TE21 Serbian Moments
The Pear Field
back into the fold.
block. In summer the sun heats the rusty metal and releases a strange, sweet smell. Lela’s loved going up that staircase ever since shewas little, even though its tight spiral makes her dizzy as she climbs and turns, climbs and turns, all the way to the top floor. Although it’s outside in the fresh air, the staircase always smells the same. Lela runs her hand along the rail as she climbs and, when she reaches the top, she puts her palm to her nose and finds thesmell unchanged. Thestaircaseends inasmall landing overlooking the playground. If Lela leans over the guard rail she can almost grab the branches of the tall spruce trees that grow alongside. She has spent many hours up there on this staircase. Whenever she goes up she pretends that the stairs lead somewhere else entirely, only to have the fantasy shattered upon coming face to face with the solid, doorless wall at the top. When the rain falls heavily enough to flush the staircase clean, the raindrops make their own distinctive sound as they land on the sun-baked iron before ricocheting off again. When Lela watches the rain lashing down, she imagines Tariel’s mother standing there by the fence, soaked to the skin, waiting for the skies to clear so she can turn her black mourning rags to the sun. The wash block smells of laundry soap, washing powder and damp, mildew-covered walls, and if someone’s got nits there’s an eye-watering fog of DDT powder too. Lela has her shower 197
On every floor there are toilets at the end of the corridor. The wind blowing in through the broken windowpanes carries their stench deeper into the building, making the entire corridor smell like a station toilet. The bedrooms, TV roomand playrooms have their own smell, and no amount of fresh air can flush it out. It’s the smell of dirty children, or sometimes of clothes scrubbed clean with laundry soap; the smell of musty linen and hand-me-down bedding; the smell of paraffin lamps and, in winter, wood stoves; the smell of old armchairs and sticky tape covering cracks in thewindows and Chinesemallow plants lined up on the sill. Lela knows each and every smell, even though sometimes they all disappear behind the acrid stench of the toilets. When Lelawalks in through the gates this same smell gives her an acute sense of sadness. It reminds her of their gatekeeper Tariel’s mother. The whole neighbourhood knew her. She stank of wet leather. A hard-working, resilient woman in her youth, she began to grow feeble in both body and mind the day she put on her widow’s weeds. With time she forgot her house, her son and her grandchildren, and spent the rest of her days wandering aimlessly along the school fence. Lela thinks of her the minute she sets foot on school grounds; then, gradually, she gets used to the smell and the woman’s ghost slips back out of her mind. There’s one place in the grounds that Lela loves precisely because of its smell. The dormitory block has a fire escape, an iron spiral staircase fixed to the outside wall facing the wash 196
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