The Scent of a Woman
After the Second World War, there was a shortage of food stuffs in the island. In those years, Mauritius was a colony under the British rule.
Nonetheless, our family did not feel the immediate pangs or the aftermath of the war as we were quite well off. My mother, I fondly remember, splashed herself with Yardley Eau de Cologne every morning after her tub bath. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen and I could follow her around the whale of a house that we had, sniffing her perfume like a little dog.
My father was a whole sale merchant and he was bringing home our share of ration rice. It was our basic food and also the basic food of the whole population of some 500,000 heads.
A hard, little, yellowish pearl, unpolished and unrefined, my mother told me that this grain of rice came in its husk during the war. In those days called ‘le temps margoze’ (the sour gourd days) by the local people, the women folk had to pound the rice in a mortar to separate the husk from the rice. They used to call it ‘du riz pousse femme’ (the rice that drive women away) because it was a real nightmare for women to pound the rice.
We were fortunate, I gather, because we did not have to pound the rice. But once in a week, in a ceremonial manner my mother sat a small wooden bench and surrounded by the maid servants, they would busy themselves at cleaning the rice. The rice was placed on large aluminum trays in small heaps. It was winnowed and then the grit was separated from the grain. In a small tin, my mother kept the small black stones to throw away and in her lap, the broken rice to feed the birds.
Close to her, on a smaller bench, I sat down to be with her. I felt like a big girl because I could pick out the stones and the broken rice from her heap.
After she had finished and filled a big iron container with the clean rice, I had the liberty to bury my head in the warm and loving lap of my mother. I breathed in the intimate scent of a woman interlaced with the perfume of eau de cologne and the smell of ration rice.
Years after, this scent still filled my whole being with the sweet memory of my mother.