Saturday, 12 January 2013

Ascent of friendship

"You smell nice" he says, taking his usual place in the passenger seat, as I turn the key to start the car. I don't say much in return, a small "thank you", a smile and nod, but he knows I appreciate what he means. And I know that it means we're ok to set off.

It's a worrying world when you've no sense of smell. From the scary realisation of a gas ring left on in the next room to the small irritation of only noticing there's something wrong with the milk when the lumps start surfacing in your tea. It's the embarrassing discomfort, when visitors arrive, of not knowing whether the house smells of cat, or the drains are blocked. It's the worry on a summer's day for the dampness under your arms; the hesitation before you pull off your boots at the end of a long walk. It's the aching frustration of a garden full of roses, whose scent you'll never know, the warmth of new-born baby, you'll never quite recall.

I've been like this for a long time, and after a failed attempt at a surgical solution last year, I've sort of learned to live with it. I thought I knew all the difficulties and had worked round the constraints.

But then we went to Paris.

And for some unknown reason in that capital of fragrance, with a parfumerie on almost every corner, and friends who know, really know, all about scents, I decided I wanted some new perfume.

As we walked through the door of the Parfumerie Nicolai, my confidence sank through the floor.  Ahead of me the walls were lined with shelves, each of the shelves holding a line of clear glass bottles.  I hung back while the others strode in purposefully, while they read the labels and looked for the scents they already knew.  As I watched Kelly and Nathan spraying small strips of white card and waving them gently under each others noses, talking all the time about the different elements of each perfume, I realised that French was not the only language I'd struggle to understand that day.

I tried to look around nonchalantly as they assessed and compared, ranked their favourites and turned down the no-hopers. I looked at Philip as he took his own journey of discovery, testing and pronouncing on the good, bad and indifferent. The terribly polite shop assistant stepped forward to offer his help. He knew he was among connoisseurs, that his careful explanations of the elements would be understood and evaluated. I listened as they exchanged views. I prayed silently that he wouldn't notice me, but of course he did. "What do you like?" He asked, fully expecting that, like my friends I'd have a clear range of preferences. How was he to know, that in the centre of all those scents I could smell nothing. Absolutely nothing. "I'm sorry" I mumbled, "my nose - it is broken..."

I tried to sense something, I really did. Breathing deeply, I licked my lips and inhaled, hoping that I might taste what I couldn't smell; but nothing. I wanted to leave, but the others were still engrossed. I thought about stepping outside, pretending I was too hot. Then I heard them all talking,
"I like this one, what do you think?"
"Yes, that's good, I think that might suit her"
"I agree, and that's the first one we've all liked."
"That must be the one"
In a few more minutes it was done. And the terribly polite shop assistant handed me my very own bottle of perfume in a small white bag.

I wore it for the rest of the holiday and each time I did, one of them said "you smell nice." I've worn it every day since, I've even looked it up on the internet and apparently it smells of orange, cinnamon and vanilla. Perhaps it does, though the truth is, I'll never know. To me, my small bottle of perfume will always smell of Paris and friendship.