OK, let me set the scene here. It's Saturday morning, and it's a beautiful day at the end of a cold South African winter. The air is fresh and clear and it's just starting to warm up a little. I'm still tired but I have some work I need to do today, so I head downstairs still half asleep and start making breakfast. Bread in oven to make toast, oil in pan heating up as I follow a familiar routine.
Get out bacon, get out eggs- bugger. No eggs. I'm still barely half awake, I need to phone a supplier for a client in Holland, I still need to do more work on my server and I'm huuuuuungry. Fuck it - I pull my shit together, and head down to the shops. Get potatoes, eggs, coke, still need to get smokes.
Go to the cigarette/quick checkout counter - only one cashier, and she's dealing with an old man - threadbare jersey, greying dirty hair and beard.
Guy seems a bit slow, and is bartering over the cost of boxer tobacco.
I realise he's obviously homeless or living rough, and return to my phone as I wait.
It crept in in the way that water from an overflowing sink might slink into the next room, but this was no ordinary sink, and no ordinary water.
This was water that had been used to sluice down an abbatoir, and this sink smelled of an old bathroom in a public park on a hot, humid summers day - a bathroom even the insects won't venture near.
The smell crept up my nose, and by the time my brain knew what had happened, it was too late.
I fought it, by god I fought it.
I felt the bile rise in the back of my throat, and I bit back the need to gag.
The teller dealing with the man seemed oblivious - either she had better protection than I, or the smell had deemed her not worth of it's intention - that sounds strange, but by this point I knew that it was true - this smell had victims. This smell had prey.
Then - Oh god, and then
Another teller opened up the second till
I was in line!
I choked - quickly, restraining myself and keeping up appearances - and gritted my teeth
I stepped past the man, behind him, my eyes focused solely on my destination, a place I hoped and prayed was upwind
It was not, or winds and breezes meant nothing to this now very solid presence in my world.
I hoped and prayed the second teller would be quick in her duties, but no - she was in no rush today.
Spared just as the first teller had been from my fate, she languidly enquired if I would like a plastic bag, and then tried to get the scanner to read the first item - the eggs.
In those ticking moments, eons passed - I saw the collapse of the universe into cosmic decay, the final loss of all things to entropy, but still the smell remained, a solid fact now in residence in my world, with no sign of ever leaving
The teller waved the potatoes past the scanner.
I looked behind me, and say two other guys in line, not far from where this scene unfolded.
I saw the confusion in their eyes as I bit back a gag, and then I saw the smell reach them in delicate tendrils, just as the old cartoons used to show.
First one, then both of them silently gaped, their mouths dropped open and then abruptly closed in a vain attempt to spare themselves of this assault. We exchanged glances, man to man, and they knew my fate was sealed. I had gazed too long into the abyss and for me there was no redemption to be found, but they - they made the right call, and walked away.
Finally, the old man completed his purchase (2 packs of Stuyvesant Reds and some bananas), and walked past me to the exit, his passage bringing to a crescendo the sharp and screeching assault upon my nose, my lungs, my eyes and my sanity.
Still the smell lingered, and my teller struggled to figure out the mechanisms of the card reader.
I endured those final few moments just as you must have endured this monologue, and having paid, made a break for the fresh air of the outside, the smell to this moment still a residue in my mind, nesteld in the crevices of my cerebellum like a shiny oil slick. I expect it never to leave.
But as I turned the corner, sucking in mouthfuls of fresh air and knowing it would never be enough, I could have sworn I heard a voice that might even have been that hobo, saying 'Buggrit! Millenium hand and shrimp!'