Three thousand miles away from home, Bobby stood at an apartment window overlooking the Arabian Sea. The building stood 30 storeys above sea level. Bobby lived on the 30th floor. At eye-level with clouds, birds (local and migrative) and a stain, which was on the outside of the window. Right now, Bobby was higher than a kite. He was in seventh heaven. He was on Cloud Nine. He had caught a severe cold. It was A Cold With The Works: chest congestion, mucous in the lungs, phlegm-filled cough and a drippy running nose. It’s not that The Cold gave Bobby an excuse to bunk work since it was the first afternoon of a three-day weekend. Neither was he a whining hypochondriac who revelled in miseries of the human flesh. He was just terribly homesick.
An expatriate software professional amassing a small fortune in a prominent Middle East sheikhdom, Bobby was bankrupt when it came to emotional security. Bobby lived all by himself in his huge 30th floor apartment with the stunning view and all mod cons. People living alone by choice are a hardy breed. Preferring the company of TV personalities to persons, the loner-by-choice has a heart that can withstand the severest of jolts. Possibly these are the kind of hearts that are in great demand in the organ donor market. But what about the loner by circumstance? A loner like Bobby. Thirty years old, in the first bloom of middle age with the countenance of a man who has taken one knock too many. It’s not that Bobby didn’t have a social life. Single and moneyed, he had more women climbing into his bed than the guy in the next-door flat who looked (and acted) like Brad Pitt. Bobby gave freely of himself, his money, his booze, his stash, his wit, his charm, his mind, his books, his clothes, his DVDs, his semen, his shoulder, his everything. His heart – a fragile wispy glass drum that housed a 400-watt speaker – he gave to no one.
However, this isn’t a story about Bobby’s heart. It’s about Bobby’s cold. Bobby’s Cold With The Works that made him feel warm and happy. Alone at home with his thoughts for company, Bobby ventured on a journey. (Our thoughts are the yet undiscovered Time Machine. They are capable of taking us back and forth in time without the fear of intergalactic molecular fuckups and hassles of ill-fitting space gear.) Bobby’s thoughts took him all the way, non-stop First Class to the destination of his dreams.
It was a cozy little home in a large old building hunched massively over a noisy street. A home where the early morning sunlight bathed chattering sparrows perched on the window frame. A home with an address Bobby could blindly write on the labels of school exercise books. A home where the bed turned into a battleship. A home where the rod was never spared. A home where the child was spoiled. A home where the wolf was always at the door but was never let in. A home where a knock on the door at 5:30 p.m. meant Daddy was home. A home where Daddy wore trousers and willingly (happily) let Mamma don the pants. A home sweet home. Bobby’s home. Bobby’s blanket that sheltered him from the Big Bad World.
For a moment, let’s step away from Bobby’s home and get back to his cold. His love in the times of influenza. The Cold With The Works was functioning at peak production. Bobby blew his nose into a thick wad of tissues. No luck. His clogged nose forced him to breathe through his mouth (a mouth wreathed in a beatific smile). He gulped in a large breath. His oxygen-starved lungs expanded, accepted the fresh dose of air and injected it into his bloodstream. Somewhere within his chest, the little glass drum throbbed and warbled the beat of life.
Deep in the labyrinths of his mind, Bobby wandered into a room and saw his Mamma laying the table, placing spotless white plates on a starched crisp white tablecloth. He saw himself as a little boy, bare-chested and clad in denim shorts, seated at the table. Face buried in the tablecloth, he was taking in deep breaths of the fresh smell of starched cloth. He lifted his head, his tiny nose quivered like a seismographic needle. All around him wafted a plethora of unseen smells, odours and aromas. Chrysanthemums in the big vase by the entrance, old burnt candle-wax and marigold garlands from the altar, Dettol from the recently swabbed floor, Daddy’s cheap unfiltered cigarette smoke, a just-back-from-the-dhobi tablecloth drenched with the fragrance of sunlight, granny’s Eau de Cologne. Little Bobby, and now, big Bobby could smell all these smells as clearly as he could see Mamma bringing in the food.
And the smell! Oh Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Saints, Apostles and the defrocked priest at the local parish church! The smell, the smell, the smell, the smell of the food. A conglomerate of spices tramped out with heavy footfalls from a chatty brimming with mutton cooked in a masala of spices and grated coconut. Threads of steam sinuously escaped from the big bowl of rice with peas. Large shallow-fried pomfrets with incisions on either side filled with rechiad, a tangy red chilly paste. Potato chops (mince cutlets in a sheath of mashed potatoes) creamy soft from within, with a crisp bread crumby exterior. Bread from the bakery two blocks away, baked just two minutes ago. Red jelly wobbling in a transparent bowl. Flanked on either side by smaller bowls chock-a-block with caramel custard.
Bobby deeply inhaled all these delightful smells of a bygone yesterday. Aromas that he could never forget came alive in his mind. His snot-stuffed nose shut out the pot-pourried, expensive aftershave smell of his apartment. The smells of home ran through the spiraling streets of his mind and gushed out. A feeling of warmth enveloped him, stiffening spine, making gonads throb. He could taste home on his lips, roof of mouth, craters below tongue and inside cheek walls. He even managed to lick mutton gravy from his lower lip and could taste a shred of rechiad pomfret wedged in a large cavity in the upper molar to the left. Bobby leaned back in an armchair and sat to lunch. As was the practice at home, Bobby said Grace and added a mental prayer to the Gods who prevent modern science from finding the cure to the common cold.