Paper Scent

David squirmed at the dishevelled aged man across the counter, who was now close enough for him to smell the strong scent of rum that wafted of off his body. The pensioner looked like he hadn’t showered in days, much less brushed his teeth in decades. His teeth were a deep yellow coated with tar stains, probably from years of tobacco addiction. His hair was long and unkempt, almost fully grey, with a few odd brown streaks in there. He also looked like he hadn’t had a shave in weeks, and his bushy beard was coated with left overs of whatever he had probably had for breakfast - pieces of bacon, by the looks of it. The only somewhat distinguishing part of the old man was a pair of gold-rimmed half-moon spectacles, through which his bright, somewhat-boyish, blue eyes peered out.

As the store manager for one of the largest beauty and cosmetic retailers in Britain, David Smith, was accustomed to dealing with difficult customers. The only people he hated dealing with, were the “homeless and poor” who occasionally visited the store in the hope of getting a free sample of a promotional product that they were giving away. Even then, David was extremely careful as to who he let into the store. After all, his store was the biggest and most popular one of the chain, and located on one of London’s premier shopping avenues. Further more, their normal clientele were the who’s who of Hollywood and other high-society kinds, who surely would not take “the homeless and beggars milling about” the store lightly.

With a deep sigh, David cleared his throat. His security chap at the door usually did a splendid job of keeping “these kinds” at bay. But he was running a bit late today, due to the customary delays on the London Underground. And it was just five minutes past 10, when this raggedly old man had walked in. Keeping with the norm, David was behind the counter ensuring that there was enough money in the till to begin trade for the day. “ I’m afraid, I’m going to have to ask you to leave” commenced David, sticking to his well-practiced speech for getting rid of “these lot”.
The old man stared at him for what felt like the best part of five minutes. And then he spoke. “Is that how you treat customers these days, son?” enquired the old man. David was taken aback by the polished accent that accompanied the statement and the accurate enunciation of each word. Suddenly David wasn’t so sure how to respond anymore. Though this old man’s appearance was un-sightly and down-right dirty, his deep baritone and proper articulation was a shocker. “Sir….I…mmm….I…” mumbled David, unable to conceal his surprise. The old man smiled. “I understand your …well…concern. I know I don’t look the part of your usual clientele. Unfortunately I don’t clean up well. Which is why I’m here first thing in the morning, before your business picks up. I’m here to talk about this”, he said dropping a leaflet, that David was familiar with.
A couple of weeks ago, the parent chain had organised a “What do you want to smell like?” promotion, where customers could walk into any of their 200 odd- outlets and experiment with a variety of essences and scents till they got  what they liked. And then once they co-created it, they had to purchase it in either 50, 75 or 100ml bottles. The catch was that the potential client had to put down a £500 deposit, and there was no refund. In spite of the high initial costs, it had been a huge success, but the thought of some of those really questionable scents, still made David nauseate. But it was hugely profitable for the company, and for David’s store in particular. The purchase costs of these “co-created perfumes” were really high and the investment in terms of resources was quite minimum. To make matters more interesting, the company had even put out a challenge - they could re-create any scent. If they couldn’t, they’d not only refund the £500, but they would offer a year’s supply of cosmetic and beauty care products from one of the most reputed brands in the world.
The leaflet that the old man had shoved in front of David was one of the few hundreds that they had personally snail mailed to the who’s who of society. He picked up the leaflet and looked at the name on the affixed label - John Gardiner. Somewhere in David’s head, the name rang a bell, but he wasn’t quite sure where he’d come across it. He excused himself from the old man, and went to a nearby computer set up with Internet access. He brought up the Google home page, and typed in John Gardiner into the search box. And then he smiled. The picture that accompanied the Wikipedia entry for John Gardiner was an identical copy of the person who was standing across the counter from him. He read a bit more of the article, and discovered that John Gardiner was a hugely successful author who had over 20 best-sellers over the 40 decades he had been writing. It also added that recently, Mr. Gardiner had been undergoing treatment for some clinical depression as well as some psychiatric treatment. Apparently he’d been having visions of a world where everything was electronic and there were no more physical books. It even said that Mr. Gardiner had supposedly buried a time capsule somewhere in his garden with collector’s editions of various famous paperbacks, so that future generations could understand how it was to touch, feel and read a real physical book.
David smiled again. Looked like Mr. Gardiner was going cuckoo. Nevertheless the Wikipedia entry said he had a lot of wealth, which meant a sale for David. That’s all that mattered. So he was going to indulge Mr. Gardiner, for the sake of a good sale. David walked back to the counter and said “Ofcourse, Mr. Gardiner. What can I do for you?" “I’d like to have  go at this” replied old man John pointing at the leaflet. “Here’s your cheque for £500”. Mouthing a thank you, David grinned as he picked up the cheque from Mr. Gardiner’s frail hands. He slowly walked Mr.Gardiner over to their make-shift “Essence Lab” where the perfuming process was being tested.
After going through some basics of perfuming and how they were created, David turned around and looked at Mr. Gardiner. So Mr. Gardiner, did you have an idea about what kind of scent you wanted your perfume to have ? Maybe lavender, rose, musk wood ….something a bit more fruity, like orange, or lemons….?”. John Gardiner looked at David, and then burst out with a wide grin. “I was thinking you’d never ask” he said. He slowly slid his hand into the tattered trench coat the he was wearing. For a minute David panicked. What if this crazy old man was pulling out a weapon. As the old man withdrew his hand form the coat, David noticed that he was clutching some books. From the looks of it, they were really old ,and pretty much in the same shape as their owner - raggedy and tattered with yellowing pages. Mr. Gardiner clutched the books really tightly and thrust them in David’s face. “Smell them!” he ordered, his previously blue eyes, now greyish blue with steely determination. David took a whiff. It smelled musty, with an odd faint hint of vanilla. He took another whiff, a deeper one this time around. This time he smelled something completely different ; he could smell “petrichor”, (the smell when fresh rain mixed with dry earth or dust) and dry wood. Looking confused, David asked “What is that smell? I’m not able to identify it precisely.” Mr. Gardiner looked at David with a really blissful smile and said “That my son, is the best smell in the world; the smell that I fear our future generations may not be able to even sample; the smell that has inspired and motivated me to write for over 40 long decades - that, my son, is the wonderful smell of old books, and I intend to capture and stock it for our generations to come."
Image courtesy Google Search and HD Wallpapers
Image courtesy Google Search and HD Wallpapers

 A few un-successful hours later....

David folded his hands and watched Mr. John Gardiner, the esteemed author of over 20 best-sellers, walk out of the door, with his original cheque of £500 and a box full of cosmetic and beauty products for a whole year. "Well, at least he'll scrub up well now" mused David as he watched the door close.


This post was compiled for WriteTribe's Wednesday prompt - The Best Scent, where the prompt was " the smell of old books".