A worn dirty polythene bag. Tossed this morning into the kitchen bin, then suddenly retrieved, examined closely, smoothed and stroked. Suddenly I’m aware it’s not just a polythene bag from anywhere. I think of what I’ve just taken out of it in order to empty it and bin it.
I took out three vanilla pods, bought fresh at a market in Mauritius over the summer. The pods then were ripe and plump and scented. In just four months they have become slightly dessicated, much less fragrant.
But the polythene bag which held them since our return from holiday still powerfully evokes the market: its scents and sounds and colour.
I could take this bag and drop it on the pavement in Oakwood and people might see it and tut and frown at this piece of scrappy rubbish. Someone might pick it up and bin it; naturally without sniffing its glories. Maybe a dog might be tempted to start chewing, to the frantic alarm of its owner. Maybe the bag would just be invisible to all passers by: just another piece of invisible litter, there but not there. Unregistered, unclocked in its ordinariness. But it’s not ordinary. It’s a Mauritian market plastic bag which once held fresh vanilla pods and travelled across the equator for thousands of miles to arrive here in Leeds.
Now I’ve temporarily rescued it from the bin and photographed it for (probably illusory) digital posterity, what now? I can hardly leave it on the kitchen table. But I am reluctant to discard it again so unthinkingly. I suppose I could try sticking it in my notebook, but is that slightly mad?
It’s only a plastic bag with an interesting smell. Technology can do a lot but there’s still no way to record smells. Perhaps if I leave it out in the open for a day, its exotic scent will dissipate and leave me disinterested again.
It’s only a Mauritian plastic bag.