Every time I think of her now I think of the word “pungent”. It didn’t immediately come to me, the word. I spent ages looking for it in places in my mind I could get to only by climbing over things that weren’t pretty. I needed it, desperately. I needed it to describe the smell of her shawl because indescribable things were known to ruin lives and people. Her shawl was black. The first word I came up with for the smell was “sweet”. I came up with it as she sat by my side on a bench talking about clouds and how she woke up that day to the sound of a storm whooshing by her ears which she later found out had been the sound of the rumbling of her stomach made evil by a tired brain. That was the first day I’d seen her wear the shawl, the first day I smelled it as she threw it over herself and wafted towards me a smell that reminded me of a fruit I used to love when I was a child. I didn’t remember its name, but it was clear that I’d been thinking of her since a time when I wasn’t even old enough to think inconsequential things. She sat there saying things like “violence is necessary” and “what do people who die for love think after they’re dead?” I sat there listening but really only trying to figure out what to call the smell of her shawl, and whether it smelled the same as the rest of her. The second time she threw it over herself was when she laughed out so loud that the ants toiling away in the grass at our feet stopped dead in their tracks and looked incredulously up at her. It was sharp, acidic, the smell and her voice. It made me want to run away but not just yet, or maybe to never run away. It made me want to ask her what she did in times of utter happiness, if she did anything at all, and whether she wore her shawl outside even in the rain. What seemed like years later we talked about things like books and music and other things that made us feel but somehow could not feel anything themselves, how selfish. The shawl had black lace on its edges, and it was blacker in sunlight than in the dark. It got cold and she asked if I wanted some of the shawl. I said yes. When it was covering both of us I smelled it, I smelled a word. For the rest of that night and the years that would follow till they stopped following and we went our separate ways, I kept on looking for that word. Years later, now that I've found it—“pungent”—it’s all I ever think of, all I ever smell. It’s not the best place to be, because now she’s nowhere to be found.
Zain is currently studying linguistics in Freiburg, Germany. He was born and raised in Pakistan. His work has appeared in The Freiburg Review, FLAPPERHOUSE, Bird's Thumb and Eunoia Review and is forthcoming in Third Point Press, Bahamut, Apocrypha and Abstractions, and others. He is just getting used to tweeting at @linguistictrain.