During my early childhood, when my family used to live in a tiny half-dilapidated apartment, we depended on a small kerosine heater to provide warmth in the house during the winter season. In my hometown, the temperature hovered around 0 degree Celsius in the winter, and with the poor insulation of our apartment, it was always chilly in our house.
As soon as I woke up, I would go to the main room and crouch on the floor next to our kerosine heater. Usually my father was also there, crouching over his newspaper, reading. The two of us were like rocks sitting in a busy river. While my mother was busy preparing breakfast and my little brother was too active to stay in one spot, I would sit still in front of the heater, staring at the blue fire visible from the tiny hole, hearing the sound of the heater and smelling the oil as I enjoyed the warmth.
A few times a day, my mother would refill the oil tank of the heater. Whenever she opened the tank and pumped in the kerosine from a separate red bucket, I could smell the kerosine mixed in the smell of cold wind from outside. Over the course of time, that smell of kerosine started to remind me of the comfort I felt in front of the heater every winter morning.
One day, I happened to tell my father how much I loved the smell of kerosine. My father laughed and said that sometimes people were drawn to a normally unpleasant smell due to its uniqueness. Then he shared with me a story that his primary school teacher once told his class decades ago.
When his teacher was a child, cars were still very rare in Japan, and this teacher and his friends always ran after a car whenever they saw one. And they inhaled the smell of the gasoline coming out of the exhaust port as deeply as they could. For them, the smell of gasoline meant the presence of a car.
When I heard this story, I frowned my face and exclaimed,
“How can anybody like the smell of gasoline? It’s so unpleasant!”
“But it’s the same story with you,” said my father. “You like the smell of kerosine because it reminds you of the heater.”
To this day, whenever I come across the smell of kerosine, my heart softens with warmth and comfort. In my mind, I think of the kerosine heater in my family’s old half-dilapidated apartment and remember the warmth of the fire on my skin on a winter morning.