed her.
“Maybe it’s allergies,” her father said.
“Or she’s faking.”
“Children don’t fake sneezes.”
It bothered me that my understanding husband had suddenly turned against me. How was it that he now took his daughter’s side over mine?
I saw the connection between them when they were together –– it was right there in the electric laughter that passed between them as though they shared a private joke. It was there in the way her face glowed when she talked about Father’s Day and gave him a handmade card saying: I love you to the moons, Daddy.
When she was six and I could no longer stand being the one left out in my own family, I told Tolu I wanted another baby.
He did not object, maybe because he wanted another baby or because he himself could see that he was stealing our daughter from me.
I didn’t know before becoming a parent that such a thing as parent-rivalry existed. I didn’t think the day would come when I would sit in the bedroom alone and pregnant and talk to my baseball-sized belly, saying things such as:
“You’re going to be Mummy’s pet. Mummy would love you so much and you would love mummy so much too.”
I did not believe till then that one could actually speak to their unborn baby and expect it to listen. The insecurity scared me. The thought that I would have children who would not like me kept me up many nights. I would take a bottle of my perfume, dab a bit on my palm and place my palm on my tummy and whisper: Dear baby, you would love perfumes like me.
Pregnancy, parenting, had a way of making one’s antennae of superstition come alive.
OUR SECOND baby was a boy. Thomas was a chubby, delightful baby from the beginning. The moment I held him in my arms and looked into his dark eyes, I knew that he was different. I fell in love with him in a way that I didn’t with Lucille. I felt guilty about it, that perchance I didn’t love Lucille enough.
Perhaps the myth that daughters were closer to their fathers and sons to their mothers held some truth after all, or maybe I was simply starved of the love of my young daughter that I showered affection on my son.
Thomas and I were soul mates from the beginning. While his sister rejected flowers with cries and sneezes, my son reached out his chubby fingers to grasp the flowers I picked.
While Lucille destroyed her first perfume, I found Thomas –– when aged one –– many times, sitting in his bedroom and staring at the bottle of perfume with something resembling awe.
It was no surprise when Thomas and I became a team. There was something overwhelming about my love for him – like it was this deep rushing ocean I had no control over. And I loved it. I loved the feeling of loving someone, my offspring, that deep. I began to understand what my husband and daughter shared.
When Thomas turned thirteen, I got him his first adult perfume. His scent needed to be more defined and refined.
Enough of the childish scents: my baby boy was growing into a young man.
“Mum, I love it.” He threw his arms around me. It was one of the things I loved about him, his un-ashamedness. The way he did not blush when I kissed him on the cheek as I dropped him off at school.
“I’m glad you do, honey,” I responded.
My husband didn’t like the idea.
“How do you give a thirteen-year-old a bottle of expensive perfume?” he asked, his vein sticking out at the side of his head the way it did when he was upset.
“How did you know it was expensive?” I countered.
He dug in his pocket and took out a small white paper I immediately recognized as the receipt from the mall. Darn it, I should have thrown it out the moment I was given it. Lately, my husband had been preaching about being prudent, so he had taken to checking as many receipts as he could of all the purchases I made. Not like I spent so much anyway.
Okay, okay. But it’s his birthday. I wanted to give him a treat. Besides we should look for ways to make him happy instead of fighting about money on his birthday, I conceded, putting a placating hand on his back.
“I’ve told you, you are spoiling that boy.”
“Buying a birthday gift for our son is spoiling him?”
“You buy something for him every week.”
I didn’t want to sound petty so I didn’t bother to remind him about how he sent money to Lucille every week in school.
I LOST Thomas twice; both times it felt like someone had reached deep into my chest, ripped out my heart and shred it right before me.
The first time I lost him was when he turned eighteen. I noticed that our special bond had begun to wane. His love for running seemed to replace his affection for me. I could not accept that truth at first, especially when I noticed his withdrawal in physical contact. He no longer volunteered to drive me around for my errands.
I convinced myself that it meant nothing, that Thomas was just growing up and needed to be a man.
The first time I lost him was when he came home for the holidays. He was in his second year in the University –– a tall, olive-skinned boy I couldn’t believe I’d birthed.
He towered over me these days and his brows were mostly furrowed in concentration.
When he got in, he passed by our bedroom, poking his head in to greet Tolu and I.
“Daddy, good afternoon. Mummy, good afternoon. I’m back.”
“Welcome, son,” my husband responded.
I sat, waiting for my son to walk over, lean forward for a hug, smile and say, I missed you, Mum.
Instead he nodded, wriggled his fingers at us in a tiny wave and his head disappeared behind the door.
“Do you think he’s okay?” I asked.
“He looked fine to me. Why?”
I shook my head, stood up and exited the room. I paused at the door to his bedroom and took a deep breath before pushing the door open. The scent was the first thing I noticed. It was different. Horror wracked through my body as I realized: my son had changed his perfume.
“What did you do,” Tom? I asked.The door to his wardrobe was open and he peeked out to look at me.
“Mummy, you didn’t knock, he said, his tone long-suffering.”
“Since when do I knock at your door?”
“I’m not a baby anymore. What if I was naked or something?” He frowned.
“Why did you change your perfume?”
“I am tired of the other one. Don’t I have the right to change my perfume again?”
But how could I explain to him that this perfume changed everything? It changed how I remembered him. It didn’t suit his personality; my Thomas was a gentle soul but this…this monstrosity of a scent smelled angry. Rebellious.
“What happened to your other one? Did it finish? You should have told me and I’d have bought another one….”
“Mum. It did not finish. You don’t have to always do my shopping for me. I’m not a baby anymore. I would like to choose my perfumes from now on.”
And that was when I lost him, because in that short speech, he told me I was no longer the one his world revolved around, that what we shared was gone. Just like that.
BY THE time I lost him for the second and last time, I knew beforehand. I’d had a bad dream the night before, a dream I couldn’t remember but one terrified me. It felt like a premonition, like something black and nasty was hanging over our heads, so when the call came in at 6 a.m. the next day, I knew. She identified herself as his friend, she was sobbing and her words were jumbled. I could make out ‘night’, ‘Thomas’, ‘thieves’, ‘gunshot’, ‘hospital’, ‘dead.’
TODAY IS his birthday –– supposed to be his twenty-first. It is ironic that we buried him three months to his twenty-first birthday. I had been planning a surprise party for him like we did for Lucille.
I log on to Facebook and the first thing I see is Today is Thomas Adeoye’s birthday. Help him have a great day!
I should log out now, I know. I should ignore it and switch off my phone. But I cannot resist the urge to check his Timeline.
The first post I see is: Have a great one, Thomas. HBD and wullnp.
Anger wells up in me. What a cruel joke.
Luce Chikezie commented on this post:
He’s dead, you fool.
And for the first time in ages, I feel a kinship with my estranged daughter. I feel the tears begin to pour out from me as I scan his timeline; it is filled with condolence messages, as if people who are dead can log on to Facebook.
His last post is a selfie of him and a girl I do not recognize. They are smiling into the camera. The picture is captioned: #SelfieWithBae.
I wish I can rewind time and do things right. I exit Facebook and dial my daughter’s number.
“Mum? Are you okay?”
She sounds surprised.
There is an awkward silence between us. I don’t know what to say to my own child.
“Uh, Mum, would you like me to come over?”
“Yes, please, Luce. I would really like that. I just…I don’t want to be alone right now.”
“Okay mum. I’m on my way.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much.”
As I hang up, I realize that this is the first time since the funeral that I am speaking to my daughter.
post image by Vetiver Aromatics via flickr.
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