I had forgotten about the bottle of cologne I noticed on my dresser. It was pushed towards the back behind small piles of random clutter. I don’t usually wear cologne but when given this bottle as a gift I thought why not, I’ll use it. I promptly forgot about it until a few weeks ago when the bottle caught my eye. The box it came in said it was a fragrance full of alluring notes of bergamot, juniper, with a hint of cedar.
I never wanted to smell like a tree.
Still, I took off the top and sprayed a little in the air to sample the alluring notes. Once my coughing fit subsided, I recapped the bottle and decided it smelled nice after all. I would wear a little to work the next day.
Before leaving to catch the bus, I gave myself just a spritz of tree essence. It wasn’t bad. I boarded the bus and took my usual seat. With the bus nearly full by the time it gets to my stop, I’m normally left with the one empty seat beside a very old man. I assume he parks cars for work because he only wears uniforms with the logo of a well-known nearby parking garage. Every morning he reads the paper and although he usually looks up to give me a “good morning” nod, he never actually speaks.
He spoke the day I wore cologne.
I sat down and reveled in the hint of cedar wafting about. That’s when the old man looked up from his paper and began sniffing the air much the way a dog would if bacon were frying in the kitchen. Actually, much the way I would if bacon were frying in the kitchen. The old man turned to look at me.
“Nice.” he said as he looked back down at his paper. I noticed he had an accent of some sort which I detected through his deep gravelly voice.
He said it was nice. Well there you go. Trees do smell good then. I continued to revel in the hint of cedar all the way to work.
I spritzed each morning for about a week. Every day the old man would sniff the air and in his accented voice give me a “Nice.” or “Good.” By the end of the week he even said, “I like it.” The cologne was nice but after a few more days I tired of the daily blast of bergamot and decided to see if the old man might like to have the remainder of the bottle. I didn’t want to offend him by offering but since the extent of our communication after three years had only been head nods and cologne compliments, I was pretty sure he would take my offer at face value.
The next morning I boarded the bus with the bottle of cologne in a clear plastic bag. I sat down beside the old man and debated whether I should ask him if he’d like to have it. I saw him glance towards me and sniff the air, searching. I hadn’t spritzed. I had simply packed the cologne in the bag. As he continued his occasional searching sniffs, I pulled the cologne out of my coat pocket.
“Would you like this?” I asked, waiting for either no response or an immediate cursing from an insulted old man.
He looked down at the cologne and in that deep gravelly voice said “Yes” with an accent I still could not figure out. He took the cologne, put it in his coat pocket, and continued reading his paper.
Well at least he didn’t curse me, I thought as I looked through the windows to see how close we might be to the next bus stop. That’s when I heard his voice again.
“How much?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t want money. You can have it if you want it.” I said, embarrassed that old man must have thought I was trying to sell him a used bottle of tree sap.
“No. How much I use?” he clarified.
“Oh. Just a spritz.” I said as I automatically raised my hand to demonstrate in the air. I pumped one finger up and down and absent-mindedly “air spritzed” pretty much all over myself. That may have been the mistake. Or perhaps the word “spritz” is not easily translated into the language he normally spoke.
As I waited for the bus the very next morning I was anxious to see if the old man had used the cologne. It would be my turn to sniff the air. As the bus pulled up and stopped to let me board, I wondered if the heat inside was on too high because I saw two open windows and several people fanning the air. In fact, one woman near the seat I normally take was actually covering her face with a handkerchief.
The bus door opened and something hit me. A wall of bergamot, juniper, and much more than a mere hint of cedar punched me in the face. My eyes watered instantly as I walked down the aisle to my usual seat beside the old man. I noticed several empty seats around him. There would be no need to sniff the air to search for the fragrance. It had met me at the door and walked me to my seat.
I sat down beside the old man and stared straight ahead. I didn’t know what to say.
He looked up from his paper. “I used it.” he said as he looked directly at me.
“Oh, you did?” I asked politely. I could now actually taste juniper.
He rustled around in his coat pocket and handed me something. “You need this back?” he asked in the accented gravelly voice.
Through watering eyes I looked down to see the now empty cologne bottle in his hand.
“You used all of that?” I asked just before the bergamot began to make my throat close.
“Yes.” he responded as he raised his hand to demonstrate. He did the finger pumping motion all around his body.
“How much?” I asked as a hint of cedar slapped me twice across the face.
“Many, many spritz.” he said, as he turned back to read his paper.
Stuart M. Perkins