Have you noticed how incredible everything smells when the weather gets hot? Even smells which are already delicious – garlic frying, fresh-chopped mint leaves, pillowcases dried in the sun, warm clean skin – get bigger and deeper. There’s a magenta rose on my dressing table from a bush in our back garden. Every day it’s petals reach further out into unsupported space – it gets larger than I knew a rose could. And it smells the way I imagine heroin must feel in the veins. But kinder. Sun-drenched, air-bathed, sky-stroked, soil-fed.
I’m reading “Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya” by Harvard historian, Caroline Elkins. When the accounts of mass torture and rape, detention camps, forced labour, starvation and massacre become unbearable, my tense agonized shoulders shoot pain into my neck. I don’t want to even try to write about this; I just want to crawl into bed and stay there for the next 10 years. At these moments, several times a day, I get up to take long deep sniffs of this rose. By the third sniff, I’m a little lightheaded. By the fourth, I’m aware of my breath again, and my arms, my legs and the floor that holds them, my neck, tail, belly, how they all fit together in ways that defy imagination. How the world defies imagination, in its horror, and how we keep ourselves open, inhaling what is beautiful, alive, to expand to the work we have to do. I do a few shoulder rolls, drop a thank-you kiss on the rose, and go back to my desk.