The thing that I miss most about Syria is my father. I especially miss his smell. The stench of man sweat and the faint odor of cold smoke. A man walked past me in the Turkish supermarket the other day, with a thick black moustache, a receding hairline and a white undershirt with yellow stains under the armpits. He smelled like my father on a hot summer day in Aleppo.
This same supermarket, the fragrances of different spices lingering in the air: cumin, peppermint, parsley and the Arab version of the pita or nan bread. Back home, my father and I would get fresh bread from the bakery on Fridays. Only 8 liras per kilo (barely five cents), courtesy of the Syrian government’s subsidies to support the poor.
There is a crowd in front of the bakery. Dozens of arms waving money at the vendor and moustaches shouting their orders. My father hands me some change and sends me into the huddle. “You’re a girl. You don’t have to stand in line with men. They’ll let you through.” Indeed, the ocean of testosterone parted as I approached the distribution window.
Behind me, the other customers spread out their steaming hot bread on the sidewalk and the parked cars for it to cool down before packaging it in plastic bags. The neighborhood looked like a lunar landscape with large white craters. My father scatters the flat bread on the back seat of our car, where the intoxicating scent will linger for the next couple of days.
Smell… the moldy smell of my basement takes me back to my grandmother’s house. Her living room, aligned with old canapés, with faded green cushions, embroidered with golden threads and enclosed in a gold-tinted wooden frame, the chipped paint alluding to it’s old age. Her house smelled of mothballs and home-made cooking. In one corner of the living room, on the table with the white and brown marble platter, a seashell on display, in which I could hear the ocean waves roaring at a distance, drowning out the arguing voices and the hearty laughter around me.