White flakes float from her head and rest on her collar. Every so often she pats her head like there is no brain to care for inside. More flakes fall down. It’s snowing but it’s not Christmas. She fidgets a lot, as if the dandruff is tormenting her entire being. She walks over and whispers something in your ear but you don’t hear it because all you can sense is her. She smells like a laundry basket and onions. For the first time you note that dandruff has a smell. She giggles and you giggle back even though you haven’t heard a word, the burden of false laughter is lighter than her unbearable presence close to your ear. She walks back to the spot near the stove where she was fidgeting earlier and you breathe again. While she talks, your eyes wander and land on your lap where fresh white flakes have found a place. The same white flakes on her collar and the same white flakes you wake up to in your bed. Your eyes wander up and meet her patting her head while she cooks dinner and bile rises up your throat.
“Mike called when I was at work, he says he needs to talk to me about a new supply deal.” Your lie comes automatically. New deal always translates into new money and she cannot argue with that. She blinks at you without a word, looking for truth in the lines of your face. “I will be back soon Baby, I think I will nibble on something when I am with Mike so don’t leave any food for me. Though it does smell delicious.”
“Sure thing Baby,” She totters over to you, leans in on her tiptoes and hugs you, for a second you feel guilty but the evening breeze drifts by and carries her scent into your nostrils and reminds you to leave.
Baby from her mouth is a title instead of an endearing word. Whatever desire it carried has faded. You dust off her clingy dandruff as you walk down the street, leaving more of her behind with each step. Mike is away on a work trip so though you don’t like to drink alone you walk to the nearest pub. Destiny takes pity on you and your phone vibrates.
“Hi,” Liseli’s voice is like sugar and though her number isn’t saved anymore, you know it is her.
“Hi,” Your throat constricts and that’s all you can manage. It’s muscle memory, everything about her commands you to attention. Liseli knows it almost as well as your body does. In the days handed to her by destiny, she made you thirsty, hungry and then sleepy after you were satisfied.
“I went to Mika Hotel for a workshop and all I could think of while I was there was you and the naughty things we did in room 111.” Each word is coated with memories, confidence and more sugar. “Those aren’t thoughts to have during a workshop,” You add a neutral, nervous laugh.
“Fine, I will confess that I think of you often. Are you happy?” She says.
Even in the darkness you can spot a flake of dandruff on your lapel, you quickly brush it off. Are you happy?
“I am okay, Liseli. I am okay.” It is the most honest answer you manage.
“I love how you say my name.” She purrs. “Where are you Joseph? You sound like you are outside.”
“I am outside, taking a short stroll to the pub.”
“I know how you hate drinking alone, come over and let’s drink together. I miss you.”
Liseli never missed the details. Once her lips form the words, you remember what it was like to be around her. She latched on to every word you spoke, cooked your favourite meals before you devoured each other. Your skin would smell like her jasmine scent long after you left her arms. She burnt ylang-ylang candles and her red finger nails were stuck in your memory. The more you think about her, the more you want to see them grazing your skin.
“Joseph, I have never moved.”
A silence passes over you and you hear the words she doesn’t say; she hasn’t moved on.
“See you in ten minutes.”
The short conversation breathes a new spirit into your bones. Without question, your feet start heading towards Liseli. Why haven’t you felt this excited to go home to the woman you chose? You dismiss the question because in the moment you are not really interested in the answer. You pass through the Super Store on your way and go straight to the personal hygiene aisle. It boggles your mind that the store attendants keep the condoms and lube there next to the roll on and pimple cream. Liseli likes strawberry flavours so your eyes search the aisle for the familiar packaging. Instead they land on a large blue bottle. It’s the words ‘dandruff buster’ that call you. You pick up the bottle and skim the ingredients and instructions. Ayurveda is usually a good thing. The woman on the blue bottle looks fresh and fulfilled so you decide to buy the dandruff busting shampoo. You pick up a pack of strawberry flavoured condoms and head to the checking counter.
The cashier looks at you with laughter in her eyes. You don’t blame her, you would equally be suspicious of a nervous man buying condoms and dandruff busting shampoo at the same time. She rings up the bill and it turns out to cost a lot to bust dandruff. You have a note in your wallet that can get you one item but not both. You ask the cashier if they swipe VISA and she shakes her head. She taps an impatient index finger on the counter as you decide between the condoms and the shampoo. The dilemma finally ends and your decision gives you a new revelation.
You stand outside in the dark waiting for her to open the door. After a while you hear her feet shuffle towards you. She pats her head while unlocking the burglar bar and though you can’t see, you can imagine the dandruff flakes falling to the floor. You ignore her hug and walk past her.
“Baby, I cannot stand any more dandruff in this relationship.”
You slam the big blue bottle on the counter and pray with all your heart that the dandruff buster works because Liseli is angry and she won’t warm her bed in vain ever again.
Mukandi Siame is building a whole new world as a writer and brand strategist. She has a passion for impactful storytelling, fostering her team’s growth and sparking thoughtful discussion. Outside the office, she hosts The Book Review Show on Capital FM in Lusaka and derails conversations at her monthly book club meetings. She was a recipient of the Zambian Women Writers Award for her short story Landing On Clouds and continues to make appearances in anthologies and her personal newsletter.
Related country: Zambia