Small, unassuming but fragrant enough to perfume the world. Jasmine.
It reminds me of Aama. Come spring, she would gather armfuls from the garden, ban us from the bathroom and then close the door on the world. We never knew what she did there, sometimes for hours at a stretch. Later, she would emerge soft and serene from clouds of steam.
This season, when the sweet scent of jasmine lies like a veil upon the Valley air, it reminds me of her. They say the brain's nerve endings for the sense of smell are located close to the cells that store memory, that is why when we smell something recollections rush back.
Now I wonder what Aama did behind that locked bathroom door. I imagine her running the hot water to fill the old stone tub where she washed loads of clothes until her back hurt and hands reddened with cold-the same tub that never looked clean no matter how often she scrubbed it.
A stray ray of late afternoon sunlight would push its way past the nylon lace curtains to mark a path across the blue and green linoleum. She must have moved the homemade needlepoint rug, worried that it would get wet. She'd allow herself two fresh towels, one to turban her hair and another to dry off. This she would have placed on the commode, within arms reach from the tub.
Slowly she would undress, peeling off her clothes so that they lay discarded on the floor like a shell, still warm and smelling of her. She might dare for a minute to look at her reflection. She sees her breasts, breasts that have nursed two children and are no longer as firm as they once were. A seven-inch scar mars her soft belly, a memento of a misdiagnosed pregnancy.
Her skin is white and pale, except the hands, which are worn from being a mother, a housekeeper and a keen gardener. She might have smiled at the brown earth moons under her nails-and shrugged. Her garden is beautiful and people come to admire her green thumb and buy her plants. It keeps her in 'pin money', money that she is fiercely glad to have.
The mirror has fogged over with steam.
She gathers the masses of jasmine and floats it on the water. Opening the cold water tap, she would test the temperature of her bath with her elbow. The sensitivity to heat in her hands had been washed out with all the laundering and lifting hot dishes off the stove. She refuses to dwell on what to make for dinner. She has to please a carnivorous husband, a vegetarian daughter and a finicky son. This is her time.
The flowers have given up their scent, mingling with the water and rising with the steam. She bends over the tub to inhale it, eyes closed.
Then she steps into the water, carefully holding the sides. Perhaps she slid down, lower and lower. Holding her breath she would slip under the surface.
A little water spills over the side.