...and then

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

On Innocence.

Have you seen a summer frangipani. One that blooms just after spring? It is a miracle of form and life sciences. It sheds all its leaves. Patiently, without a hint of emotion, taking off every single leaf that it wore through the year. Unabashedly displaying its anorexic structure. Strong in places. Knobbly in some, lean, accusing and aspiring in others. You wonder why it would stand still like this, shorn of its natural baggage, why it would last skeleton-alone, and then you see at the tips of its giant finger-like accusation, bunches of furiously blushing flowers. Fragrant and bold, and yet under that exhibitionism, a blush that is hesitant, stopping at half a petal. The waxen, flagrant frangipani. That is innocence.


Watch with the sun in your eyes, a little girl of three. Four, maybe. Not quite a baby but not quite grown enough for the word to be inappropriate. Watch as she climbs with uncoordinated hands and legs up a slide, completely graceless, completely serene. She is unaware, and sweetly uncaring, of the impatient kids who queue up behind her. There's a mini storm brewing behind her of children's bursting, cyclic energy waiting to explode at the top where they let go, and plummet gleefully on the slide. There's queue of scorn and good upbringing behind her, a temptation to push her aside, even over, maybe. A serpent of impatience and cruelty waiting just so that she is done with her slow turn on her hands and they can all have their quick thrill.

The girl climbs on, unaware what's going on behind her, body bending to the demands of the ladder that she just cannot tame under her wayward hands and legs. Her face shows no fear, only a heartbreaking earnestness towards her task. She knows not that other children do it better than her. That those behind her are like her in size, shape, age and impatience. She knows not that she will not have their empathy. Her foot slips. There's a barely-suppressed groan from behind her, as the serpent gets ready to strike with the venom of unkind words, the kind you find only in playgrounds of children. But she's a star. She has not let that hurry her into climbing like it would an adult. She climbs only like she knows how. And suddenly, just when the snake-kids behind her are at snapping point, she is at the top. The sun is setting and you can't see her face. Only the glorious silhouette she's become, the gold of a setting sun tattooing its gentle fire all around her little form, trying to confine her in its soft-filter picturesqueness. Except the sunlight didn't account for her hair; it's a mess and plays with the breeze, collecting the sun's fire from her outline and sending it away in waves from the top of her head, like a well-meaning baby Medusa of light.

She's up there and because her face is hidden in the light, you can only imagine her smile, the gently raised cheekbones of her pure face the only clue. A smile that comes from anticipating that cold sweep to the earth, releasing every little fear and embarrassment she boldly hid in her heart. In that brilliant moment, she starts to sit down and the summer cotton of her frock billows all around her in a perfect umbrella. The breeze collaborates with her victory climb and the umbrella is a poster for all that is innocent about her. Despite it being there only for a second, because it is there only for a second before she sits down, and decides to claim fruit of her journey by taking a tiny, exciting ride down, down, down to the earth. She, as the axis of her one-second umbrella, too is innocence.


My grandmother, a woman of love, humour, music, bad teeth and temper lost most control of her arms and legs due to a particularly bad case of spondylosis. In time, she was confined to her bed and her room. She ate there, watched tv there, read books there. She saw visitors there. She ate her apple there. Drank her coffee there.

Her skin was smooth, like a tautly-stretched, moist balloon once it has burst. When she would eat something that needed to be picked up with her hands, I would watch her. Her hand made a slow, heavy, waving descent to the bowl she intended to pick up her piece of apple, or orange, maybe banana, from. When it touched the bowl, it would rest. A limb in thought. Her fingers with taut, smooth, honey skin would stretch like a scared little ET and try to pick up a piece of fruit. The sneaky old piece would shift just when she got a grip on it, leaving a minuscule pool of nectar in is place. Her hand would try again, lifting like a dumb giant and dropping back into the bowl. My grandmother had no will against this recalcitrant limb. The fruit would behave itself this time, recognising the limitations of the bowl it was in. Yet, elfin by nature, it would slip out again to hide between other pieces of fruit. Third time lucky. She would have the fruit between her exquisitely awkward fingers and the slow rise to her mouth would start. Sometimes, she won, some times the piece of fruit, finding its freedom in the folds of her starched upper cloth. The days she won, I watched her gnawing slowly, laboriously at her fruit and when she had a few satiating bites of it, she would turn to me a give me a big smile. I have never seen anything more innocent.

Sometimes you look into the mirror and all you see is everything you've become. The faces you put on for people, all you. Different parts of you. Even when you cry, it's a face. One that you gaze at through your pain, despite your pain to look for aesthetics. Are you beautiful when you cry. Those days when you smile at your reflection and you can't see anything right with it, those days you make faces like you were a child, tongue out, nostrils flared; indelicate, ugly and utterly free. Suddenly, one day, there's no face to put on, no tears to wipe delicately, no bad teeth to look at you smile, no faces to make, and you've had enough sleep, you've eaten well and there's nothing that happened the day whole day that has made it exciting. An absence of the mean, a presence of the cognisant. You are perfectly ordinary. And that does not make you sad. Look again in that mirror. Because, that too, is innocence.

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Sunday, 3 March 2013

A nose knows

Stand in the sun some day. Let your skin just start to burn. Only a bit, like the point in a kiss where it loses the pretence of love and leaps headlong, taking the rest of your body, into lust. Stand quiet in the sun. Let sounds of a quiet afternoon become yours. Let go of all of those sounds and choose the one you love. I love the spy-scrape buzz of a sleepy bee or a vain dragonfly's wings. If neither exist, I turn my closed eyes, shuttered by the orange of my afternoon-eyelids, and listen for the rustle of leaves. If they refuse to oblige on afternoons that are still like death, I listen for the off-key musical horn of some trucks on the roads a little away from the patch of green I stand in, soaking in the sun.

Don't worry about a tan. Just today. For me. Just stand in the sun and get hot. Warm. As much as you can take. Tease yourself away from the scorching orgasm of standing in the sun. It is tempting. To stand there till you get so hot that your spine tingles, you lose control of your body and a flowering of goosebumps takes over your skin and you shudder with pleasure. Don't go there. Go if you must. But I suggest you stop just before. Frustrate yourself just a little. Come back in the shade then. And smell yourself. Your palms, to begin with. Then the skin on your forearms. Don't hold back from touching your skin with the tip of your nose as you breathe in the sun that's soon leaving your skin in waves. Taste it, if you like yourself enough. Tell me, when was the last time you knew what your own skin tasted like? Do you remember much more than the way your own lips taste, or perhaps the skin above and below your lips, on a salty, sweaty day, when you took an especially big, graceless lick?

Maybe you don't want to lick. Maybe you don't like it. That's alright. Focus on the smell. Very few things come close to the cacophony of scents that have just rushed forth to your skin from your time in the sun, like a rash of translucent jellyfish rising towards the shallows from the sea's promising depths. What do you smell? I smell different things. Sometimes I smell a tan. You know the smell, don't you? Your skin got shameless in the sun and went out without protection. No umbrella, no sleeves, not even a pale sunscreen. Your skin's makeup is all last-night's debauchery, simmering in its unwashed sexiness. That's the smell of a tan: slowly smouldering, a burning just like jealousy.

And sometimes I smell fruits. Summer fruits. Like the cliches in Bath and Bodyworks. Except my skin does actually smell like summer fruits and the Bath and Bodyworks potions and pots only tell me what summer fruit smells like. My fruit skin smells like the cutting, acidic smell of the not so ripe cashew fruit. It promises that you can, at some point, bite into it carefully once ripe. Carefully so that the acid doesn't burn you. Carefully so that juice that trickles down the bumps of your chin and reluctantly hugs its curve doesn't drop on to your clothes and leave a mark. Forever. Sometimes, my skin smells of fruits. It warns biters off, this summer fruit skin.

Other days I smell the acrid smell of development. Of construction and petrol, of screeching bad drivers and the lecherous eyes of men. There's the smell of smoke and spit, the greedy, dark, scary layer of pollution that I threaten with cleansers, with soap.

Soap. Those days I smell of soap, it takes me back to a place that is free of all the different things we want to smell of today. It takes me back to simple days. And the men who used to like my simple skin. Why should I smell of lavender and remind the man who touches my skin of a box of his grandmother's handkerchiefs? Why should I smell of heavenly vanilla or compulsive chocolate to the man who likes to smell my skin, fresh from under the sun?

Smelling like flowers makes me sad. I can never smell like the insistence of fragrance that a true gardenia is. The ones they bottle usually smell surreally beautiful. So beautiful that I am disappointed by what a real gardenia smells like. Jasmine, tender, pure, lavish jasmine, throwing with strong, yet delicate, arms tiny fishing nets of fragrance that are actually stories collected from a time so long back that the pale petals themselves have forgotten. I like my hair to smell of jasmine sometimes.

But there's a purer smell that hair holds secret and only reveals to nameless, faceless, hiding lovers in the dark. When a woman raises her arms, fighting with the gentle weight of her breasts, to undo her hair and release vapour-serpents of a scent that is uniquely her own. A mix of sweat, shampoo from a day ago, oil that the scalp lets escape, and the gentle whiff of her whole day that snagged in her hair. I like that smell too.

When she lifts her arms, she gently rolls the sea of smells her body becomes. From the delicate bay of the back of her ear, where her earrings dig into her like the nails of an insistent lover, emanates the smell of her warmth, the true smell of her self when it isn't cleansed by the sun or the wind. Nuzzle your nose there, if you ever reach the neck of a woman, and find a fragrance that is visceral and grabs your guts in its shadow-play coils. Because the more you go seeking it, the quicker it shifts, a shimmering hologram harlequin. So difficult to find, so easy to kill with a cruel splash of your favourite perfume.

A man's palm, callused, when clean carry the smell of burden. Vehicle smoke, cigarettes, some times, much to my chagrin, smells of food. They carry the smell of not wanting to smell feminine. And so they lap up the fragrances of what they think women are not supposed to smell like.

But have you slept with a man's shirt while it still smells of him? Oh I know, it is a sentimental thing to do and you eventually grow out of it. Or grow out of missing him so much that even an unwashed shirt will do. A man, when he isn't smelling of the thing that makes hot women look comfortably sex seeking, is actually a nice thing to smell. His hair, his arms, his chest, everything smells of a warm day that you can't douse. If you can hear his heart beat, get a little adventurous and look for smells you haven't looked in before. His collar bones is a great place to start. The backs of his knees. His chin. Summer and ripeness and if you are lucky, absolutely no soap or after shave,

When there is water, what need does one have of smelling roses, or fruits, or candy. Feminine hygiene products? I see them in stores and it always makes me wonder, makes me think. Here's another way of taking away what is woman's: her natural fragrance one that she shares with no one else. Here's another way to make one woman smell like another like another. Just like summer jasmine, white, wonderful and without will.