the Composition
for Honours Class,
Howard University,

  Authors & Artists


Faces & Voices 4
Faces & Voices 5

The Visitor
Kavita Manohar - Maharaj
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 room.
        “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.

© 2002 Howard University
(First Published in limited print edition, An Anthology of Verse, Prose & Art, by the Composition for Honours Class, Howard University, Spring 2002. Professor E.R. Braithwaite)
HOWARD UNIVERSITY LIBRARIES, 500 Howard Place, NW, Washington, DC 20059.  Phone (202) 806-7234.