Friday, November 4, 2011

The Scent of a Lime

Two days ago I was given a fresh, brilliantly green kaffir lime by one of the owners of my favorite neighborhood spot, Thai Curry Simple. I rubbed it between the palms of my hands for a few seconds, raised it to my nostrils, smelled the bright, clear, sharp scent that this fruit is known for and for a second I was back in the market at Huay Kwang, buying a bag of these so their fragrance would fill my room.

It's losing its color and its smell but still when I hold it close to my nose, I'm back in Bangkok. Then I close my eyes and I see the river that Viphawadee Rangsit Road has turned into during the past two weeks. I think of people whom I care about who have had to leave their homes without knowing what will be waiting for them when they go back. I see boats where cars and buses used to be.

I take a deep sniff at the fading odor of my lime and I'm on Chokchai Ruammit. I open my eyes and begin to think of how I could go back there for a week or so, the way I would long to visit a friend in the hospital, with no illusions of making a difference, because I need to, not because I'm needed.

I've always known scent is the most powerful drug there is. A man and a woman come together because of the odor of pheromones. Without the sense of smell, all that we would be able to taste would be dust in our mouths. And a fragrance can wipe away time and space, placing a person firmly in a memory for a moment.

Lime stings my nostrils, leaves its perfume on my fingers , and calls me back to a city that will always, forever, be my other home. "Come, see my new rivers, tell my new stories, I'm waiting. You've never seen me this way before."

My apartment lies near a flight path, my daily routines are punctuated by the sound of jets, and at night I look out my window at moving stars. I raise my empty hands and I smell the city I have known. I think of floods and swamps and the offerings that people make each November, little boats made of flowers and incense and candles placed carefully in rivers and canals.

Loy Krathong comes in five more days; this year Bangkok will be covered with lighted prayers, moving through the water, swept along with pieces of houses, garbage, dead animals. Only a crazy person would choose to be there if she didn't have to be; only a crazy person would continue to sniff at a lime whose scent is beginning to hold faint traces of rot. And, crazy with longing, I watch the planes soar past my window and wonder if one of them may have a seat for me.


nosy girl said...

Oh, thank you, Janet! With that lime you have transported us, too.

Janet Brown said...

Thank you so much for reading this and letting me know that you did, Elizabeth. Of all the things I've written here, this is one of the most personal and vulnerable. It means so much for someone I like and respect to respond to it.

Elizabeth Mathews said...

Janet, this is powerful. My eyes are clouding over.

janet brown said...

Eliza! Thank you so much! When will you next be in Seattle, my dear?