The Smell of Zonrox

Creative Nonfiction by Charmaine Carrillo |

Wiping the sink and stove, I poured zonrox over the stains that would not seem to go away. They could be stubborn. The stain, I meant. But I admitted that I left them for quite some time. That was the thing with stains – the longer left unattended, the harder to get rid of them. And now, I had spent a few good minutes scrubbing them with a labakara. This labakara, a square cut face towel, used to be baby pink. But its color was bleached to dirty white, only faint sign of the pink was left. The same zonrox that bleached the labakara could also make the fingers slippery. Danlog. Like how the hands feel when lathered with soap then washed by rainwater.

However, unlike the slippery feeling in the hands that gradually went away with my persistence in washing in it off, there were far more persistent things, like these stains, that had accompanied me in this house. They only revealed themselves when there was nothing else that kept me busy. Dust and stains did not reveal themselves during weekdays or schooldays. They only showed themselves on weekends and holidays. Or they had always been there and chose to reveal themselves only when the mind took time to look around and try to make sense of the space.

That was the thing also with space. It provided venue where patterns were developed and habituated. And unless there was an interruption in that space, the pattern would continue to play. And the absurdity of it all was that I allowed it to continue as it was because there was no other way of doing it.

Take these dusts. They crept slowly and settled. Then I noticed and began the methodology I had acquired in getting rid of them.

In cleaning, I followed a particular sequence of tasks. Normally, I began with the dishes first. I would start with the mugs and glasses because they were the least greasy. Then the plates and bowls. Next came the spoon and fork which would be placed over the plates as I drained the soapy water down the sink. When washing the soap suds off the dishes, the same sequence was followed. They were set aside for a while to drain the water before placing them in their respective places in the cabinet. And that was when the wiping came in.

From what was left of the water from washing the dishes, I dipped the labakara, squeezed the water out of it and then the wiping began.

I turned to the dining table. I knew my cats liked taking over the table. My cat, Torti, liked to get on top of the table and meow when she wanted attention. Tola though only used the table as a stopover before she jumped to the top of the fridge. It was Ami and Zara who liked to sleep on the table. Zara liked to sleep at the center while Ami liked corner.

I poured zonrox over the table and wiped it. The strong smell assaulted my nose and stung my eyes that I had to squint.

It must be the bleach, I thought as I justified the sting in my eyes.

After the dining table, I proceeded to pour zonrox over the chairs and repeated the wiping process. This dining table could seat six people. But one chair was relocated to make space. After all, there used to be five people in this house. The other chair only taken out when there was a visitor. The chairs only came after the table because the dusts that settled on the table fell over the chair during the wiping process. I tried not to think about when was the last time these chairs were occupied. Instead, I focused on the smell of bleach that hung in the kitchen, making the air seem thick that even with breathing, the smell seemed to go all the way to my airways that I imagined some of it got stuck there.

After the kitchen, I cleaned the living room which served as my study place and dining area at the same time. I would make use of one of the two small tables which I called la mesita. I liked the smaller one with the irregular shape of a trunk and its legs looked like roots. The other one was a rectangular one with weaved wood pattern on its top. I thought the bigger one occupied more space than necessary so I moved it to one side of the wall.

I poured zonrox over the two la mesita and then on the chairs and stools. There was an unnecessary number if table and chairs in this house. They were meant to accommodate guests should a few come over for a cup of coffee. But they had not served their purpose. No visitors. More importantly, no people to entertain visitors. They only redounded to the benefit of my four cats who had the luxury of options where to sleep.

But I cleaned them all the same.

While wiping one chair, it dawned on me that it was the oldest chair in the house. Its top was repaired but it was same chair where every afternoon, a pregnant woman used to sit and my younger self with full bangs that covered my eyebrows would ask if I could place my ear next to her belly and try to listen if a baby was indeed moving inside.

I did not hear anything from the tummy back then. And neither did I feel movements. Maybe it was because I was kid and did not really know what to listen for. But I believed and expected that I would have a younger sister soon. In fact, my earliest memory had always been waiting for my younger sister. Every afternoon, right in front of the mirror, putting my ears next to my mother’s stomach. Then watching as she sat on the chair talking to me. I could not remember what she said. But I remembered looking at her without saying anything. I could not really tell if I was happily waiting or not. But nevertheless, I listened.

Then my mother labored. I remembered watching her awkwardly go out of the door, holding her big belly and her back, to the taxi that was waiting outside. Then there was the hospital. I did not know yet at that time that it was a hospital. We did not go to hospitals often. As how I liked to think of it, we grew up healthy that there was no need to visit the hospital. But I remembered my mother’s bed was near the door.

When the baby was born, I remembered waiting for my mother to finish breastfeeding the baby. She would sit on the chair and I would squat on the floor. And just as she was done, I would cry on the floor and pee. And swim in the puddle that I had created. I would blow my nose and wipe the snot in my hair. Nobody dared to ask me what was wrong. The question would only provoke me to roll again on my pee and snot and wail louder. Just as I would quiet down, my mother would say, “Humana ka, Ate?” And I would nod, telling her that I was done with my episode.

The good old chair was made of cheap wood and it often had to be repaired. I always thought that it would eventually retire like the other pieces of furniture we had back then. But it outstayed the other inhabitants who used to live in this house.

Sometimes, I wondered if they still remember this chair. As they go about their everyday lives, I wondered if every time they took a break and sat in front of a mirror, I wondered if it also brought them memories of this chair.

When a strand of hair fell on my face now dotted with sweat, I drew it behind my ear and my nose caught the strong smell of zonrox from my hands. It was with this smell that I tried to keep the house from falling apart.

But sometimes, I felt that the house itself was giving in. I remembered one time, there was a lizard on the molding of the wall. Lizards were the favorite prey on my cat, Tola. Upon seeing the lizard, she leapt for the attack. I did not look to see if she caught the lizard or not because my attention diverted to the molding. It turned out that the molding was hollow from the inside that when Tola attacked, the surface broke, revealing the hollow. I was told that untreated wood would deteriorate. It must be the case. Yet, I could not help think the house itself, whose condition reflected the relations and ties of its inhabitants, was dying.

And today, it magnified more than ever. After I had dusted what needed to be dusted, satisfied that the surfaces were clean and sanitized, I washed the labakara in a basin of water with soap and zonrox, and placed it by the window to dry. It was then I noticed that one of the stalks of the fortune plant, which I placed by the sink, dried up and had no chance of growing to life. In an attempt to save what was left, I moved it to the veranda to see how it would respond, all the while trying to convince myself it simply needed more exposure to sunlight.

Because the inhabitants of this house had the habit of leaving, my company had been my cats and occasionally, like today, the smell of bleach. Technically, there was still my sister but I reckoned she was also experiencing the urge to leave, or maybe the urge to escape, only coming home late to sleep then gone in the morning. But I could not blame her as it would be hypocritical of me to say that I wanted to stay. And more importantly, back then, when I was the one who wanted to leave, she was the one who waited and looked after the house. Sometimes, I wondered why I even try to keep the house from falling. I told myself it was for what was left, for my cats and my sister, that this shared space be able to convey the assurance that shy away from being declared explicitly. To atone for my past cowardice, it now fell on me to sustain this shared space. And in my way of cleaning, I hope to also make clean the resentment that kept making its way to my consciousness.

But as the days roll into months, it was becoming harder to do. When I felt the urge to hold the house together but frustrated by its gradual decay, I could only turn to bleach hoping that it can make the stains disappear and then my labakara hoping that I could wipe away the dusts that had settled.

I was jerked pout from my thoughts by the sound of frantic clawing against something. It was Tola trying to balance herself on top of the television, trying to reach the lizard in the wall behind it. I looked on with amusement, not worried about the TV which I had secured with a tie in consideration of my cats’ activities.

Tola began to meow. She never liked it if the lizard escaped. And she could spend the next couple of minutes just looking up that wall waiting for the lizard to appear.

The other cats approached the TV also, all of them now looking up. They looked as if they were looking at the frames, at the faces of the people they seldom see. But they were actually looking for the lizard that hid behind the frame.

I thought it would do good for the cats to play outside for a while, and forget about the lizard. I thought to let them out while the smell of bleach reeked inside the house just as I had finished cleaning the living room. So I opened the window behind me and called them. All four of them became alert of the open window and leapt for it. In a few seconds, all four cats were outside.

When I had the house to myself, I sat on a chair and stretched my legs. My writs hurt from wringing the labakara to squeeze the water out of it, I looked around the house and wondered why try as I might to clean it, dust was always quick to find the surfaces. I was certain it would settle again on top of the table tops in a couple of days. But it meant that I just had to wipe again.

I looked over the frames again then the empty chairs and tables. I thought that they had to settle with cats occupying them for now. Still, there was an undeniable absence that sits across the table imposing a removal of what used to be a fixture. But I think that they were still waiting. They had held themselves waiting for the click as a key had successfully unlocked and opened the door. Waiting for a young girl to pass through that door and spend a little more time to eat her dinner and maybe talk about her day over a cup of milk or chocolate drink.

Meanwhile, I noticed that the smell of zonrox in the air was dissipating. It must have escaped through the open window. I rubbed my hands together, they felt course. The same texture after hand washing clothes for too long. Bringing my fingers to my nose, I could still recognize the smell of zonrox on them. The coarseness, I could address by applying hand cream, but the smell, it would stay there even after I leave for school, mixing with the scent of the hand cream. But the pervasive smell of zonrox no longer bothered me. Somehow, it had grown to be a silent companion in waiting.

 

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