By Andrea Goyan
This Story Won First Prize in Our Contest
I’ll miss fragrances the most. Their power to transport me back to anywhere, any time in my life.
My brother Da knows this. It’s the reason he’s arrived at my dingy apartment straight from the airport, lugging an enormous suitcase. My home’s sickbed-laden air transforms, redolent with cinnamon, cardamom, and star anise. The exotic aromas take me back and make me want to smile. If only my muscles would comply to my wishes.
Da places a kiss upon my cheek, and I catch a whiff of warmed amber resin on his skin. A scent he refers to as his “secret pheromone.”
He scowls at my drapes, throwing them open. “This place is as dark as the Parisian catacombs in a blackout.”
Sunlight unveils dust motes, imperceptible moments ago. They float like the snowflakes we once watched dusting the streets of Bolzano.
Never one to mince words, Da approaches my caregiver and gives her marching orders. She harrumphs at his dismissal, grumbling as the door closes behind her.
Da’s suitcase is a treasure chest. An entire world exposed as he unzips it.
“Voilà,” he says, tossing a Goa rug on my wooden floor.
He wraps me in clashing Pashmina shawls—chartreuse, fuchsia, and turmeric. Purple juttis embroidered with gold thread are slipped on over my socks and set upon my wheelchair’s footplate. I’m swimming in a rainbow of colors.
How I’ll miss all the infinite hues.
“Ta-da.” He bows. “You are perfection.”
Da’s brought Arpora to me, rekindling ancient memories to lift my spirit from the wasting body which entraps me.
Once again, it’s like we’re standing side by side at the entrance to the night bazaar. Hair damp from a dip in the Arabian Sea, our pale skin hot and flushed. Smoke from sandalwood incense and frying pakoras served with tangy red curry—our India’s signature aromas. Stalls selling rugs, saris, silks, carvings of Buddha and Ganesh, bins of spices, ceramics, and jewelry all glimmered beneath the glowing lights.
“Like an angel blew up a rainbow,” Da had pronounced.
“Really, Da,” I’d said, bumping my shoulder against his. “Explosives and angels don’t belong together in the same sentence. It’s more like…tulip fields. In Amsterdam.”
He’d laughed. “Little, my perpetual optimist.”
Little is his name for me, short for “little sister.” Though he’s barely three years older, Da embraces his self-anointed role as my protector and guide. For me, he cuts paths through dark forests, pushes aside life’s spider webs, and opens doors when I’m too afraid to do it myself. I call him Da; it was how I pronounced his name before I could say David.
It was his idea to set out, brother and sister, to see the world.
Over the years, we’d made many pacts. To visit every European capital city, to dance our way through the nightclubs of Ibiza, and sleep in a tent in the Sahara, miles—kilometers—from civilization. Nomads together until this turbulent disease arrived, and my body rebelled. It came without a visa, patriated inside my cells, offering no traveler warnings to help me prepare. I returned stateside; freedom evaporated as if my life’s passport had expired.
For years, Da threatened to whisk me back to India, where we lost and found our souls decades earlier in the arms of men we’d loved and left. A country where magic tingled beneath our fingertips. But we waited too long. The chance for me to join him vanished when crawling to the bathroom became more arduous than our seven-day trek to Choquequirao.
Da returned to India alone. But he did it for me.
The Concert for Bangladesh serenades us, and Da chatters to me across the countertop separating my dining room from my kitchen. It’s exhausting for me to communicate with my eye-gaze device, and I’m grateful Da isn’t making me try. He’s preparing chicken Xacuti, toasting coconut for the Goan curry. A family blend of spices as clandestine as the passion Da shared with the man who gave him the recipe so long ago. We always say divinity dwells in its mixture. Divinity lives in our memories.
My mouth waters, though I haven’t eaten solid food in months.
God, I’ll miss the way a home-cooked meal fills the heart as much as the stomach.
“Baga beach is unchanged, Little.” Da wriggles his eyebrows. “The sunbathing young men are tantalizing as ever.”
“Ha. I can still make you laugh.”
I’ll miss curling my toes into wet sand and feeling the sun hold me in its embrace like an invisible lover.
Da plates his dinner and sits across from me at the table where he’s placed my chair.
“Your favorite,” he says, taking a bite. “Exactly what you wished.”
I’d nod, if I could, touched that he remembers.
We planned this day while sipping absinthe in Paris. A cavalier conversation between twenty-somethings about “what if?” and “one day.” Our bravado as fearless as our youth.
And now, here we are.
About to face our ultimate sacred pact.
A vial sits next to Da’s plate, a syringe beside it.
“May everyone see goodness…” he says.
I blink. It’s the motto of Goa. Fitting for today.
“May none suffer pain.” Da pauses. “Are you ready?”
I use my device, and a single word appears on my screen.
He takes a deep breath and fills the syringe.
Then Da holds my hand and looks into my eyes. “One last journey, Little. An adventure you take without me, but I’ll hold you as you go.”
His generosity undoes me. That’s Da, opening one more door for me, whatever it costs him.
And then I realize, it’s not color or smells or music or food or even a sunny beach I’ll miss most.
It’s my brother. It’s Da.