An old Chinese Cantonese saying: “Paper cannot wrap fire.” 紙包不到火
Olfactory guerilla warfare in an AirBnB bed. Since Friday evening.
After the sensory hellhole in Posh Bay, almost every other place seems refreshingly clean. Well, even if not sparkling, nevertheless still a relief in comparison. The feeling carries on reverberating. I arrived on Friday afternoon. A lovely little flat. Neat and decent kitchen. Somewhat spartan living room, scruffy old bathroom with yellowy-orangey chipped tiles, and stained carpet in my bedroom – but at least not choking with debris and copious layers of dust bunnies.
My hosts are pleasant, and best of all, they love dogs, so Lucy is welcome here. This immediately makes me super grateful, after the intensity of dog-hatred experienced here.
All is well. Or so it may seem.
Until I climb into bed, and place my head upon the pillows. Even at first glance, the too many pillows don’t seem to have much life and lustre left to them – five flattened, lumpy and limp rectangular objects encased in sad crumpled and faded fabric shells. However, it’s not how they look that is insidiously eating into my brain with small gnawing bites. It’s their smell.
The first night went by, pushed along by my determination to ‘overcome’ or ignore the smell – I closed my eyes and purposefully diverted the mind of my nose elsewhere. This act of bravery, however, did not erase the concrete physicality of the smell. Like warm, soggy and heavy tentacles, the army of bacteria permeated and persisted, thus gradually wearing me down and rendering sleep an elusive achievement.
What is it? Smells tell a history, they describe objects and space, they delight, warn and suffocate in very specific ways. These pillows tell me they are very old. At first, the top note (so to speak) shouts out “greasy sweaty male”, but soon, many more interjections begin to stab at my consciousness. Layer upon layer of eclectic human odours melded together in a thick tapestry of heavy, cloying, decaying sweetness, relating narratives I’d very much prefer not to be confronted with. OK, old pillows are not a rare thing in places like these, and I have encountered many in my travels and stays in similar accommodations. Yet, intriguingly, there is no smell of fresh laundry detergent in the pillowcases – none at all. The deeper significance of which is somewhat disturbing.
I’ve now sprayed them thoroughly with lavender spray, and wrapped two choice specimens in freshly washed pillowcases of my own. It’s a feeble attempt, really, but the best I can do, short of going out and buying myself new pillows. Oh, and while I am at it, why not buy a new quilt, quilt covers, and how about mattress too? Too extreme, the non-hypersensitive may say, but the impulse is triggered by very real and present sensory alarm. A kind of horror that one will never know until one actually knows it.
For now, paper will have to do as etiolated containment for the fires of this olfactory monster. Until the day when five-star accommodations once more becomes de rigueur, anyway. (I’ve heard horror stories about those too, but usually, I get what I want when I complain, and the best part is I am able to do so). Good night, and do try to get some rest, Bunny. Lucy’s by your side, and her gentle balmy Lucy-odour will have to serve as sufficient antidote for now.