In Fish Hoek Library
The first thing I notice are his hands.
I’m observing this tendency in myself lately – attention to body parts, and what I do or don’t like about them. I have a list of things I couldn’t possibly tolerate in a man … No matter how good-looking or charming he were, I couldn’t bear to come too close to one with wet lips. I would immediately think ‘slobbery’ – no frame of mind to be in prior to closer contact. There are other details on my list, but I can’t for the life of me remember a single one of them.
He is holding a book. Skimming, flicking the pages. I watch his long fingers, the glint of fine blonde hair. The tendons at wrist and thumb stand out in ridges. His hands are smooth-skinned, and very brown. How finely grained his skin is, but I’m sure his palms are hard, even calloused. I have him pegged immediately, as someone who uses his hands in the work he does every day.
I was wrong in that, as it turned out – the work he did, I mean – but right in thinking that his hands would not be soft.
Balancing a stack of books against the shelf, I slot a Kingsley Amis into its space. I stand close to him, so close I can smell him, and realise with delight that what I smell is the hot odour of unscented skin. All I want is to move nearer, but instead I shift my gaze to what I can see of his arms. Here the hair is thicker, and slightly darker.
I stand there watching him, learning him bit by bit, and then he clears cleared his throat and asks, ‘Have you read this?’
We laughed later, over his pick-up line, but all I was aware of then was how much I liked the sound of his voice.
I glance quickly at the jacket cover, wishing, hoping I’ll know the title and have something fascinatingly intelligent to say.
‘No,’ I say, ‘I haven’t.’ I move further down the shelf, and find myself looking stupidly at a Maya Angelou. Although I am no longer inside the magic circle of close contact, I might as well be. My skin is alive – sparks could shoot between us – and the air so electric it seems to crackle. Clichés, I realise, are clichés for a very good reason.
I want to reach out and put my hand over his, just to feel the warmth of his skin. I look away, down at the stack of returned books and thank God for new and interesting acquisitions. At the top of the pile is a book I’ve heard people talking about – The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood. I take a step towards him, and hold it out. ‘I’ve heard this is good,’ I say.
And even to my own ears, my voice is ragged, husky.
‘You growled at me,’ he said, afterwards.