Today as I began stripping myself naked under the subnormal temperature in my bathroom, I was forced to halt as a staggeringly putrid smell exploded within my nostrils. The exaggerated amount of knowledge I posses regarding the olfactory pathway is tempting me to elaborate how exactly these rotten particles initiated its smell, but that would cause a far bigger deviation from what exactly I want to write about.
This smell, I recognized it immediately. It was not the usual reeks of clogged up drainage pipes that I have to deal with. This one was different. I stood there half-naked taking in the smell, trying to compare it to something. The only conclusion that I came up with, was a hot boiling soup of old socks, rotten eggs, vomit and some secret ingredient that gave it a distinct odour. Yes, it was disgusting. Revolting. Surprisingly not nauseating. Because nausea is a conditioned response to smells that the brain has registered as unpleasant. Why was I not associating this smell as unpleasant?
The smell, I knew was drifting from the bucket on the floor that contained a few small garments soaked in water and soap powder. Water and soap powder that was now five days old. I pride myself in being relatively clean and organized. I do my laundry by means of the washing machine for heavier voluminous clothes and hand wash the ones that could get damaged. The ones I hand wash are soaked in shampoo instead of soap powder if they are delicate. On days that I can’t be bothered using the shampoo, the soap powder steps in as the humble substitute. The bucket on the floor was reflecting the worst outcome of one of those days.
It’s funny how I’ve learned to organize something as routine as laundry into such meticulous detail. It could probably be due to the fact that I’m a laundry newb. I have listened intently on conversations about how others got by with their laundry, because initially I was battling some basic laundry problems like getting accustomed to a wardrobe full of red stained fabric that would be stretched long enough to fit the arms of a gorilla or shrunk to fit a garden gnome. So yes, I was extra cautious and eager to learn helpful tips when it came to laundry.
Getting back to the familiar stench that didn’t make me nauseous, I realised why immediately, as soon as my brain recollected its association with the past. Home. The washing room to be precise. The years that went by with the broken washing machine in the corner and three or four large buckets with five tasteful sarees of an english teacher, five occasionally ice cream stained school uniforms of a student, and numerous other pieces of clothing worn outside and inside the house, soaked-in-water-and-soap-powder-for-days-at-a-stretch. The teacher was my mother, I was the student. The doctor, my father was not there to contribute to the pile of clothing.
The buckets were an aching representation of the home of a single working parent, who had only herself to look out for. I was the oblivious daughter, cuddled in a bubble with all my necessities delivered on demand. Although my mother made sure I grew up to think like a realist, she also spoilt me rotten when it came to dealing with common daily activities. I didn’t sweep the floor, make her tea, and I hadn’t washed a single piece of cloth until I was 18 years old alone in medical school, forced to deal with such realism.
I remember dismissing the repulsive smell as if it didn’t exist. I now wonder why I didn’t question myself back then as to why, why that smell had manifested itself within the washing room. Instead I waited until the laundry somehow got itself done, and shockingly ended up smelling sweet and fresh like rose. My mother’s favourite fabric conditioner.
So today as I stood rooted in my bathroom, reality struck me harder than the waves of an angry sea. It kept sinking in and resurfacing while tear drops mixed with the stinking contents that I had created not because I was drowning in chores and responsibilities like she had, but because I was lazy. I felt as loathsome as the repellent bucket for I knew I could have appreciated her a lot more than I have ever given her credit for. Today I was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude that I had never experienced before. The familiar stench had served its purpose.