The smell permeates my sleep, tickling at the edge of memory; one that goes back so far that it seems that is has always been there. In the half sleep, half wake state of early morning, struggling to get my eyes open as an impatient dog does the dance of “ I have to go out, I have to go out”, the aroma is a reminder of good things, of days long past.
For the past two or three days there have been whiffs of it, the sweet, banana-ey smell of ripe plantains being fried against a richer backdrop, the aroma of dirt soaked and wet trees. It is the smell of rainy days, of coming home to a warm kitchen, counters covered in flour, the hiss and spit of hot oil in a battered black frying pan, the vibrant yellow turning golden brown with blackened edges, a quick drain before being stuffed into the fluffy white saada roti and handed over to waiting hands.
If like me, you are life-long sufferer of “sinus” attacks, your sense of smell is always compromised by the lingering nasal drip and blockages that remove most of your olfactory responses. Since eating is a sensory pleasure that involves all the senses, the loss of one can make things sometimes, less so. And yet, almost thirty years later, there are some smells that remain, that are so evocative that the merest twitch of a nose and fleeting whiff, are enough to transport, to visualize, and to remember. These smells are so inextricably intertwined that they are not a logical progression, they just are.
August was the month that we were all at home, “summer camp” meant weeks at my Granny’s house, endlessly riding bicycles up and down the yard or the back street, climbing trees, getting dirty, causing mayhem and generally getting into trouble. My mother used to apply for her vacation, my granddad too. Granny, who’d already had a month of us driving her nuts would breathe a sigh of relief and resign herself to whatever entertainment Pappy planned.
August is the month of rain in Trinidad, huge, droplets falling from the sky, sometimes a warm gentle shower but mostly pounding torrential downpour, cold rain that comes from high up. Being locking indoors with everybody was frustrating. As a child, I never met a rain puddle that didn’t say, “ jump in me!” The odd thing was that if you parked me with a stack of books, I would happily read away the day, living in my own little dream world, a state that persists today. It’s my brothers who would instigate the trouble. Playing in the rain, freedom from the fetters of adults, clothes sticking to your body, dancing in the droplets or being pelted by them, eventually being so cold that you went indoors to receive your scolding secure in the knowledge that you’d do it again.
The smell of rain, before, a heavy lingering smell, full of promise, rainy-ness, of mysterious green things, after a downpour, newness, wet earth and trees, fecundity. After the rain the place would look as though it had been washed, shininess, the plants acid green, the sky bright, even when covered still in grey clouds. The evening smells after a day of rain, of cocoa or Horlicks, fried plantains and bakes, tomato choka, stewed chicken leftover from lunch, hops and cheese and always, the promise in the nose of rain waiting to come while we, tucked up in our houses, snug against it, ate and laughed, got scolded and slept, twitching in our dreams, of playing in the rain.