I couldn’t tell her. I had no courage to do it.
My mother told me that my first breath when I was born was a deep one, then I started crying. My mother told me it was the most beautiful sight in her entire life. She later held me in her arms, small, feeble and oblivious to everything this life can offer. I was a big surprise to her life. She said that I smelt like honey and butter. I am the joy of her life.
One day, when I was 7, Mom said that we would go to church and that I had to wear the jeans and plaid shirt my uncle gave me during Christmas. While I was tucking in my shirt, she came to dab some cologne and I found it strange. I looked up to her with a smile and asked what it was. She said that it would make me noticeable and add up to my being handsome. I couldn’t fully understand how that was possible. Mom gave me that cologne bottle with the letters written on them: RAIN. I wore that cologne and Mom was so delighted. Ever given someone perfume and they wore it the next time you met? Yes, you both end up smiling. My mom was delighted whenever I wore RAIN.
Sometimes from the kitchen she would say, “Hmmmmmm, one young man is about to see some beautiful girls today. I hope they aren’t as sour as my sinigang.” I chuckle. I couldn’t imagine how she could compare women to a dish I like so much because of its texture in my mouth and the colors of the vegetables that vanish in the mirky warm soup. She would always wonder why I swallowed chunks of vegetables and meat altogether without chewing them well. I realized why, later on, it makes me smile.
When I was 8, I remember my Mom banging on the door of my bedroom at 3am. I woke up wondering what it was. When I opened the door, she hurriedly covered me with the wet blanket she had in her arms. She asked me to crawl out of the house because our kitchen was burning. I hurriedly crawled with Mom going out, and thank God, we were able to escape the fire.
Mang Ambo, one of our neighbors, said that he heard an explosion in our house at around 2:30am and they smelt gas leaking several minutes before the explosion happened. We were all in shock, my mom and I, and my cousins who slept over in the house that night.
One day, when I was 11, I rode the jeepney going home alone since Mom could not pick me up. The car had to undergo some maintenance so she taught me how to take the jeepney. It was my first time to ride home on my own but since I was already a big boy, I was proud enough to tell her that I can handle it by myself. She gave me the directions and how much to pay ‘til my stop. It was nothing. An easy thing to do. As long as I crossed safely to our village, then I would arrive home unscathed.
So, I hailed for the jeepney going to Bliss. It was quite full but one seat was waiting for me. I got in and sat comfortably. It was quite warm inside the jeepney while heavy rain started pouring outside. I had just finished playing basketball with some friends in the town plaza so I was perspiring. I slowly unbuttoned my shirt to cool down myself but as soon as I did that, people started covering their noses. They looked at me and I looked at them quizzically. One old lady frowned at me and said that I had to start having personal hygiene. I was so embarrassed. I didn’t know how to confront that situation.
Over dinner, I told Mom about what happened and as a very loving mother, she came to me and hugged me. She said it was okay and I was undergoing changes in my body in a physiological period called puberty, so it was normal. I was annoyed for one second and said that I didn’t do anything, that if I perspired a lot, I never wiped it to anyone inside the jeepney! My mom laughed and I got mad. I told her she should be on my side and not on those people who embarrassed me. But she hugged me, kissed me on the head and said that she loved me. While hugging me and before she went to the dishes, she smelt me and said, “Oh, that’s why!”
The next morning before going to school, she said to me that she bought a roll-on deodorant. She said that I should apply it after taking shower every single day. I asked her what it does and she said that the next time I ride a jeepney, people would be happier. I took her advice and did exactly as she said. I should’ve known this thing.
I was 24 years old and during the second year in my job as a young executive in a bank, I met the girl of my dreams. She was the most beautiful person I have ever seen. Whenever Ivana laughed across our office floor, I smiled. Every time she passed by my desk, I noticed how beautiful her legs were and wily as I am, I never failed to notice the soft mound of her buttocks. She’s sexy.
Six months after, I asked her out on a date. I picked my restaurant of choice whose menu I memorized like the Litany of the Rosary. I like Chinese food, so I brought her to this restaurant that had a really nice ambiance and where I had lunch with my boss one time.
We sat there, with smiles on our faces, eyes tracing each other’s lips.
She asked me what I would recommend. I pointed to the dishes I loved and said that they were a bit sweet and spicy. She said she loved sweet and spicy. But she added that she also loved the taste of stir-fried vegetables with dumplings on the side. I said that it was my treat so she didn’t have to worry.
She was a slender woman, her eyes were captivating and spoke of passion and finesse. I adored her; she was so gorgeous – I felt so lucky.
She said the dumpling sauce was not as sweet as she thought and the stir-fried vegetables were not that salty. I nodded. She also said the tea was a nice addition to the dishes but that she wanted some red wine if possible. I asked the waiter for a bottle of Porto wine, the finest in the bar. She smiled with glee.
We were talking about a lot of things. She was complimenting the food and telling me I had a really nice choice for a restaurant. I nodded with a half-smile, hoping she would stop savouring the food nor ask what I thought about them.
Then I just felt like I was missing out. She was enjoying the night so much yet I couldn’t connect with her. I was imploding deep inside. I didn’t know how far I would need to pretend.
My mind was flying to the fire that ate our house when I was 8 and the embarrassing moment in the jeepney when I was 11. In my mind I could hear my mom’s voice saying “…one young man is about to see some beautiful girls today, I hope they aren’t as sour as my sinigang.”
I hoped Ivana was as sour as the sinigang that Mom cooked.
I wish I fully understood the reason why that old lady told me I had to start having some hygiene at 11.
I wish I woke up during the fire before we had to crawl out and save our lives.
I wish that at 12, I didn’t have to learn the truth. That I have anosmia. I was diagnosed to be “noseblind”. My mom didn’t know if she would cry or not. I didn’t know I was living a tasteless and scentless life.
I am ashamed of the fact that I cannot smell the world around me and no one knows that I have this handicap. Ivana doesn’t know and I had no courage to tell her:
That I would have to ask Mom which flowers smelt best to give to her.
That I am scared to death about not knowing when things burned and that if we had kids, I might not know right away that the house caught fire.
That I don’t really know how to cook and that every food ‘tastes’ the same, meaning ‘nothing’.
That I would have to rely on the sales ladies to give me their best opinions when I buy a perfume; and that I always had to use the lines, “If we were going out tonight, which scent would you want me to wear?”
That I would have to always make friends with waiters in the first 10 seconds and rely on them to give the best tasting dishes, not for me, but for the person I bring with me to dinner or lunch.
That I can’t bake a cake which means I can’t please my future mother-in-law.
That once I prepared a very salty salad because I couldn’t tell how much salt and pepper I should sprinkle on them.
That I treat pizza as a rubbery kind of bread you shove to your throat and nothing more.
That I don’t understand what sea breeze meant and why people feel so relaxed about how it smelt.
That I relax when I lie in the grass only because I focus on drawing sharks in the clouds compared to smelling the greenery around.
That I can’t wear the same shirt twice even if I liked it.
That I drink coffee just because it is coffee break in the office.
That I wouldn’t know how fresh the smell of a baby’s skin is.
That I wouldn’t be able to smell Ivana’s scent and keep it in my soul even just once.
Our date ended as soon as I snapped back to reality. Ivana asked me what was wrong.
I smiled and said, “Nothing”.
The only thing I smell is my own fear of losing Ivana.
I couldn’t tell her. I had no courage to do it.