“Show me that new one, behind Wonder Woman. Yes, that! The Scent Man”, said the guy with a shimmer in his eyes.
“Oh, that is not up for rent, I am so sorry, sir” replied Tahir, the owner of the costume shop.
“Darn it! “, the guy frowned and stomped away loudly in his pink scent-man boots. One could easily sense his pain.
There was no sale or rentals for the day, but still Tahir saved the Scent-man costume for Jamal, his foster son. Jamal was the adopted son of a gay couple, two of the regular and most friendly customers of Tahir. It was when Kyle and Tafzeel passed away in a fire accident, that Tahir took the boy in. He was a wunderkind, an intellectual opposite of Tahir. He had just breezed through an accelerated graduation course at the age of fourteen, and was eyeing an entry into the highly esteemed Marksman College for gifted children, for an advanced course in Physics and Mathematics.
“Happy birthday Jamu, I made this for you”, Tahir showed the taffy coloured costume to Jamal.
Jamal stood up from his study, like a machine unfolding itself, and felt the costume with his surgeon-like fingers. He examined the fabric and did a graduation course in the costume in five seconds. He deftly sat down for his study and spoke, “This must be seventy-percent fireproof, I can feel the nylon, Mister Ahmad”.
“But it’s for your own comfort, Jamu”.
“Tell that to the fire which melted my parents in the Comic con of 2013, exactly on this day, Mr Ahmad. ”
Tahir sobbed. His apologies had dried in his throat since five years and he had choked on it everyday. He spoke nothing. He knew that Jamal would never forgive his clumsiness: the fact that he had wrongly used cheap linen on his parents’ costume, fully aware that they were conducting a dangerous fire show as The Human Torch and Pyre.
“And I don’t like this colour, it reminds me of their Car”, declared Jamal as he turned back to his study.
Tahir stood there like a docile kid, taking it all in. The guilt inside him, like a satanic magnet, attracted all kinds of other guilts which he was remotely eligible for. He felt his lack of resourcefulness, his lack of money for higher education, his lack of being an intellectual sparring-partner for Jamal, all at once. He broke. The gates could not fight more and salty water now settled on the wrinkles of his old face. He dragged himself to the nearby couch quietly.
Jamal was burning the midnight oil as usual. He had all the qualifications for the Marksman college but was still short of a novel science project which could complement his superlative grades and knowledge. He had never competed in science fairs and was never involved in school projects, always busy perusing research papers of the leading scientists of his field. With his theoretical prowess, he could easily send a decent project idea to Marksman, but he would never take a chance with decent. Marksman was the gold standard of Science, he needed an absolute novelty.
Tahir put a glass of milk and some handmade cookies on Jamal’s table. He picked up the costume and hung it on a wall-hook. Quietly, he lied down on the nearby couch as he wanted to sleep with his son on his birthday.
Jamal noticed Tahir’s love served on his table, and some of it hung against the wall. The smell of the fresh cookies tried to assuage his father’s shortcomings. He was softening. He tried the Scent-Man costume in his imagination. He tried to capture the smell of the cookie by taking a deep snort of it, just like Scent-Man.
“Jamu?”, exclaimed Tahir from the couch.
Jamal quickly rearranged to his professional self.
“Are you okay?”
Jamal was silent at first but then he spoke, playfully, “I wish the costumes came with superpowers”.
Tahir smiled. “Uh-huh, what would you do then?”
“I would use it to make new scents for my science project”, Jamal replied.
“But you already made that perfume in your mini lab… when the scent-man fad had just started. The vodka episode still cracks me up”, Tahir giggled.
“It was for the perfume, you know all of them are mixtures, come on Mr. Ahmad”, Jamal replied as he muffled a smile.
“Mm, good times”
Jamal smiled eventually.
“Anyways, the smell needs to be a new one, like scent-man makes, out of nowhere. It’s not possible. ” Jamal said dismally.
“Wait a minute, does it have to be a good smell?”, Tahir asked.
“Not necessarily, we just need to widen the spectrum of smells and study their characteristics to formulate a continuous scale of smells. ”
“Then take my smell. You always say I smell so weirdly pungent”, Tahir said in rising excitement.
“It’s not a new idea, Mr Ahmad, it has been done. There are pheromones perfume in the market.”, the boy calmed Tahir down.
“Then why don’t you mix my smell with others, as you said it’s always a mixture”, Tahir retorted, refusing to be put down.
“Hmm, those experts may have missed the highly complex art of ‘mixing’ stuff together. Good point, Mr Ahmad”, Jamal said, raising his eyebrows in a mocking fashion.
“Darn it, I thought my rented costumes could come handy someday. The store room at the shop stinks of a hundred people. ”
Jamal’s face mirrored his inner disgust as he thought of the unwashed rental costumes with sweats of a hundred people mixing away since days, months and even years; dirty old scent. Old… old scent. Something struck him. He ran to his bookshelf and pounced on a book.
“What is it?” Tahir asked with an expectation of excitement.
“The old smell, how could I not connect the dots.”, Jamal replied as he scanned the book.
“This one scientist from Scotland wrote a reasearch paper on the changing form of pheromones with time. We already know that some smell and some don’t “, Jamal was not skeptical now. This was his professional tone again.
“So! It takes somewhere around forty eight days for the pheromones to change form according to this Dr Ferguson. And I am pretty sure, it will change the smell too”
“A brand new smell, you mean?”
“The chances are close to 100 per cent, considering infinite random smells”
“Wow!”. Tahir died with excitement and reincarnated into a flailing new puppy, there on the couch. He shouted, “And I wonder how complex is the art of not washing the costumes for more than forty eight days”.
“You bet it’s tough.”, Jamal replied loudly, bargaining with the professionalism in his tone.
“I’ll get all the old costumes ready by tomorrow evening. I’m so glad my costumes came to your rescue. Ya Allah, Rehem Tera”, Tahir transitioned into a pious bow on the ground.
“We should talk more often, Mr Ahmad. I like our superhero duo”, said Jamal.