The panic started as a shiver at the base of her neck. It travelled down her spine like an uncurling snake. The perfume was unmistakable. The citrus sweet smell that had paralysed her 15 years ago. She listened to the voice, yes, it had the same raspy pitch. It was her, the person from Suki’s nightmare. Fifteen years later and she still wore the same awful perfume.
Suki had been born a healthy baby. It was 6 months later that her parents had noticed a problem with her eyesight. Suki knew no different, she was five before she realised she was unusual. While her friends recognised each other by their faces, she used their scents. Not if they were wearing perfume, but the mix of their smell, washing powder and perfume. Their unique signature.
The smell came across the cafe again. Suki shuddered, she would never forget that scent. Suki had been in year 11 when the torment started. For ten years Suki had no trouble in secondary school until Carla started.
Carla was a move from another school. A managed move they called it. One school offloads a bad student to another school, hoping it will make everything better. As soon as Carla spotted Suki making her way around the school with her cane the torment started.
The odd shove when no one was watching meant to unbalance her. More times than not Suki would fall. She knew the rest of the students were watching even without her sight. She remembered sitting there on the floor feeling her cheeks burning. The murmur went around the hall from the other students. Always the same citrus, sweet perfume engulfing her. Others would help her up, none were strong enough to stand up to Carla.
One evening Suki was in the park with a friend enjoying the warmth of the sun on her face. The wind was blowing which must have been why Suki had missed the perfume. She remembered the sound of laughter as the wet cat was dropped onto her lap. To most people, this would have been nothing. Suki, however, jumped out of her skin. The cat was so shocked by her reaction, it left as fast as it could. During its escape, it left a track of claw prints up Suki’s chest and over her face.
As the exams got closer Carla increased her mission of torture. She would take Suki’s school stuff, knowing she would never find it. She left objects on Suki’s seat. The last straw was when she took Suki’s cane and snapped it.
At home, Suki had become quiet and detached from her family. Suki’s mum finally made her a doctors appointment, worried about her daughter. In the surgery, the whole story came tumbling out. Suki was diagnosed as depressed and suicidal. Suki’s mum went to the Headteacher, he claimed none of his staff had seen anything. He tried to contribute Suki’s depression to losing her sight. It was decided, Suki would do her exams, nothing more. She could sit them in a separate room and revise at home.
Suki did OK in her exams, not as well as she could have. Depression had robbed her concentration. Always when she went to school she was extra vigilant to the citrus, sweet perfume.
As the years had passed, she thought she had forgotten the smell and the terror it brought with it. Then 15 years later in her favourite coffee shop, the smell was back and so was the terror. Suki knew she had to go, get as far as possible away from that perfume.
Extending her cane she got up quietly and made for the door. That’s when the perfume got stronger. As her stomach churned, Suki realised the smell was right in front of her, between her and the door.
“Suki is that you?” The raspy voice said spraying another burst of perfume in Suki’s direction.
Suki thought about lying, but instead, she whispered, “Yes.”
“Thought it was you,” Carla replied. “How are you? You’re looking well.”
“I’m fine, thanks,” Suki wanted the conversation to be over.
Carla prattled on, “Wow that’s good. I haven’t been back in ages. The place doesn’t look any different.”
Great, Suki thought, another dig after all these years.
“I have to go,” Suki blurted out.
“Oh, okay,” Carla said.
Suki tried to get around Carla, but she knew she was still stood in front of her.
“Before you go,” Carla said.
Here it comes, Suki thought, after all these years the fear was back. What insult was left for Carla to hurl at her? She had been working on this for 15 years.
“I’m sorry, for everything at school,” Carla said.