He was a small man made even smaller by time. He'd been eight decades here and his thin shoulders were stooped and his hair, though still full, was no longer streaked with gray. It was combed back and wavy, like a frothing river sweeping over boulders, suggesting a hint of remaining vitality. He'd always had an earnest look about him, wide-eyed, almost innocent, but anxiety was etched onto his face as he stepped out of the quiet apartment and locked the door behind him.
Although Mr. Bojan was not frowning while he walked down the dim lit inner staircase, the neighbor's twelve year old daughter could only mumble a hello and avert her gaze as she passed him on her way up for lunch. He'd scarcely noticed. Only as he reached the building's front door did he catch an inkling of her presence, when he saw the green bicycle leaning against the somber cement wall.
He pushed the door and stepped out into glaring daylight. The sun was already high up and casting narrow, vertical shadows, which was just as well; he couldn't feel its heat on his skin as he walked beneath it towards the town center. He'd been numb these past several days, and the weather had ceased to affect him, along with many other things he had thought important. He would ask for gardenias at the flower shop. Something stirred in him, in his now-sunken chest and low in the belly, as he remembered that fragrant hedge one night, many years ago, in another part of the world.
She'd been so taken in by their scent tears had sprung at the corners of her eyes.
"They're so beautiful. They smell wonderful!" He could still see how she had cupped a white blossom between her palms, like somebody scooping water from a stream, or a fountain, and how she had angled her face downward, as if to drink, her eyes shut, inhaling deeply as the tip of her nose brushed against the petals. Bliss, that was bliss, he thought. Then the memory faded and the thought trailed.
"We don't have gardenias." The girl at the flower shop said to him, "I'm sorry."
"Are you sure? Do you know where I might find some?" He asked, almost agitated. He'd been looking forward to their scent, hoping they would spur his memory. While he didn't know it, he was not unlike an addict desperate for his dose, craving that rush; a rush, or rather a flood, of memories that were now hidden away, or lying in rest, until the smell receptors carrying the right scent to the hippocampus, triggered pertinent synapses in his mind's-eye.
The girl looked bored, but she was not unsympathetic. Busy tying greenery to a bouquet, she motioned with her head towards a bamboo shelving unit next to the counter.
"I think we might have scent of gardenia candles," she said, "you can check on the middle and lower shelves if you want. That's where they'd be."