Kavita Manohar -
Trinidad & Tobago - Biology/Pre-Med
“Smithy, you must come to see the house when you get better. The back
porch fix up nice now,” My aunt spoke in the firm, reassuring tone she
used with all her patients, the one that hardly allowed the patient to
dwell on the illness. This particular patient, Smithy, was a neighbor.
From my nine-year old perspective he was as old as the hill on whose
foot he lived, though clearly the hill would outlive him. I shrunk back
from the bed wishing that I was small enough to get away with hiding
behind my aunt’s skirt. The scent of Old Spice aftershave hung thickly
in the air, almost cloying, mixed in with the sharp smell of alcohol,
medication and something else that an unnamed sixth sense told me was
the scent of death.
If the smell was not proof enough,
Smithy’s face surely was. It was the face of the grim reaper himself,
skeletal and immobile. Smithy stared blankly in our general vicinity
while Aunt Psyche continued to ramble about the improvements she had
done to her house. He seemed so far gone that I could not believe that
he had really seen us, much less heard the invitation to come over. I
stood stiffly, trying not to stare too long at any one spot, praying for
my aunt to finish. I almost fell to earth thanking God when she at
length turned to go but something stopped me. Was it just my
imagination, or was the old man’s eye suddenly fixed on Aunt Psyche?
Smithy died later that evening and
even though I knew it was hardly appropriate, I was secretly relieved.
There would be no more sickbed visits. It was easier to see someone in a
pine box than lying on a bed, clinging to life by a thread. My aunt went
to his funeral, as she did with all her lost patients. She did all the
grunt work and they were her patients, doctors be damned, she said.
It was barely a week later that she
sat in the front room discussing all the particulars of the funeral and
its aftermath with my grandmother, whom everyone called ‘Mama’. I
entertained myself by running through all the rooms of the house,
admiring the fresh paint and new tiles for the hundredth time. There was
no escaping the conversation no matter where I wandered, since both
Auntie Psyche and Mama were more than a little hearing impaired.
“No, Ma, Cynthia never do nothing for
the poor man when he did sick. I had to clean him and shave him the
whole time. Only when he dead she come to wail in the funeral!” I
stopped in the front porch, eavesdropping because I did not know how not
to. I am not sure when I first noticed it, but it seemed that an alien
scent had wafted into the room. It hovered concentrated in mid air for a
while and then it cleared, leaving no trace behind. I had hardly filed
the phenomenon away when I heard my grandmother holler from the front
“What smelling like cologne so?” I
went in to see her sitting on the bed, curiously sniffing the air. Sure
enough, the distinctive odor of aftershave had drifted into the front
bedroom like a living entity. Aunt Psyche was gruffly suspicious.
“What? I ent smelling nothing. Oh
wait! What is that?” She wrinkled her brow in confusion as the scent
reached her side of the room. I was almost bowled over when the cologne
cloud rushed through the door once more, proceeding further into the
house. My aunt followed hurriedly with Mama cautiously walking behind.
“Psyche, don’t mess with them kind a
thing. Leave it alone,” Mama warned.
“Hush, Ma,” Psyche barreled through
the house following the scent, “It smelling like Old Spice!” She paused
in the middle of the living room briefly confused, then broke out into a
wide grin. “Well, Ma, allyuh does say is stupidness I doing when I
talking to the dying. I tell you they does hear everything.” I edged out
of my corner only because I did not want to be left alone, and joined
the little party in following the cloud of aftershave through each and
every room of the house.
It moved slowly, taking in everything
at a leisurely pace, unhindered by the three people trailing behind.
Finally, it made its way to the back porch where it remained hovering
over one of the chairs for some time.
“You must always serve your guests
something,” Aunt Psyche went into the house and returned with a brand
new bottle of rum. Mama crossed her arms and looked on expectantly. Aunt
Psyche broke the seal and twisted off the cap. Then she poured out the
obligatory libation for the spirits.
“Jesus Christ!” Mama leapt back while
I watched in fascination as the stream of alcohol vanished before it hit
the floor. Aunt Psyche blithely capped the bottle and the scent of Old
Spice vanished as suddenly as it had come.