Friday, 21 March 2014

Epitome of Smell

A young boy called Mussallam once joined my tuition class. Teaching has been my profession for almost two decades and I prided myself on being a good disciplinarian. Most of my students therefore, treated me with deferential respect with the newcomer being an exception. Each time I meet a new student, I’m reminded of an incident that happened two years ago; my encounter with a smelly person that still resonates deep in my mind.

The event that happened in my tuition class is etched in my memory. Mussallam, clearly hadn’t heard about good manners and behavior and his dramatic entrance in my class proved to be extremely hilarious. Needless to say his mannerisms and mischief evoked immense entertainment for the other students.
Teaching is supposed to be gratifying but from the moment Mussallam arrived with his untidy tuft of hair, messy clothes and running nose I knew it was my doomsday with misbehavior occurring intermittently for two hours every day. Picking his nose, smelling his armpits or licking his running nose with his tongue were his distinctive ways of exasperating me for he could make out that I was fastidious about cleanliness.
“Mussallam, how disgusting!” I would exclaim in dismay. My tuition class was total pandemonium.
“Keep your fingers out of your mouth!” I would say. But all in vain. He was incorrigible and my voice became hoarse with shouting. It was hopeless. He would grin sheepishly and flip food in every direction. It sounds as if he was successfully frustrating me with his lack of hygiene. I tried to talk about what can happen when hygiene is poor. For example, unwashed hands smelling foul, sweaty shirts or un-brushed teeth emit stinking smell and lead to proliferation of germs. I tried several variations but without success.
One evening, when the students arrived as usual, an obnoxious smell penetrated my nostrils. The air-conditioned room without any ventilation aggravated the smell and I wondered what caused such a pungent odor.
“Did you get a foul smell?” I asked the children.
“Yes, Teacher. It’s kind of bad... Ugh! ” Saif giggled.
The odor was causing nausea and almost stifled me. It was the most awful smell I’ve ever encountered.
“Stop giggling. Maybe one of you must have got stale food in your bag. Throw it in the dustbin.” I retorted. The students rummaged their bags but they didn't have any leftover food in their bags.
“Search properly!” I ordered.
Mussallam did not heed my advice. He seemed almost nonchalant flipping his eraser with a ruler.
“Teacher, teacher... Maybe Mussallam... has... hhas farted... Haha!” Hassan squealed with laughter.
“See... See no sound...” Mussallam explained that he did not fart smiling with his protruding front tooth. I tried hard to keep a straight face.
It was most annoying. The next hour of trying to teach was a staggering effort with myself struggling to breathe. The odor almost suffocated me. I told the students to go home early. Just as I was feeling nauseous and queasy, I decided to switch off the AC and open the door and windows to eradicate the sickening smell. Then I sprayed deodorants and room fresheners to neutralize the foul odor.
“What smell?” my husband was curious after he returned from office. By then, the effect of the pungency had been reduced with my valiant efforts of using fresheners.
“Its indescribable... Something like rotten onion or garlic... but I-I searched the flat and have found everything in order.” I replied wearily.
I was doing my corrections when the students arrived at the stipulated time the next day. The class began with my explanation of present perfect tense. The boys meekly took out their books and were listening to me. In the midst of the serious discussion a whiff of pungency hit my nostrils. A thick revolting smell filled the room and I gasped with horror at the familiar odor. It was simply maddening. The others too got the horrid stench and looked at me aghast.
“Teacher, that horrible smell again...” Hassan looked bewildered.
As usual, Mussallam sat there indifferent and relaxed. I was familiar with his idiosyncrasies and was certain that he was the cause of the vicious smell. But to my surprise as I surveyed him closely I could not locate the source. He was wriggling and giggling, happy for the interruption in studies.
“ teacher I no have been naughty... Please leave me...” he spoke in broken English.
I realized that there was unfortunately no remedy to get rid of the foul odor. Suddenly, Obaid, the other student fumbled Mussallam’s bag and delved into one of the side pockets. And Lo! Out comes a dark, soiled pair of socks emitting even a stronger stench. I almost staggered as Obaid brought it close for my inspection. I felt like fainting. Mussallam's socks were stinking.

“Oh! These socks ...I kept here and forgot.” He was calm and smiled casually as if nothing had happened whilst all of us were appalled by the smell. I felt like shaking him. The unpleasant odors originating from his sweaty feet kept inside the pocket for long have been ingested with bacteria and the chemical reaction that followed produced such an obnoxious smell. I got a tissue and hurled the socks outside in the bin in a gesture of defiance to get rid of the fetid article. As the windows and doors were yanked open the room seemed to be purged of stink. Then the showers of fresheners used all over again to remove the rotten smell. If looks could kill then my eyes did it as I looked at Mussallam in a fit of rage. This potentially annoying form of habit is hard to reprimand; maybe a different approach and positive interaction might work. But this smelling encounter will remain vivid forever.

This post was written for a sponsored by Racold.


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