Oud Fragrance

House interior in Kuwait

The family, consisting of the father, the mother and the two girls, Nur and Zeinab, joined the grandmother, Mariam, around the dinner table. The exquisite fragrance of the spinach pies on the table made Nur’s mouth water. She knew her grandmother had baked them with her in mind. As soon as everyone was seated, she lunged over the table to claim a slice of the pie. She didn’t, however, gauge her impetus and hit the plate, which landed on the ground and broke into pieces. Her father got his dander up because he knew how precious that specific plate with a design of golden flowers was to his mother, for it had been handed down to her by her own mother. It was the plate on which she always served the spinach pies. He raised his arm to strike the one he deemed responsible for his rage, and she dove for cover to the feet of her grandmother. Nur sank her head in her grandmother’s lap and started crying. Her grandmother then got mad at her own son and cursed the plate that had brought her precious granddaughter to tears.

Thirty years had gone by since that happened and her grandmother was already in a better place, but she still recalled the incident in detail. The oud aroma brought the memory back to her, for that was what her grandmother smelled of when she, in a desperate attempt to avoid having her father’s iron discipline administered to her, plunged into her arms. She felt so secure back then, enveloped in the sweet oud fragrance, that, for a second, she wished she could stay there forever and it would never fade away. As far as she could remember, her grandmother always wore oud perfume, so much so, that, as a small child, she believed the oud aroma to be her natural body odor, the one grandmothers have. It wasn’t until she grew a little older and started attending school that she learnt from her classmates that grandmothers aren’t necessarily supposed to smell of oud. For her fifteenth birthday, her grandmother gave her the bottle of oud fragrance she had used her entire life and told her to take good care of it, for that bottle was almost as dear to her as she, her granddaughter, herself.

Every Friday, the whole extended family would gather at her grandmother’s, including her and her sister’s neighborhood peers. Even her uncle drove down sometimes from the remote city where he lived with his family, and she got to see her cousins and have a blast playing with them. Her grandmother was usually the one to keep an eye on the children. After the meal, she always gave them some money to rush to the candy store and buy some neon-colored tongue-dyeing popsicles.

Grandmother’s place was always full of different aromas, like that of mint, which she grew in her backyard, and that of cinnamon and cardamom, which wafted out from the kitchen. On top of that, she liked to wave burning incense sticks around the house to ward off the evil spirits that, according to her, envy gave rise to. She would carefully place them inside the keyholes of every door and put a bucket underneath them, so that the ash would fall inside, lest the dying embers set the expensive carpet on fire. Even the cats from the neighborhood competed for her love, which she expressed to them by letting them have the leftovers of her last meal.

Whenever she felt like indulging in fantasies of a wild nature, Nur liked to drape herself over the rocking chair, which still smelled of her grandmother. It was the last piece of furniture they had rescued from her old house. She wished the time machine had actually been invented. That way she could have acquired one to go back to when they would all join her grandmother around the dinner table. Just being able to return to her grandmother’s humble abode in order to escape the frenzied pace of her life for a while would have sufficed though.

I return from my reveries and go to my room, where I catch a whiff of the oud perfume emanating from the bottle she once gave me as a gift. The world is still a beautiful place.


Written by Noor Jasim al-Bakheet.