“Fumes of Love” by Brinda Banerjee
The most handsome boy I’d ever seen in my life was staring at me with plain disgust – his beautiful, aquiline nose wrinkling slightly. I swallowed, wishing it would stop but there was no question I was stinking. Distinctly malodorous fumes rose from my body – I swear there were actual grey wisps in the air. Kids were stopping and staring at me with frank displeasure, and then hurrying on to escape the smell.
I stuttered, “I..its not me..” My mind swirled, how did I get here, again?
It was only yesterday that I stood outside Zeenath’s building on a busy street junction. The apartment building was sad looking, complete with peeling plaster, chipping gargoyles and stone garlands. We were told she lived on the top most floor. Sarita and I clutched each other’s hands tightly as we went up the lift, we could not help it, the lurching lift and flickering light in the dim foyer were enough to spook us out.
The smell was the worst – it was dank, reminiscent of the garbage landfill nearby – the apartment was located off the turnpike.
“Zeenath can fix your problems. Trust me, she will look into your eyes, all deep and soulful and bam! just like that she’ll give you a solution,” Morgan had sounded serious, her plump cheeks quivering. We inspected her – not a trace of her terrible acne. One morning Morgan had bounced in looking like a new person, the complete opposite of her usual measly self. It took a lot of coercing before she spilt her secret – she’d taken a magic potion.
Sarita and I were here for Zander. We wanted to ask Zeenath for help with making Zander fall in love with me. I wanted him to take me to junior prom. Zander’s smile and crinkly eyes always make my heart skip a beat. He looks on me as his good friend, but junior prom was mere days away, I just had to take action.
The bell chimed, endlessly, it seemed to us as we stood at Zeenath’s door, looking at the peeling paint.
She opened the door dressed in a glittery costume complete with harem pants. (I imagined her scrambling to change from sweats into this more atmospheric outfit, while we waited at her door). A veil was pinned across her face so all we could see were a pair of heavily made up, dark eyes.
“Kom in, girls”. Her eastern European accent was very pronounced. We followed her into a sparsely furnished room, totally devoid of character, she was the one splash of color in her circus costume. A couple of straight backed chairs sat next to a massive table loaded with all kinds of boxes, bottles, books and a striking brass lamp. She listened as I begged for help with Zander.
Then, in complete silence, while my heart hammered, she rose and went to the table. We craned our necks to see – she was mixing things in a beaker and then she poured liquids into a tiny blue bottle. Was it a love potion? OMG – now here was an experiment we’d all go for in Chem lab.
“Here” – she held out the bottle.
“What do I do – slip it into his drink at lunch?”
“Drink?” Her kohl rimmed eyes widened. “No, no, silly child. This is a perfume. Wear it and go to school – the first boy you speak to on the day you first wear the perfume, will fall in love with you. Drawn in by the power of your perfume.”
“OK got it. Wear perfume, talk only to Zander. Easy.”
“Are you sure about this Zander?” She asked next, bangles clinking gently.
“Yes I am, why?”
“Because if you change your mind, Zander and others, will smell a very different perfume. Not nice.” I hardly heard her in my thrill, as my fingers closed around that cool, deep blue bottle.
When I woke up in the morning I had a great feeling about the magic in my bottle. I dabbed the perfume on my wrists and behind my ears, singing to myself. I breathed deeply – wait – I could smell nothing – nada. A tiny sliver of doubt cut across my consciousness – what if it was all bull? Nah. I had faith. Getting rid of Morgan’s frightening acne was nothing short of miraculous.
I made it to school without speaking with any boys. I spotted Zander slouching by the lockers as soon as I entered through the main doors.
I walked over to him, laid my hand on his arm and smiled. “Hey Zander -how are you?”
Zander smiled his slow wide smile as always and nodded. “S’up.” He said, already turning away to slap another friend’s raised hand.
I could not help the feeling of disappointment that began to turn my stomach – was it all lies then?
And then, it happened. Zander turned back to me and his eyes were moony and fixed on my face. “Zoe,” he said, looking confused. “You look great today.” I beamed back, hardly able to believe what I was hearing.
How could I help what happened next?
He walked in, that’s what happened. The most handsome boy I’d never imagined existed. He was new, I’d never seen him at our school before, yet he walked with easy confidence, smiling at kids along the way. He stopped beside us, and opened the locker right next to mine. My heart began to pound and I can swear, I had no control over my limbs, they just propelled me over to his side. “Hi! I’m Zoe, you must be new.” I said, summoning my most charming smile ever.
“Yes, New at your service, Zoe.” He smiled, tossing his great hair back. We laughed. “Its Matt.” He said.
In that moment, it began. The putrid garbage-y smells that I’d smelt beside Zeenath’s apartment yesterday were everywhere around me, but worst of all there was no doubt that the smells came from me! This was what Zeenath must have been trying to warn me about – but who can explain my fickle heart – Matt was so much better for me, than Zander.
Unfortunately, both of them were edging away from me, with Zander looking quite devastated at my sudden transformation.