Accounts of the Scent

Account I

My father must have been a politician in a previous life. Not the spineless rambling type of peacetime, rather one of the greats who lead millions of young people blindly to a glorious death in wartime. These days, I can vaguely remember his facial features, he looked similar to most of the men of the neighborhood, the same height, the same manly air and the same strong confident knowing look that they all had, and he had a smell – the distinct smell of all good hardworking men that I would grow up to acquire as he often proudly told me.

My father had an overwhelming presence. He had a hoarse rough voice that dominates any setting and sets the tone of the conversation. His presence, though, was about more than his voice. He spreaded his dominance from the moment when he entered a room before even uttering a word. He was very passionate. He moved, talked and listened passionately. I always contemplated the vein popping on the right side of his neck when he talked about an issue that mattered to him. Sometimes, in days like this, you would see two veins popping from each side of his neck.

He stood up, clenched his strong muscular hands on the table, and announced – matter of factly – that the smell had to be eradicated, his hoarse voice was more determined than usual, it was also angry. I don’t remember seeing him angry before that night. Anger was a vice for the weak that he never succumbed to.

Account II

I hated the smell of our food.

That night, when I overheard my neighbor’s father talking about our smell, I took two hot showers trying to get rid of it, and I failed. Even our water and soap had the damned smell. My parents were oblivious to the problem. My mother kept inviting our neighbours to our house, mostly using her sweet smile as her grasp of the language failed her. They kept rejecting her offer and she kept thinking she was lost in translation.

This was not a matter of words’ choices, we simply didn’t belong there. Not even the proud telegrams from my grandfather should give us the illusion that this was our new home. My father should have recognized that fact, if not the first winter, then the second one. But as my grandmother used to say, only drunk people and children tell the truth, and we also are the only ones who see it.

The truth was that, in this place, we were as inauthentic and unfitting as the exclamation marks that fill this foreign language I was forced to learn. We were out of context.

Nothing is more unfair for a child than being out of context.

Account III

I closed my eyes, and I took a breath. The smell started soft. A bit shy at first before it got louder and more confident. Ticklish and slightly naughty.

The scent was definitely hot. It was proud and opinionated. It was eager to take you somewhere you’ve never been, and you were eager – after a brief moment of initial hesitation – to follow to that scary unknown place. Was that why my husband hated it? He was never a fan of unfamiliarity. The scent got your senses involved slowly, steadily then it left you hanging. Incomplete. You came back for more, you believed that the following time, it was bound to get even better and the hanging sensation would immerse you even more, or maybe it would even let you fall from its height. The exhilaration! You would become obsessed about the fall, you would yearn for it and pursue it and one day, it would happen. And you would be complete.

Completion, though, is a mirage, an unattainable hope. Once I experienced the scents from my neighbors’ house, I desired more. I wandered around the houses of the newcomers in our town every day of that summer. I discovered new scents, new families that were moving to the neighborhood from other far lands, who stirred different gossip, and their colors were different shades of caramel. They all brought with them their own eccentric scents.

Some were as hot, others were more playful, some were loud, others whispered. Some were selfish and demanding, while others were caring, encompassing and sweet. They had sounds accompanying them, like that family, that had war drums sounds accompanying the scent of their food. An opinionated scent – as you know – always has a sound.

Account IV

“We must eradicate the smell!”. I announced to the hums of agreement and satisfaction of my neighbors. This was a simple matter of common sense, of being able to recognize what was right and what was wrong and to stand up to fulfill our duty to preserve the good order of things as I had always been trying to teach my son and as my father had taught me. My father never had to fight for that order. This was the purpose of having an established order – many things never needed to be said and many fights didn’t have to be fought.

The murmurs of agreement were not as satisfying as they should have been that day. I was never a person who actively seeked his companion’s agreement. I always knew the way, and acted accordingly. That day, I was less sure. The argument I had with my wife the night before didn’t help. I was, of course, shocked for her sympathy with the new neighbors, her affection for that almost blasphemous smell. She didn’t see the obvious truth.

She said that there was no scent to remember or be nostalgic about or to fight for – we were a scentless town before our neighbours, and we should be grateful for their arrival.

I spent that night trying to remember how our neighborhood smelled before.

Account V

It was the first week of the winter break. I went out to play in the corridors of the building as usual.The air was cold and indifferent. The graffiti we drew playfully last week was still there. Give us back our fresh air, it read. The black graffiti was washed up by the rain, drawing an image similar to the Kohl in the teary eyes of our beautiful neighbor.


My journey up high

I chose the stairs. In the heat of the moment, in the pressure of having to make a split-second decision without interrupting the perfect flow of London rush-hour commuters. I chose the stairs instead of the escalator.

Twenty seconds ago, it seemed like a perfect decision. There was the familiar bottleneck of Londoners trying to get on the escalator. I looked at the bottleneck, and I took an expert decisive left towards the stairs.

Twenty seconds after, my heart is racing, my knees are collapsing and I desperately just want to sit down on those same stairs. I look up and I can’t see the end, I look back and I am barely twenty steps away from where I started. I can turn back. But what about all those eyes that must be looking at me? What about my ex who dumped me for “lacking stamina”? This is more than just stairs.

And you know, every 10 steps on these stairs are a calorie lost of that delicious mocha I just had. Oh London! I move thousands of miles away to end up addicted to a coffee prepared by an East-London hipster who has my grandpa’s beard and sources his beans from my grandma’s homeland.

One more calorie. Two more calories. Three …. “Excuse me, sir”, a young man goes running by my side climbing the stairs two at a time. I tuck my belly in and instinctively touch my balding head.

Maybe if I think of a song, it goes faster. Something upbeat and suitable, “Hit the road, Jack and don’t you come back no more no more no more, hit the road…”, how come I have a perfect native accent when I speak in my head? When did I start talking to myself in English in the first place?

Ah an African dude is coming down the escalator. I have to give him the universal salute of Africans bumping into each other anywhere in the world, a.k.a the head nod with the half-wink and the implied “we’ve made it bro!”.

Maybe, it will be easier if I meditate. Breath in, Breath out, and count – one. Breath in, Breath out – two. Breath in. Wow, that girl coming down the escalator is so beautiful! Don’t stare. Look down and look up, so when she looks up, your eyes lock instinctively as if it was written in your destinies. Smoooth! Look down, look up. She’s still looking away. Down, up. She’s passing by – come on, look up, look up please, look UP! Oooh.. our kids would have been so beautiful.

You know what? I will just look at the posters on the side. Cat. Cat. Cat. Cat. What are all these cats? And why are all they staring at me with their creepy eyes? This is a nightmare. Am I standing still or are  these posters repeating or did I get stuck in some kind of a black hole? Will I spend the rest of my life stuck in this tube station?

Oh maan. That cigarette I had with the mocha. That – definitely – wasn’t just tobacco!

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Letters to my daughter: The Thames


And then wander around, and you shall find a river.

In that land, rivers are not sacred. They never had any beautiful children sacrificed for them. No one built pyramids on their brinks. No epics were written, nor holy books.

A goddess did not create that river, and once you see it, you shall know. You will know it is not the work of a deity, it’s human, flawed and – to be fair – mediocre. You won’t feel the spirit of the great Nubian goddess, you will not sense the heat of an overbearing sun protecting it and you will not feel the need to stand by its side and pray.

My daughter, the problem with your land being on the brinks of a divine river is that gods were never a humble bunch. And when they offer a glimpse from their spirit to create a marvel like our river, they expect you to admire their masterpiece, to kneel for it, to give up a part of your soul in return. That is the curse of our land.

Hence, my daughter, I ask you to take our river to its end, go beyond the sea, the walls, the barriers and defy our goddess mother. She will seek to distract you, to remind you that she is the protective goddess of its people but remember she is also the vengeful one, to remind you of her beautiful smile but keep going and remind yourself of her cruel sun. The godless river might not always merciful, it begrudgingly welcomes your kind and it will never be yours but you will also never be his, and this simplicity, my daughter, is the reason for its beauty.

It shall set you free from the burden and the guilt. A freedom that can never be had in the presence of a divine marvel. Once you’re there, the weight of the gods, the fathers, the sacrifices shall dissipate. You might lose your rhythm and some of the heat in your soul but trust me, my daughter, it is worth the sacrifice. For no one sane would ever willingly choose the company of gods or their marvels.

So once you find that river, relish its normality and lack of a divine soul. Let it set you free and indulge in its sun that doesn’t burn, and run. Run and never look back.


Undo is the branch of Artificial Intelligence that implemented an Undo functionality in real-life inspired by computing machines that existed before the revolution – it was invented, or rather inferred, in a science lab in the East of the old city of London, an area that brought us many of our cultural and social references of today such as the ginger beard and the holy ritual of coffee sipping that replaced other pre-revolution religious rituals.

The Undo revolution was the start of the City world where old-style countries gave way for mega cosmopolitan gatherings like the great gathering of Shoreditch where this story happened. The revolution was a defining moment where the old irrational world led by human imperfection gave way to the reliability and justness of science. Like all revolutions, it was fiercely fought by the ruling elite of that time. They even killed the founder of the science lab – the lead developer of Undo – an action that was swiftly undone by his colleagues.

The undo revolution, or as we call it now the Last Revolution, brought the prosperity and peace that we currently live in. On a political level, our species were finally led by its true and natural leaders: the scientists and the bright minds that were often overcrowded in the imperfect democratic pre-revolution world. On a human level, human beings were finally relieved of the fear of a world where mistakes, accidents and mishaps could not be undone up to this point.

Naturally, the new world presented its own challenges. It was clear that this new world where everything can be undone with a click of a button in a lab, needed to be secured from the inhibited imperfections of people – including the scientists themselves. The great minds of the Undo project established the sacred Algorithm in the heart of the High Commission of Undo, it made sure that decisions follow the Algorithm set by our great founders even after their death. Death – or natural death to be more specific – was deliberately left as an action that can’t be undone, a selfless act by our great founding fathers, who in their dramatic deathbed – that we will come back to later as it’s an intrinsic part of the story to be told – they uttered the immortal words we now find all over our city: in the Algorithm, we trust.

Humankind finally reached perfection. It found the flawless form of governing and managing itself. The story that this narrator is going to tell, though, is not the story of the Last Revolution or its personal and global implications. It is the story of the first crime that happened in the post-revolution world.

The concept of crimes naturally disappeared from the post-revolution world. Getting rid of crimes in all its forms was one of the core concepts built in the kernel of the Algorithm. Of course, for few years, human beings continued to try and commit crimes, from spitting and jaywalking to robbing and ending human lives. But all those crimes were automatically undone. In few years, crimes disappeared from the society and people stopped trying altogether as  crime genuinely ceased paying.

This story begun on a typical day of our city. It was sunny and bright, people hovering happily over the beautifully layered streets to their places of work, each following the route assigned to them by the Algorithm. It was ordinarily perfect.  Except for one detail: On a wall in the middle of Shoreditch, right where the old lab stood in an area that was known for vandalism acts of writing and drawing on the walls in pre-revolution era, a drawing appeared overnight. A common pity crime by teenagers at this time of the year. The algorithm center at the Commission of Undo was signaling a problem. This pity crime committed could not be undone. The ugly pre-revolution writing on the wall simply read: “You can not undo me!”

The Camden Town murder


The moment after I died, I saw all the naked bodies of my clientele in front of me. The fat bellies, the hairy chests, the bad teeth of the deplorables and deprived of North London. You’d think that even a working girl like me deserves a better parting image. You’d think that – him – being the merciful and the just he claims to be, would bless me with a closure at least. Instead here I am, relieved from life, but hanging in this middle ground between life and death, between hell and heaven. God, how I hate middle grounds?

Our madam always talked about death. She said that our lives flash in front of our eyes just before we’re taken away, but that He would choose to show only the beautiful parts. And that even us, we will have more beautiful parts than we ever knew. Of all the lies she told, and they are many, this is the one that hurts me the most now as I am held in this strange place. I thought that – no matter how unkind He’s been to me, He would still give his child a farewell becoming of the innocent girl who once kneeled for him and begged him for a life less painful. How bitter can he be? Like all the ugly men of my life, he didn’t have a knack for pleasuring a woman, not even on her deathbed.

On one left of the line of ugly men, was the old man who lived in front of our old house. He was the one who made me a woman when I was barely twelve. He looked me right in the eyes, and I turned away in shame. How old you need to be to learn about shame and guilt? Twelve if you take my word for it. Unlike the madame, I didn’t want to scream at him. I only wanted to be able to look him in the eyes, the same wish I had since I was twelve. The same wish I don’t fulfill even at this point where fears should cease to exist.

Then somewhere in the crowd stood my first love. He still had his innocent smile that – I assume – was not taken away by an old ugly neighbour. I hated his smile. It was cowardly and needlessly apologetic. The same smile he had when I broke his heart over and over again. The same smile I wiped off his face with a slap one night, kissed him for the first time and made him a man. Nothing irritates me in life – or death – more than the smiles of privileged men. Not even the ugly sweaty bodies, the loveless love-making or the fake orgasms. I reached out for him, hoping he would kiss me, grab me, just take an action. He didn’t.  He just stood there and smiled.

On the right of the line, there was that sophisticated middle aged man who came every month or so and asked for me specifically out of all the girls. Admittedly, he was one of the few with a kind heart, if such a thing exists in this world. He once told me – holding me and kissing my body breathlessly – that God was a woman, a beautiful woman with an ample bosom like mine. I believed him. I thought it was fair and fitting that there is a woman’s world somewhere in this universe.

Now, I know he was wrong. Even though, I am still hanging in this middle ground between heaven and hell, and I haven’t crossed to the other side to see him, I am sure that god is a man. Only a man would throw a little girl in his dark alleys, then take her life without even having the decency of apologizing with one first orgasm.

A Cinderella

Hi, my name is Cinderella and I am here to confess that I never actually lived happily ever after.

“When God made this land, he sat back, looked down and laughed.”
– My father

My father chose my name. I always hated it. Whenever my grandmother mocked my culinary skills and told me I am not woman enough because I don’t have a proper woman’s name,  whenever one of my teachers pulled me over and asked “why would your father give you an infidel godless name?”, whenever my father called me to bring him the prayer mat, whenever I heard it, I felt the dissonance. It reminded me of the men from the other side of the river trying to dance to the rhythms of my land, it didn’t fit, it didn’t belong and it didn’t ring the way it was supposed to ring, as if the name didn’t know how to handle this heat, the dust storms or the ugliness, as if it belonged somewhere else.

But I am not here to complain about my name, I am here to tell you my story. And my story starts before I was named, it starts when I was born on the wrong side of the river, the jinxed side that God laughed at when he made. My father was a traveler – well, he never had the money nor the proper identity to actually travel. But in his mind, he was a traveler. He always longed for that other side of the river where – according to him – beauty exists and policemen smile. From that other part of the world, he found my name “Cinderella”. As a child, I never figured out who she was exactly, I imagined her as one of those busty soap opera actresses we get on the pirated satellite TV of my aunt or maybe a policewoman from the other side of the river, the side where police officers smile and some of them are women.

My father died. One of these diseases that only exist in our part of the river, it didn’t really matter. I cried to his memory, I laughed to his memory and I danced – in rhythm – to his memory. Then life went on. In this land, sadness exists in abundance, but no drama.

He left me with my stepmother and her two daughters. I know you expect me to say that they hated me, or I hated them, that they tortured me, put me in this dark wet room with the ugly bony cat, I know you prefer the simple truths, black and white, rich and poor, evil and good, but in this land, people kill in the day and share food at night, they have the most beautiful smiles and the most awful wrath, everything is a shade of gray. That is why I did not hate my stepmother and she did not hate me, I did not love her and she did not love me either, but she was still happy – in her own way – when the rich prince came and the shoe he brought fit my foot.

“Everyone has the right to leave the bitterness behind.”
Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

It was that time of the year. Rich men who found their way to the other side of the river came back window shopping for their future brides, but this was no ordinary man. He was the prince of the town, the man every mother wished for her daughters. And my stepmother was no exception, she took her daughters every day to his house, showing and advertising their talents and assets. So did all the women of the town.

“He had his sheila in dozens”, I heard them whisper. He had a dozen of each item for his future bride, a dozen of dresses, a dozen of shoes, rings, necklaces, everything, waiting to be his gift of marriage for his bride to be. I wish if I met him – like my father’s Cinderella – in a ball in his palace, but in this part of town, wishes are rarely granted, palaces are not reached and balls are broken away by policemen who don’t smile.

He went door to door looking for the girl of his dreams, the one that fits his shoes and dresses. He picked me to the surprise and shock of my stepmother, step sisters and the whole town. “It’s your breasts not your brains. These perverts love fat ones like you”, my stepmother whispered in my ear then smiled to the guests as she took my hand to the guest room where our families were waiting to bless the wedding to be.

I was happy. Happy that I am leaving, that I will get to cross to the other side of the river and become a princess. Happy to leave the bitterness behind me.

If this story was in a different land, then maybe it would end up here and we would live happily ever after. But it is not in a different land. My prince charming never married me, he left the same way he came, meaningless and vain, but with another wife with a bigger chest. As it is the case with such incidents in my town – which are very common in this season of the year – everyone had a theory about the event. My stepmother sympathized with me which I bitterly hated, not because I despise pity, but because I knew she was defending herself and her own honour from the whispers of the town. She was defending her reputation, defending the fact that we belong, even if we named our children with foreign names from a land where women go to balls to meet their prince charming, where brides don’t necessarily have to be virgins and some of them can actually choose their way. She was fighting the jinx of my name and my father again.

I no longer wanted to stay. My room felt smaller and uglier. The smell of fish from the river was nauseating. The soap opera actresses were flat and unanimated, and all the fake sympathy of the world was not going to be enough to forget the bitterness.

I had to cross the river.

“Haboob: a violent and oppressive wind blowing in summer in Sudan and elsewhere, bringing sand from the desert.”

Every day, I sat by the riverbank. I looked at the other side, it’s close yet very far. I wasn’t the only one looking, if there is anything that unites us in this part of the land, it is that we all wanted to leave, we all don’t belong regardless of our names. Not everyone has the heart to cross the river though, it takes courage, determination and above all, a healthy amount of bitterness.

Many of those who cross the river do come back. They complain about how cold it is on the other side, they complain how – despite the smiling policewomen – people actually didn’t smile that much and some get scared when you smile needlessly at them. I couldn’t comprehend the concept of a needless smile but I was still determined to leave.

So when my fairy godmother appeared in my room that night, when she noticed the sadness in my eyes, I could only think of one wish to ask from her. She warned me that the jinx does not stop on crossing to the other side, it will follow you and drag you back, it will make you long to the rallying cries of the bus boys in a dusty haboob day, long to of the tangled streets of the town, to the dirty children rejected by humanity, even to the screams of the ugly policemen shouting for no reason. She warned me before granting my wish and my papers that “the jinx will not be broken”.

But it did not matter anymore. I had to cross the river, I had to go to where my father baptized me, where he chose I should belong.

I did not say goodbye. I left before midnight before my godmother’s spell was broken. And here I am on the way to my boat, the boat that will take me to the lands of my dreams where I will leave all the bitterness behind. Here I am queuing with the lucky few who have magical godmothers to save them, I am ready to cross the river. The policeman looked at my documents, my sunburnt face that no spell can hide the fact that it belongs to this town. He looked at me, smiled, then asked: “Why a godless name?”

A wait

He was sitting there scared. Despite the fake sense of self-confidence his sunglasses gave, he was completely terrified. He was grateful for the glasses and wondered why he hated them – and the people who wore them – before. They were perfect for him, they hid his panic from the staring eyes of the people in the room. The wait was going to be long, he sensed it and he needed all the help to preserve his cool attitude that day. He could not ruin it.

Andrea helped him choose his clothes that day, she has a good taste, he thought. He knew that she loved him, but he also knew that there was no way he could reciprocate that love. He had to be focused and this whole adventure he was about to embark on, required a great deal of devotion, mental toughness and concentration. Love is a distraction and he – more than anyone – knew the dangers of a distraction. He needed to focus, it was not the time to think about Andrea or any other person, he just needed to play it all in his head in these coming minutes before he was called into the other room, he waited for that day for so long, and now that he had his opportunity, he was not going to ruin it, not for Andrea, not for anyone.

But it was so hard to concentrate. He could still smell her seductive perfume as she came closer to him tying his tie. He could still feel her slender body almost touching his, but not quite. What a tease. He did want to kiss her. He didn’t though, not because he was afraid of starting a new chapter in a hopeless story, but because – in his mind – that was all a training, a test for his toughness and focus. If he could manage the seduction of a woman like Andrea, then nothing on earth could break him down, nothing on the other side of that door could threaten his chances.

He looked down at the bag he had with him. Does anyone realise it’s actually empty? It seemed to fit him, Andrea didn’t approve but he felt like he needed a bag that day. It nicely complemented his glasses and the tie, the whole look he had for that important day. And like the sunglasses that hid the doubts in his eyes, the bag made him walk more confidently, as if it balanced his steps that would otherwise be inclined towards the left and he can not be seen as a leftist, not today at least. He smiled at the thought, it was a clever one and he definitely needed some of that intelligence in the other room. But more importantly of course, he needed the self-assured look, the toughness and a slight inclination to the right. He smiled again.

He started thinking about the uncomfortable chair. It must be a test, he thought, a way for them to test his resilience. He wanted to move to the sofa in front, it must be more comfortable, but he can’t show any sign of being hesitant. That’s the only thing they wouldn’t tolerate. He wished if Andrea was there with him right now then dismissed the thought quickly and cursed that seductive perfume.

There was no sound coming from the other room and none coming from the big window facing him. Absolute silence. He started humming some jazz tunes in his head, to entertain himself and ease the pressure. He looked at his watch and he could swear the clock went backwards. That jazz tune was his favourite, the first time he listened to it was with …. Damn … Focus, now, focus.

He started thinking about the other room, he wished if he came earlier to get done with this whole matter. Nothing in life is worse than anticipation. He wondered what was behind the door? how many people? how come people go in and never return back? Do they have a backdoor? Are they wearing sunglasses too? He felt thirsty, and although he was told where he could get some water, he chose to wait. He was afraid that if he got up, then he wouldn’t be able to recollect the confident appearance he worked so hard on building.  He didn’t really need the water. Resilience, remember, resilience, he told himself. And anyhow, few more minutes and the wait would be over. Maybe just kill the minutes thinking about that perfume..


He then saw the cord in front of him. It must have been there since he sat down, but he didn’t notice it for some reason. He started rolling the heel of his shoe on the cord, then got his other foot underneath it. He wondered whether he could make a knot around his leg using only his other foot. He started playing with the cord, pushing it with one foot against the other leg. Just a simple knot, he thought, it would be much easier if he could take off those uncomfortable shoes he had today. He kept trying, after all it was a better training for his resilience than letting his mind wander about Andrea and her perfume. He kept trying until he finally managed to get the wire around his leg, and then skilfully getting its tip between his other leg and the other side of the cord to form a knot. Then he used the chair leg to get a grip and assist him with making the knot tighter. And he did it. But then he realised that his two legs were tied, somehow. He didn’t quite understand how he got himself into that situation, knots were not his strongest suite admittedly. He could use his hands to get out of the problem, but now it was a matter of pride, it was no longer a game and he had to do it using only his feet. These were the rules after all. He started shaking his two legs and rubbing them in different directions to ease the knot and have some room for manipulating the cord but the more he shook his legs, the tighter the knot got. He wasn’t about to give up or resign though, resilience is what he’s known for, and more importantly, what would the men in the other room think if he couldn’t get himself out of a simple problem like that. As he was getting more and more consumed by his cord dilemma, the door was finally open and a gentleman called his name, once, twice, thrice … He finally looked up with exasperation, slowly took off his glasses and said: Can’t you see I am busy now?