Nostalgia can waft through the nose, you know.

It isn’t limited to sights and sounds, it extends beyond the easily distinguishable. Just like the elusiveness of smell, so does nostalgia wreck our minds with faded memories. A whiff of that special brand of hair oil that old men lather on sends me reeling back to when I was 7 or 8.

7 am, the cock is screeching and I’m out of bed. Creeping through the quiet house with its never-ending ceilings, glass panels serving as skylights. Crickets and rooster, hens and chicks, the occasional bark followed by excited squeals. Tiptoeing on plastered floors, peeling away and allowing the grainy sediments of covered cement floor to spill over. Nothing can truly be hidden away, it always spills over and mar our perfect facades. Then, grandpa, reading the newspaper and I freeze in my tracks.

“小心, 不要跌倒.”

Musky hair oil, seeping into my memory.

Hints of melted chocolate (or is it chemicals) floating through the air. Music playing, jacket on. It’s near the end of May, and yet I’m back to December. The end of a semester, half of my Freshmen year gone. I’m back to the simpler times, with ridiculous optimism and comfort derived from solitude and God. Content, comfort. That cheap melted chocolate smell, the refuge hall once held, but now a tainted reminder of rendezvous.

Sniffing my niece’s head, baby powder and spilt milk. Days where I peered over the table, watching my mother clean up Baby Jordan. Remembering that this kid was our ticket to Cod fish for dinner, beyond the eggs and tofu and rice. Remembering the softness of the folds of his skin, prodding them and stopping when he bawled. Tugging at the sarong, willing him to sleep, singing the lullaby of My Heart Goes Sha La La La  by Vengaboys. Disturbingly innocent, till you see the music video. We didn’t have much access to those then, so we belted out techno music, never understanding the innuendoes or plainly sexual lyrics. Delicate baby hairs, puffed out on top of rosy cheeks and deep eyes, immensely innocent and open, letting anyone in. He still had lots to learn, and one day those eyes would be solid and shallow, never letting anyone beyond the windows to his soul. It’s getting there.

Scents, grabbing our attention, tossing us down memory lane away from the present, forceful and possessive in its ways.


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