This Veil of Smoke

Erica Eisen in Boston Review:

Stepping out of my apartment building in southern Bishkek one cold November morning in 2019, I was met with a smell that I immediately recognized as fire. I had grown up in southern California, remembered drought-spawned chaparral blazes that would leap over highways and engulf whole tracts of housing, closing schools for a week at a time as waves of people fled for the safety of the coast. I remembered a red sun, a grey sky, a rain of ash, and above all else the acrid smell that closed around me now.

But scrolling through news site after news site revealed nothing: no warehouse gone up in smoke, no stray spark from an electrical wire. The men and women who walked past me did so unhurriedly, without panic, seeming not to register the scent of the air, the smudgy sky. Still unsure, I crossed the street to the weekend bazaar, which bustled as usual with butchers, fishmongers, vegetable sellers all calmly bagging produce and doling out change. I picked some potatoes from a tarp, some carrots from a cardboard box. When I returned home I realized that the smell was on my clothes, my hair, my skin. In the ensuing hours and days it would come to leak into the apartment itself, and then I stopped noticing it, and life, as it always does, went on.

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