Eau de Cologne

I didn’t know my grandfather. By the time I was old enough to speak, he has already crumbled with age. Having being blinded years before my birth, I was not part of the reality he remembered. At the last stages of  his life, my parents brought him to our home in the city where he lived in the spare room with my grandmother. I would watch him from behind the curtains; curious, intrigued.

“Why did he always piss himself?”; at the time I didn’t understand the perils of age, and would wrinkle my nose and watch as my grandma patiently sponged him clean, changed him and dabbed his sides with Eau de Cologne. He wouldn’t take it- being reduced to a child after being a mighty cinnamon merchant of the South. Crushed with indignation, he pushes her away and as she seizes the bedside for support, she forgets the bottle of Cologne in her hand; I watch it sail down the air, gracefully turning itself as if to parade its magnificent, faceted glass body and the  famous green label one last time. A second of silence. As the air transforms with the faraway, exotic smell of Eau de Cologne, I forget my aversion to the bucket of urine in the room and rush in to see the catastrophe. I tip toe on the floor that is now gem-encrusted with illuminated, thick pebbles of glass; like angry, beautiful girls waiting to crawl under your skin and break you.

Between my grandmother’s cries to not step on glass, I hear my grandfather break into a song. I look up at him, surprised. His face boyish and impish at the damage he’s done, he laughs and sings; “Monday is for the white moon, Tuesday for god Mars, Wednesday for Mercury and Thursday is Jupiter the wise…” This is the first time I catch a glimpse of my grandfather’s being, without the veil of sickness, helplessness or age. I soak him in greedily- a jolly, mischievous landowner from the salty earth of the oceanic South with the whelming smell of  Eau de Cologne dancing on air to the beat of his singing “Saturn’s evil eye on Saturday, Sunday the day of the king of the skies…”

I never saw into him again. He died seven months later.

Sixteen years later, I watch a bundle of squirming being lying on pink sheets; my 8 month year old niece. She squints her little face with an apparent scheme making its way out. I see a circle of wetness grow around her on the pink linens, and her face breaks with a relived smile. As the smell of urine fills the room, her mother shouts in exasperation “Baba! I just changed you”. I scoot away as the little thing is cleaned, changed and dabbed with cologne. And, for the first time in her life, the little girl makes a sound, a low, pigeon like ‘coo’. My cousin shrieks with joy and tries to lure her into cooing again, calling in her husband. As I watch the child coo at her doting parents, I watch her transform from a precious creature, into a person- a real being with intention.

My grandfather lights up in my memory-an old man thrilled with his mischief- as sharp as today, throbbing now and alive in the child’s musical coos and a faint linger of urine and the world weighing down with the smell of Eau de Cologne. I remember meeting him for the first time in a whirling sphere of song and exotic French smell. I find myself again in the same place inhaling the smell of a new meeting, this time as life rolls out a young thing, singing all that will be.

I am sitting on a dot at the other end of the same cycle.    


Photo by Brane Zalar

Photo by Brane Zalar



3 thoughts on “Eau de Cologne

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