Short Stories

Grown Folk
July 5, 2018
3
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Photo by Jessica Felicio on Unsplash

Previously on Taste of Mel …

As told by Jonathan

*

Saturday night I’m pacing outside my bathroom chewing on a slice of pizza. It’s been over half an hour since Mel went to soak in the tub and she’s not responding to me. I’ve started to get anxious because she had a lot of vodka and she might have passed out.

“Mel? Mel I’m coming in,” I say twisting the door knob into the unsettling silence in the bathroom. There’s no movement behind the curtain. I call out again. Is she even behind this curtain?

I don’t want to come off creepy but I’ve called out so many times, there is legit cause for alarm. I draw the curtain and my stomach immediately floors. She’s lying under clouds of foam in the tub and she looks like she’s sleeping, except her neck is twisted to the side. I reach for her cheeks and tap her awake but her head lolls back. She’s unconscious. My first thought is to lift her out of the tub so I thrust my hands in the water and hear a noise that I realize is me yelping. The water is scalding hot! No wonder she’s passed out.

I have to take down the waterproof shower curtain and wrap it around my right hand which I dip into the water and pop the stopper to drain the tub. Then I slip one hand under her armpits and the other under her knees and lift her out. She’s burning hot. I have to get her under the shower and accomplish this feat without slipping, hitting my head and possibly killing us both.

Breathe.

I take one step in, put her feet in the tab and try to get her to hold onto my shoulders. Her arms slip right off. Still I balance her on my chest, lift my other foot in and turn the faucet. I stand there fully clothed watching the shower stream wash the foam off her back. Cold water on her face will probably wake her up faster but I can’t seem to get my hands to turn her around, so I just hold onto her. Will she remember what happened? Will she think I put something in her drink?  She rubs her face against my neck then holds onto my shirt with the strength of a baby’s hand. She’s back and she’s started to shiver.

I grab a towel off the rack, wrap it around her and lift her out of the tub and into the bedroom. She holds onto me and mumbles something that I make out to be, “You left me.”

I summon all my knowledge of TV medical dramas and what doctors say when someone wakes up in the hospital. I tell her that it’s Jonathan, that we were together earlier and she came home with me and got in the tub but the water was too hot and she fainted. Does she remember getting in the tub? Yes. Does she know her name? It’s Mel. Does she know the day today? And the president? Can she see my two fingers?

She exhales a laugh. “Jonathan, you left.”

“No, no, I’m here.”

She shakes her head and says I left for over a year and didn’t call. Oh, that’s what she’s talking about. I feel guilt pinch in my chest because it’s true. It crossed my mind, but I was starting a new job that would take me away I didn’t have room for anything else at the time. I pat her down, even as she mumbles this, wrestle a t-shirt onto her and tuck her into bed. Then I change out of my wet clothes and despite this, I have to step out onto the balcony because I’m sailing full mast.

I duck back in before I catch a cold and slip into bed next to her. Her hair smells like a garden of roses and that’s the last thought I have before I fall asleep. When I flutter my eyelids awake in the morning she’s wrapped her legs around mine and a strand of her hair is tickling my nostrils. I tuck it away, rub my nose and try hard not to sneeze and wake her. I’m pinned down for the next hour, during which I try to rein in my breathing and the bongo drum ceremony going on in my chest. She stirs awake, stretches like a cat and rolls over to the extreme end of the bed and continues to sleep. Not an early riser then.

I watch her sleeping, breathing so shallow it barely looks like she’s breathing. Her nose is oily and her features are soft. Seeing her like that, I feel as though I have stolen a sacred piece of her that she keeps for herself. I have to get out of bed and take a cold shower because now I’m nursing a situation again. At ease soldier, damn. 

When I get back she’s sitting up in bed, yawning. A stew of fear and the feeling of yielding to her taking space in my life stirs in me.

“What?” she asks.

“Nothing,” I shrug, and hide my betraying eyes with the closet door while I fish out a pair of sweats and a t-shirt. “You’re awake. Breakfast?”

She nods.

In the kitchen I bend over the fridge and examine its contents. There are eggs and juice. I could make toast to go with that, but then she might see how much I want her to stay. I could make her tea. Tea and toast? I scratch my beard. Tea and a bowl of cereal. Yes, that’s passable.

I serve it to her in bed, where she’s hugging her knees to her chest under the covers.

“Are you okay?”

She’s embarrassed by the passing out incident. It gave me a scare but it was no trouble at all, so when she starts crying into her cereal a real moment of panic seizes me. I don’t understand. Did I do something wrong? Does she feel violated? She says she’s all right, that they’re just tears of joy which perplexes me because I never had a girl cry in joy over something I did. I feel the stew stirring inside me again when I realize it’s possible I have undone the stitches of her exterior and found my way into the places she lets no one in.

Okay.

I hold her for a while and then we eat quietly when she’s settled down. Her eyes are gleaming now and I’m grateful for the comfortable silence because I’ve got the feels and I need time to process, unsullied with words.

She keeps me company while I do the dishes, leaning against the sink facing the living room while I face the window. She doesn’t leap at the chance to demonstrate her homemaking prowess and I don’t ask. She seems like she would appreciate a man who can take care of himself more. When I start rinsing, she senses she’s in my way and starts walking around, taking in the place.

Her fingers trail over the books stacked next to my laptop on the dining table where I was studying for my interview. Then she rifles through a bunch of magazines under the coffee table that I pick up at the airport. She is delighted to find one that she peruses to a page with a photo of a hotel resort in the Mara.

“This one is mine,” she shows it to me. “I took it last year.”

Then she puts it back, wanders to the window, and looks out at what I see on the odd nights I am too jetlagged to sleep. It’s a clash of concrete and nature out there – new real estate developments are coming up every day. She doesn’t step out onto the balcony because she’s still only wearing my t-shirt. She ambles back to my laptop and presses the spacebar. It powers up with a chime. I set aside the bowls I’m rinsing and wipe my hands on a towel, go over to her and run my finger on the fingerprint reader. The music I was listening to comes on and her face lights up right away.

“No way! This is what you were listening to?”

Lucius, an indie pop band, is singing about one more try at a happy life to the strumming of a guitar that makes me want to teleport to a hammock on a beach.

“Yeah. I was listening to it yesterday afternoon.”

She nods, impressed. “I love this song. I like this kind of music.”

I’m surprised. “I thought you were those jazz and whiskey types. You were always at these jazz things with your lad –”

“First of all, he wasn’t my lad. Stop saying that. And you know I like vodka, not whiskey. And secondly, so were you.”

“Well yes, but only because my friends liked those spots.”

“So did mine.”

“I will need proof in form of a playlist,” I say.

She laughs, then pads away to get her phone from the bedroom. She reemerges, hooks it up to the stereo and plays an acoustic version of the same song I was listening to. Now we’re going through her playlist together and the dishes are lying forgotten in the sink. She’s got these old songs on there that I haven’t listened to in eons. We talk about where we were when we first heard each song and make fun of each other. I’m so happy listening to them with her, I feel like I found money in a coat I haven’t worn in years. I have an inkling every time I hear these songs again, I won’t remember the first time I heard them.

I’ll remember her.

Eventually she glances at the table clock, gets real quiet then asks for a towel to shower. She wants to leave, won’t overstay her welcome, but it’ll be an empty Sunday if she does. Her presence is so potent it changes the composition of every room she walks into. Now my house is unrecognizable to me without her in it.

I rummage through my travel bag and find souvenirs from my flights – open-toe, cotton slippers embroidered with my first airline’s logo, a robe, towel, toothbrush and miniature hotel shampoo. She takes the items and lingers at the door a long moment, during which I begin wondering if I left something out. Or does she need tampons?

“What’s up? Do you need something else?”

She shakes her head, smiles and heads for the bathroom. I guess she’s staying then.

“Don’t lock the door,” I call after her.

I finish doing the dishes as she showers and try to bring a semblance of order on the dining table before she gets back.

“So what are we watching?” she says tucking her feet under her thighs on the couch. The robe falls away from her thigh but she tucks it back in. She’s worn my lotion which has taken a feminine tinge on her. I venture next to her the way you would a butterfly resting on a flower, stroke her damp hair and kiss her forehead.

“We have three options. The first one is called ‘Let the Sunshine in’. It’s a French film and we’ll have to read subtitles all through. But on the upside it’s a romantic comedy which I know you’ll like, and we’ll get to feel like cultured film enthusiasts who enjoy foreign films.”

She laughs. “What are the other options?”

“Molly’s Game and –”

“I’ve watched Molly’s Game.”

“Okay, Game night aaaaand Gringo?”

“I haven’t watched those.”

It is now mid-morning but it’s as drab outside as it would be at 6 AM. I pull the duvet off the bed and we settle in to watch all of them.

“Sunday movie marathon,” I say. “Let’s make it a tradition.”

She looks at me with questions in her eyes that don’t reach her tongue so I pull her onto my lap and lock my fingers with hers. It’s one of those cosmic moments where the universe just agrees with you because the music on her playlist is still on and Snow Patrol’s ‘Just Say Yes’ is playing in the background.

“What do I have to say to you, for God’s sake dear,” I sing to her. “Just say yes, just say there’s nothing holding you back…”

Her answer comes in the form of a sweeping kiss and when she looks back at me I know we’re going to be doing what grown folk do, all afternoon.

***

Taste of Mel continues here: Soar.

20

About author

Wanjiru Ndung'u

Wanjiru Ndung'u is a Published Poet and Founder of The Hooting Owl. She is an irretrievable, tea-loving nightowl with an ardor for matters of Personal Development.

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  • karen njagi

    Always look forward to the weekly posts…
    Is Mel African? As in, has she come from a lineage of Africans or she’s white? I always got the impression that she was black and so were her parents until i noted she keeps on washing her hair in the bathroom. Which Kenyan woman can afford to wash her hair every day more so in a strange environment where they have no access to their bagful of hair products?

  • Sash

    I love how soft this bit is; more like when you realize you have fallen in love, but i’m always scared when things go this well that they won’t last.

  • Brian Muguro

    I’m glad I found this blog. You’ve great stories and the vivid description is splendid. I also love the dialogue. What I don’t get it whether the protagonist [not Mel] is a male or female character.