Short Stories

Eucalyptus Man
December 5, 2019
4

 

“What are you thinking?”

“Nothing.”

“You look like you were thinking about something.”

“I’m not.”

“Really? So your mind is just blank right now?”

“Yeah.”

I sigh. “Okay. I’m going to shower.”

My little tentacles, glowing and delightfully warm, just beginning to unfurl and reach out, growing, seeking him out like a vine blossoming towards the sun, meet his hard hollowness and have no choice but to curl back in on themselves, denied of connection. That vibrant pound of liver I was just talking to is my husband of five years. He has the rare talent of being present but unavailable, speaking but saying nothing, generous with what is wanted but withholding all that is needed.

*

In the shower, a stray lock of hair teases the back of my shoulder. My skin smells of almonds and honey, which is what is in my full-body scrub. I’ve recently taken up aromatherapy  – one of many things I’ve tried to soothe myself. It’s not the scents that I find soothing, it’s what they remind me of. It’s the memories tied to them that I get to re-live and trick my brain into blotting out the bad stuff. It doesn’t always work because you can’t control where you come across scents. The scent of lanolin, for instance, reminds me of my nursery school teacher a dreadful woman best left in the farthest reaches of childhood memory. The scent of my earthy shampoo smells like wet soil and reminds me of sinking my toes into a patch of wet mosses, soft as a velvet rug. The smell of aqua reminds me of a scrappy DJ I dated – one of many bodies buried in my dark ages.

Recently it’s the smell of eucalyptus oil burning in a candle at the lobby of a hotel I go to from time to time that I find soothing. It’s not as scintillating as tea tree or cinnamon they have at other hotels. But like many of the scents I like, perhaps it has to do with a certain someone there. Tall, dark, deepest dimples you have ever seen. When I first saw him he was in all black. A double-breasted chef’s jacket with a Mandarin collar and a tie-back cap. He was standing with his hands tucked behind his straight back, like a brigadier watching over his troops. Then he walked to the fish station, although for accuracy I should say he strutted. Slowly, purposefully, as if he had to bend the air in every step to accommodate his potent aura.

I wasn’t at all in the mood for salmon that day but he was pouring out some exotic sauce with a back story so I got in line. He said something about how the sauce was prepared and I heard none of it because I was watching how his dimples varied in depth and shape as he spoke. Then he poured it over my salmon and said it releases the flavor of the fish. “You know, like ice cubes open up the flavor of a whiskey,” he said, then motioning to me added, “to bring it closer home.”

That part I heard and was intrigued. “Closer home?”

He shrugged. “You seem like a woman who knows her whiskey.”

It was a ballsy assumption. He could’ve been wide off the mark. I could’ve been a wine girl or someone who didn’t drink at all. I was neither of those things. Still, I contemplated lying, just to throw him off. Shake his confidence. But the way he called me woman, the way the word filled his mouth like a full-bodied bourbon made me feel like I was in the leagues of Aretha or Maya Angelou or India.Arie. Like poetry and wisdom.

“And what do you know about women who know their whiskey?”

“More than I can tell you here,” he said scooping another spoonful of sauce. We were holding up the line so I nodded and moved on.

I didn’t see him again until two weeks later when we’d completed our tour circuit and circled back. I’m a tour guide lodged deeply in the family business. I travel a lot with my father who started as a tour driver and fought to remain the same even after starting the business. Said his talents belong on the road. Being the Daddy’s girl I have always been, I followed him everywhere and did everything he did. Even now, I still do.

*

I still do…Do I still do? I’m not sure that’s still the case in my marriage. I mean, the occasional flirtation is just a peril of the job in my line of work. But since I met this eucalyptus man, a strange thing has begun happening. I’ve started watching him. This hard and soft man. At one time he is delicately placing a leaf of garnish on tilapia and the next, he is sending back some pale potato wedges to the kitchen.

This particular time, a cook walks up to him deferentially, obviously consulting on something and he turns his back to me. I have to muzzle my joy over the distraction because now I can examine him unabashedly. I follow a bulging vein from the back of his palm to his elbow, the way you would follow a raindrop drop down a window, watching it join another and change course. Then I notice a long, black scar. It is fresh, crescent-shaped, obviously from the edge of a skillet. I can tell how soft his skin is from the way it’s healing. I have the sudden urge to run my fingers around it and soothe it with ointment. And this here unsettles me because now is not the time to start feeling tender towards strangers.

***

Read Next: A Kite on a Branch

22

About author

Wanjiru Ndung'u

Wanjiru Ndung'u writes fiction. She is an irretrievable night owl. Loves tea and cats. Devours stories and knits cozy scarves

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  • Duchess

    Very happy to have you back. And thankfully we’ve rested Kagwe and Mel.

  • Salome Wandui

    Eucalyptus man… Awaiting the ‘series’

  • Beryl

    Yaay!

  • mary wanjiku

    We’ve missed you