“What’s that musty smell?” asked my husband when I entered the room, his nostrils twitching like a sniffer dog that had got the faint aroma of buried socks.
“I’m just going for my bath,” I muttered, getting defensive and moving away, trying to manage surreptitious whiffs of myself. I was a little alarmed because my husband’s olfactory sense had never been in the top league and I must smell like a rich bouquet if he had caught the odour.
“No, it isn’t you,” he said. “It was there even before you came in.” Now I got it too, a strange smell as of leaves rotting. “I think it’s something outside,” I said, with the assurance of one who had the reputation of being the police dog in the family. Both of us went to the open window and did some deep sniffing, following it with some transcendental meditation about the next move.
Division of labour
“You check inside, I’ll explore outside. Division of labour,” said my husband. He set out on a snuffling circumnavigation of the house, to no avail. I went sniffing from room to room, but couldn’t nail the smell.
By afternoon, the smell got stronger, seeming less like decaying nature and more like a dead creature, maybe a... rat? Ah, then I got it, it was all to do with the soap.
A few days back, I had found the soap at the washbasin scooped out at the corner. It was no ordinary, confident scooping as much as a scratching out, a crude attempt, as if a sharp-toothed comb had been used for the purpose. The soap was foreign, a fragrant strawberry-scented one in the shape of a heart. A friend who recognised the brand was appalled it was at the washbasin and not in the bathroom. “Waste of an expensive soap! I know women who would give their right hand to cleanse themselves with it.”
“And I’m using it to cleanse my hands, right and left,” I told her. “This way I get to use it oftener and my hands smell so nice.” And now the soap was mutilated. My first thoughts went to my husband who often uses a soap to lather his chin before a shave. He must have used his razor, I thought.
When I confronted him with the soap and my suspicions, he laughed his head off. “Your brains have taken a holiday. Whoever heard of using a razor to work up a lather?”
“Then what did you use to dig out the soap?” I let his remark about my brains pass.
“You don’t dig out soap for a shave.” He went into his patient, explaining-to-an-imbecile-who-needed-everything-spelt-out manner. “A brush, a shaving brush, not a toothbrush, haha, is wetted and run over the soap lightly after which it is used to lather the chin and then...”
“You use the razor to shave. Got it! So who used this soap?”
My husband was spot on. “A rat? These look like teeth marks.”
A soap-eating rat! It must have gone for the strawberry flavour. I performed a minor surgery on the heart, cutting out a generous portion of the damaged section.
The next morning there was more soap missing. The rat had got bolder and greedier. I removed the left and right ventricles, changing the shape of the heart beyond recognition. But I couldn’t keep amputating the soap. The rat had to go.
I bought a tube of rat poison. That night I squeezed a generous layer of it on what remained of the soap and smoothed it with the mouth of the tube. My husband watched, dishing out critical comments. “Way too much! The instructions say, ‘a light layer’ and you are spreading it like butter. The rat will smell a rat and not touch it.”
“It will,” I said.
The next day the soap appeared unchanged. There were no scratch marks and the poison had gathered in clumps on the soap. ‘What did I tell you?’ my husband sounded pleased.
For two days I left the soap there, after which, washing off the poison into the drain, I flushed down the soap that remained.
Now here was this smell. I was convinced it was the same rat. On my fours, I followed the smell that led me under the bed. And there it lay, a big one, at peace with the world. That evening, when my husband returned, I guided him to the carcass and said, “What did I tell you? Now you must bury it. Division of labour.”
A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academician and author of the Butterfingers series. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org