Amidst the amber bottles and fragrant notes, Martin’s fight with COVID-19 revealed the most intimate scent of all: the aroma of time’s passage.
Martin had always prided himself on his meticulous grooming habits. At 45, he was the very epitome of a man who appreciated the finer details. He had never allowed his facial hair to grow for more than a day, believing that a well-maintained visage was a reflection of one’s inner discipline and order.
Every morning, like clockwork, he’d stand before the bathroom mirror, razor in hand, ensuring his face was as smooth as a pebble. But his grooming ritual didn’t end there. Lining the edge of his bathroom counter was a collection of exquisite perfumes, each meticulously chosen for a specific day or occasion. Some were subtle and fresh, ideal for his business meetings, while others were bold and enticing, reserved for nights out with Emma or the rare gala event. There were even scents imbued with the invigorating aromas of the outdoors for the weekends he spent hiking or indulging in his love for nature.
After his shave, he’d carefully select a perfume that matched his agenda for the day. One whiff of the scent and he could predict the day’s mood – be it the serious tones of cedarwood for a negotiation, or the light-hearted citrus notes for a day at the beach. It was more than just a fragrance for Martin; it was a sensory compass guiding him through the myriad moods and moments of his life.
Life, as Martin knew it, had a strange way of tossing unexpected curves. He had just returned home after a tiring day when his phone rang. It was Dr. Hammond, his physician.
“Martin,” Dr. Hammond began cautiously, “the test results came back. I’m afraid it’s COVID-19.”
Martin felt his heart drop, a cold rush washing over him. “Are you certain, Doctor?”
There was a pause on the other end. “Yes, the results were definitive. We need to discuss the next steps.”
Over the next two harrowing weeks, Martin found himself locked in a battle with the virus. There were days when the weight on his chest felt like a pile of bricks, making every breath an arduous task.
Emma, standing outside his quarantined room, would call out to him, her voice filled with concern. “Martin? How are you feeling today?”
Martin would muster as much strength as he could to reply. “It’s… it’s hard, Em. Feels like I’m climbing a mountain without any gear.”
She’d rest her head against the door, fighting back tears. “Just hang on, love. We’ll get through this.”
As the days rolled on, the magnitude of his situation began to weigh on Martin. Lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, he found himself confronting thoughts of his own mortality.
One evening, as the golden hues of the setting sun streamed into his room, he whispered into the phone to Emma, “This illness… it’s made me realise how fragile life is.”
Emma’s voice quivered as she responded, “But you’re strong, Martin. You’ve faced challenges before. You’ll beat this too.”
It was more than just a physical battle; it was a journey that tested Martin’s resilience and will, forcing him to confront the stark reality of life’s impermanence.
During those strenuous days combating COVID, when Martin was confined to his bed, drifting in and out of restless sleep, his dreams often transported him to the sanctuary of his bathroom. In the midst of the feverish haze and laboured breaths, he dreamt of the simple luxuries of his life. The sensation of a long, therapeutic shower, the glide of the razor across his face, and the allure of his carefully selected perfumes.
In one such dream, he was standing beneath the shower, letting the water drench him, each droplet washing away his worries. He could feel the steam enveloping him, comforting him like a warm embrace. The familiar ritual of selecting a perfume after his shave played out vividly. Would he pick the bold musky scent that exuded confidence or perhaps the gentle lavender notes for a soothing touch to his weary soul?
When he finally mustered the strength in reality, Martin indulged in that long-awaited shower. The warmth of the water felt almost surreal, cascading down, washing away not just the grime but two weeks’ worth of exhaustion, uncertainty, and fear. The steam fogged up the bathroom, wrapping him in a familiar cocoon.
Emerging from the shower, a towel draped around him, Martin felt a hint of his old self. But as he stood in front of the mirror to shave, water droplets clinging to his skin, a sense of unfamiliarity settled in. His reflection stared back at him, altered by the ordeal, making him wonder if some dreams and realities are best kept apart.
In the patchy growth of his two-week-old beard were strands of unmistakable grey. It took him by surprise. When had time crept up on him like this? He leaned closer to the mirror, tracing the grey strands with a trembling finger.
“I never saw it coming,” he whispered to himself.
Behind him, his partner, Emma, who was a decade his junior, walked in. She wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her chin on his shoulder, staring at their reflection. “You know,” she began softly, “it’s actually quite distinguished.”
Martin chuckled, feeling the weight of his revelation. “COVID didn’t just attack my lungs, Em. It showed me the passage of time.”
She smiled, “You always looked at the mirror every day, never really seeing. Now you see.”
Martin methodically shaved, each stroke erasing the telltale signs of grey, a temporary relic of his fight with Covid. Yet, as the beard disappeared, other battle scars emerged – the weary bags beneath his eyes, the etched lines marking the hardships endured.
After the final stroke, Martin looked up to meet Emma’s gaze, his face now void of hair but engraved with the indelible lines of his recent past. “You see,” he said with a wry smile, “some battles leave you scarred, even if you win.”
Emma stepped closer, her fingers reaching for a familiar bottle among the collection on the counter. The rich, amber liquid inside shimmered subtly under the bathroom lights. It was the original Gentleman by Givenchy, Martin’s signature scent – a blend of classic and contemporary, much like the man himself.
She handed it to him, her eyes soft with understanding. “Some things,” she whispered, “remain timeless, no matter the battles we face.”
All images generated using Midjourney