I recoiled as I opened the door. There had, quite apparently, been garlic the night before. Lots of garlic. Evidently in curry. And there can be few things worse than second-hand garlic, except, perhaps, walking, all unsuspecting, into a small, hermetically sealed room where the stuff has been exuded from every pore overnight. My tormentor laughed at the groans that escaped me, in spite of my attempts to hold my breath, as I beat a hasty retreat after diving for the window and throwing it wide open. I wasn’t going back till the miasma had cleared.
Those who say that garlic is good for you have evidently never encountered the phenomenon of the exudation of the stuff overnight. It may indeed have many health benefits, including as an antibacterial. Certainly nothing, even as virulent as a virus, could have survived in that room.
He, of course, had enjoyed the meal and was so habituated to the gradual garlic infestation of his environs that he was unaware of it. I had detected vague precursors to the pollution of his airspace as soon as I had opened the front door to let myself in, of course; but the sheer scale and venomous stench of the stuff was overpowering. Especially so early in the morning. Though I was fairly glad I’d only gulped down a coffee before the taxi arrived to take me to his home. Breakfast and I would otherwise have undoubtedly parted company.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like garlic. Properly used as a condiment it is rather like salt…barely noticeable; enhancing, rather than adding, flavour in a dish. As an ingredient, it adds a wonderful freshness and distinctive character. As a curried-morning-after-the-night-before, it is, however, vile.
The stench, for I cannot call it by a lesser name, holds memories for me. Vague wafts of the Parisian Metro at rush hour, coupled with its own distinctive smell of sulphur, as if the underground train runs through the bowels of Hell instead of beneath the steps of heaven. The doctor whose face was, for hours, inches from mine as he stitched it back together again. The desperation of mint and fresh parsley when a first date came immediately after a garlic and green bean salad… I have memories of garlic. And those that sprang to mind, elicited from the depths, were, it has to be said, none of them good.
My tormentor, however, having thoroughly enjoyed the meal the night before, was blithely unconscious of the effects of his allium indulgence. Until those effects were made abundantly apparent by my reactions to the olfactory assault. His hilarity was not, however, consummate with own state of mind and body by this point, as said body went into flight mode and headed for the open door…
A little garlic, I can cope with. It is easy to simply ignore and you become so accustomed to it, in small quantities, that you soon barely notice its presence. It becomes part of the atmosphere. It is easy too, to fail to notice another person’s memorial garlic, when you have shared the platter with them, or eaten a similar one of your own creation. One’s own level of exudation, however, remains often undetected.
I could, however, see an analogy in that as I breathed the fresh, clean air on his doorstep; wondering how often we can all create situations whose chain-reactions ripple through the lives of those around us, while we ourselves remain unconscious, like the toxic exhalation of curried garlic previously enjoyed… until something snaps, bends or breaks… and metaphorical fresh air is not always so easy to find. We do what we do, without malice, without any intention of causing potential harm or indeed discomfort to others, yet we cannot always foresee the effects of our behaviour until it becomes a cause of regret.
Rather like eating too much curried garlic.