- One kilogram of tomatoes. Not too ripe. Not too red. Plump but not too soft, so they keep for longer.
I grab the bag and put it in the empty trolley. You’re running late, again. We were supposed to meet outside the supermarket at six pm. I waited five minutes and decided to start our weekly shopping without you then sent a cold text: You’ll find me inside. I insisted on us doing this almost weekly. There was an odd joy and comfort I found in us shopping together, like date night. We forged a particular bond when we argued about how to pick the perfect collection of fresh produce: you believed it was best to feel them with your hands, for firmness. My selection was based on the sell by date or the saturation of its colour. Both methods lacked scientific consideration, but we revelled in them regardless. We agreed we didn’t know how best to store them – do tomatoes go in the fridge or on a vegetable rack at room temperature? We did this every Tuesday after work, at the shopping complex near our apartment. It’s the same complex with the restaurant where you introduced me to your siblings last December. We had exchanged pleasantries over the phone, but I finally met them in that small restaurant, in a small mall. I anticipated an extensive interrogation, but it turned into a gratifying day of your mischievous childhood tales, countless bottles of wine and glee. My stage fright immediately paled a few moments into meeting them. Your sister felt like a pineapple, prickly exterior that housed a robust, sweet spirit. Your brother reminded me of an onion, unremarkable on sight but casing layers of personality that fell away the more comfortable he felt. You all shared the uncanny ability to be hard and soft with a sultry ease.
- An Assortment of fresh herbs. Basil. Rosemary. Thyme. Coriander.
They’re on special at R9.95 each. I grab them one by one. I turn each packet around, inspecting them prudently because they don’t go for a discounted price unless something is wrong with them: either wilting or past their own sell by date. I hate rosemary, I can’t shake its velvet herbaceous taste that reminds me of the large, green bar soap my mother used to bathe us with as children. Maybe I also hate rosemary because it is yours. I am jealous at how it adheres to your will to be aromatic and flavourful whenever you use it. Under my will, it scorches and becomes herbal soap. Basil and thyme were mine, especially in my ornate gin cocktails – herbs always made the drink taste like green exhaled into it. Coriander is always a perfect flourish for your curries and for those chicken balls you like to crank out on weekends as a snack. I decide we will make curry for dinner tonight. I look around, hoping to see you walk towards me. I briefly wonder where you might be or what is keeping you. I scan the grocery list, neatly written in the black notebook we kept on top of the fridge ‘out of the way’ as you said. The list wasn’t as long as I thought. Every week, our list actually looked the same as the previous because we like to cook similar dishes, like the boring couple we had become over the past four years. We didn’t mind, our banality is reassuring. I throw the notebook back into the basket of the trolley, I’d be done soon hopefully. The linoleum floor squeals under the scratch of the wheel, as I turn away from the herbed fridge.
- Three knobs of garlic. Always fresh, never crushed. Pungent but not overbearing.
I tear off the clear paper-thin plastic from the roll, and I wet my finger to open it. I knot it loosely and chuck them in. We normally weigh all the produce once we are done with this section, then head for meat and dairy. After that, we plod along aisle by aisle depending on what is on the list that week. Some days when you’re not up for the drudgery of meandering around the lengthy passages of things, you stay in the car while I float along alone. It was on one of those days when you were insulated in the car that I first saw him. I was picking out peppers when he walked up next to me. I saw the profuse blue of his suit, the tender white of his shirt and the dusty brown of his belt and shoes, then I saw his hands. His fingers crumpled around the orbs of onion on the next pile that crinkled loudly under his touch, as he threw some into his own clear paper-thin plastic. My gaze climbed up to his face. I looked at his lips, his slight smile was just like yours – the pleat of your lips curved with a similar ascent. All his jagged architecture glinted under the supermarket lighting, begging to be looked at. So I obliged and kept looking. The fit of his clothes, how his globular biceps embraced the blue cotton threads that nuzzled them, or the way his thighs dilated against his pants. I wanted to touch the inviting hardness underneath. A rise and fall I wanted to trace by mouth. Amongst the foothills of fruit and vegetables, I shamelessly lusted after these unclothed parts of him. When he noticed my gaze, his dimples hollowed themselves between us as he smiled at me again. That smile and its familiarity yanked me from my salacity. Embarrassment teeming on my face, I quickly pushed my trolley away from him and didn’t even get the peppers. You and I fucked that night, but I was fucking the man in the blue suit, cultivating myself into his heaving landscape. I imagined the hills and troughs of his broad back as my hands traversed up and down your damp back. I wondered if the valley that was the small of his back had a perfect transition into the smooth curved summit of his ass, the way yours did. That night, I wasn’t fucking you.
- Two bunches of spinach. A heartfelt green. Heavily soiled stalks.
Shredding the petals away from the stalks is an unusual pleasure of mine. To rip something from the only home it’s ever known made me feel thunderously powerful like a monsoon, then watching chlorophyll bleed all over my sink like a burst river over earth. This is why I rarely buy cut spinach that is ‘washed and ready to use’ because I want to feel like a small storm in our kitchen. Bunches in the front announce themselves to me with their yawning staleness as I approach them. I put my arm to the back of the fridge to pull out some that are hopefully less fatigued. I pick two I consider closest to crisp than the others. We fought about how untidy you are last night, maybe that’s why you’re late today. You were retaliating by not showing up. You’d come home, take off your shoes at the door and put them neatly to the side but a shirt could land on the back rest of the couch or your pants on the bedroom floor. It made me question your rationality, or maybe I was just more fastidious than you. I don’t want to bring the outside in. Shoes carry too much of the outside. That’s why I leave them at the door you chimed back at me. I stomped away, your pants bunched in my arms, wanting to shake you like soiled spinach. They never tell you or post the annoying bits of living with a lover; that he leaves empty cartons of milk in the fridge, how he leaves the toilet unflushed sometimes, how he ultimately turns your bedroom floor into a land mine of food crumbs and clothing, but the difficulty of it all – you are never alone because his spirit takes up every room. But good love requires cohabitation as a measure of its growth. As our love spread, the desire to share a home to prove our love was sincere blossomed with the same urgency. So we moved in together.
- A box of ruby grapefruit. Pectin clad. Perky citrus.
These are not on our list. It’s a sudden craving upon seeing them there, looking like a pile on of many yellow moons. I look forward to slicing one in half, carving around the segments, dusting it with a bit of brown sugar and spooning out each one. My father used to have his grapefruit like this. My brother and I would watch him carefully slice into it, then settle into the recliner that was strictly for his use only. He always ate one half, and always offered the other half to us. Mom hated citrus. He would let each segment sit on his tongue, his palate singing under the muddle of sweet and juicy pink while his cheeks sank into tiny basins due to its bitterness. When our father brought out the whisky or cajoled fruit in this way, we knew we were in for some fermented wisdoms. Always beginning with the instruction, let me tell you a story, boys and always ending with the question you heard me, boys? No one demanded our attention like he did and we adored submitting ourselves. We were two young boys, in awe of this big, illusory god. I make a quick note to give the parents a call soon. There are always items that woo us in the store. The budget, no matter how tight, requires some extra room for such items. The grapefruit are my nostalgic purchase today. I check the time, six thirty-five. You still haven’t arrived.
- A tray of twelve skinless chicken breasts. Stacked striated muscle. Blobs of white meat.
Our freezer is actually packed with a variety of rimy meats, chicken is the only addition we need this week. After bumping into each other many times, the man in the blue suit and I became friends, of sorts. With time, I fervidly waited for Tuesdays. Especially ones without you, so I could be with him. If I was with you, then just to greet him was my acme. He was the one who told me that Tuesdays were the best days because they reduced prices on multiple products. This allowed stock to move faster that day to create space for the fresh stock that got delivered on Wednesday morning. We had chosen a good day to do our groceries it seems. And, I had chosen the perfect day to meet him. I thought about him now. He told me he came back to the supermarket the next Tuesday, around the same time hoping to see me again. I dragged myself around hoping you’d show up. You did, but you were with him, he confessed over the phone, I had psyched myself up to talk to you that day. I thought it was romantic. To sit in someone’s mind so achingly, that they return to the site they first saw you to find you again so you sit in them more comfortably, by telling them your name. He eventually had approached me and asked for my number a few Tuesdays after. I shouldn’t have given him my number. This led to a flurry of communication between us: morning texts, midday calls, goodnight messages and even e-mails in-between. He gave me new attention effortlessly, while your attention suddenly felt sluggish and stale. The communication was inebriating, my gaze shifted to him and interrupted how I loved you. When you asked me one night who kept making me smile like that, I lied and said it was my cousin, as I threw my phone back on to the table. I quickly straddled you to lull your mounting suspicion. I guess infidelity begins with giving the best parts of you to someone else, while you become unfamiliar to the one who shares your bed every night.
- A litre of extra virgin olive oil. Organic good liquid fat. Treacly frying fuel. Sometimes hair moisturiser.
I always consider olive oil unnecessary. Normal, sunflower with its golden twinkle is sufficient for me but not for you. I could never understand why the olive oil seemed to disappear quickly until I realised you also used it for your deep hair treatments. Our whole kitchen is either on your body or hair, I teased one Saturday morning during breakfast, from the olive oil, to starchy white rice water, mashed avocado and honey turmeric masks. We buy groceries for your nourishment and your vanity, I goaded further. I just love myself more than you love yourself, that doesn’t make me vain you countered. We both laughed and you kissed me on the forehead. I love that you take care of yourself in this devotional manner because I am a bare minimum groomer who lacks your dedication. It was you that had snuck sunscreen into my face moisturiser because the SPF was not high enough for your liking. What I did enjoy were the days you offered to wash my hair. We would enter the shower together, then you’d stand to my side while the water drenched all around us. You’d gently wet my hair, then squirt your Cantu Shea Butter shampoo on to your hand. With a temperate deftness, you’d lather my hair. As white bubbles gently scraped my scalp of impurities, you’d complain about how tangled my hair was, while I winced when your fingers caught themselves in my impenetrable keratin forest. I never wanted to admit it to you, but my hair felt treasured after you worshipped it with your hands and expensive products. We would rinse everything off and the final steps would be the deep cream leave-in conditioner and hair oils post showering. Even more pleasurable were the times when we got up to wash my hair but we just ended up fucking once we took our clothes off, thrust against pelvis. I grab two bottles of the oil from the shelf, and place them on top of the tray of chicken. One for your hair and one for the kitchen. I check the time once more, ten minutes before seven. You still haven’t arrived. The supermarket gasps with an absence, not only of you but also of customers today. There were usually more people at this time during month end, also passing by after work. Some with that night’s dinner on their minds, some shopping for the month and some avoiding going home. Sometimes, just brushing past people is remedy enough.
- Two bottles of wine. A Cabernet Sauvignon for you. A Chenin Blanc for me.
We always have wine with dinner. I prefer the lightness of white wine and you, the sturdiness of a red on your palate. I wonder if the choice of drink reflects our spirits. Now and then, I’d watch you sway across the kitchen while you cooked and wonder if your spirit was the same as red wine. If it stains teeth and leaves your tongue two coloured. The man in a blue suit preferred whisky like my dad. His spirit burns chests and considers itself wise. One Tuesday, we were sitting in his car, in the parking lot. We were catching up about our week, he bemoaned his micromanaging boss, I complained about my ass-licking white colleague. Laughter boomed, the swing of our bodies rattled the car. I didn’t even realise his hand had slipped into mine, as our heads tilted back in sweeping delight. When it feels easy, the body follows like the acolyte it is. I unbuckled my hand from his and suggested we go in. The need to escape those four doors of want suddenly felt pressing, because somewhere between him and you, I knew what happened next. I reached for the door to get out, and his arms braced me from my attempted escape. Please don’t go, he pleaded. The static from the radio bellowed like the anticipation in my head as I settled back into the passenger’s seat. I grabbed his face and kissed him for the first time. He opened his mouth to receive my tongue, deliberate and delicious. The condensation that gyred in his cavity was an inevitable encounter. I hated that it tasted better than I had imagined, and I loved that he didn’t kiss like you. His mouth faded in and out of tenderness but never relinquished its taut, erotic wetness. Even though your lips ascent the same, they kiss with a different velocity. I also wanted to reach for his body, to plough the landscape I remembered from that first day I saw him, to find out if his soil was fertile enough to sow myself into or if I could gently mount the stiff hill between his legs. The same way I mounted yours that night after first meeting him. But he stretched as far as my hand could reach over the hand brake to him. Breathing suddenly felt like interrupted kissing. We kissed until his breath splattered oxytocin inside my head and in my loins. Our faces swirled hard and quick, but a viscid guilt unglued me from his mouth. I exhaled. This can’t happen again, I uttered. I galloped out of the car like a horse with a burning tail, shuffling myself back into being yours as I imagined you rushing here. He never came into the shop that day. When you arrived, you found me inside, tucking my remorse under groceries and zealous cooing. This was four months ago, and you’re running late again today.
- Two packets of penne rigate. Extruded starchy cylinders. Perfect ridged vessels.
The last item on the list. I throw two packets of whole wheat pasta into the trolley. This again was your influence. I didn’t care much about the health benefits of food, but you were so particular I obliged. I swerve the trolley around and make my way to the tills, avoiding a further dive into the store, which might lead to other temptations. I thought about the kiss. I had vowed to myself that I’d never tell you, but it left me in crisis. I knew I loved you. But that kiss diluted me in unexpected ways. I always imagined that when you’re with someone, there was no room for anyone else, but the man in the blue suit was undoing that learnt belief. He moved in a space that you didn’t, in parts of me you didn’t reach. The same way you were in parts of me he could never swim in. The furious comparisons seemed pointless, you were dissimilar like earth and sky. One the home of rain and celestials, the other a home of roots and ancestors. The possibility of being with neither of you crosses my mind as I roll up to a free till with no queue. I offload the contents of the trolley. I grab the two shopping bags that I brought from home. She begins scanning the groceries, as I awkwardly stare at her colourful nails. We briefly exchange shy pleasantries – easy conversation fits you better than I. I toss the bags into the trolley and head for the exit. As I approach the parking lot, I finally accept that you weren’t coming today. Maybe you decided to leave me because we were different over the past few months. Maybe you were in a car crash and bleeding to death in an ambulance. I didn’t know.
Not part of the list. Unnecessarily large parking lots, where did I park, stalling trolleys. Home time. The man in the blue suit leans on the back of my car in the parking lot. But today, he is in a grey suit and his ever present white shirt. I have kept contact with him to a minimum since the kiss. I feared liking it again. I feared the possibility of digging myself deeper into his body. The stained villainy of my actions was a living ghost in my mouth and hands. Even though my true villainy began with the first lie. I am not sure what made me more a villain, the kiss or the fact that I had no regret. He waves at me, as he lifts his back from my boot. He slits his face into a smile like always as if I haven’t been trying uncouple myself from him since our mouths met. He offers to carry some of the groceries and I politely decline his offer. What are you doing here? I ask, opening the back door. I didn’t want to stop moving in his presence in case I become still enough to receive him again, so I shuffle more than I should. Movement is safest. I wanted to see you. You haven’t been responding to my messages since I asked you to be with me, he says. He had blurted it out so easily, but his conviction had numbed me into inertia and avoidance. You make leaving sound so simple. It’s so much more than just that…We are good together I tell him and myself, as I toss the groceries in the backseat. We can be better, you’re just comfortable there he declares, never faltering. I slam the backdoor and look at him. That was possible, that he could be better, that he doesn’t leave clothes on the floor or flushes the toilet every time. That he is more fun or makes more money. But better also comes with new irritations and new rules. At least where I was, I had acclimatised, and starting that process again was work I was not interested in right now. I can’t do this. I am not sure I want better right now, anyways. I get into the car before he can say or do something else. He stands quietly next to my car. Not moving, like the mountain he is. I start the car, hoping that will stir him into movement. We hang in the silence, a brief stalemate. When he finally moves back to give me space, I reverse the car out. Quickly. As I drive out, I see him from the rear view mirror slowly walk away to his car, his back still wide and attending away from me for what felt like the last time. My phone vibrates, and I see your name.
I was so tired.
Come home already, I’m waiting for you. I’ve started dinner, I’m making curry.
It delights me that we both had curry on our minds or maybe it’s the cold weather guiding you. But your horrible communication annoys me. That’s where you were, just at home. Not dead in some car crash or packing to leave me. I fling the phone onto the passenger seat in rightful annoyance and undeserved gratitude.
When I leave the parking lot, I take the long way home.
is a writer, journalist and ex-scientist. He is the non-fiction editor at Doek! Literary Magazine. Follow him on @Zion_SD on Twitter.