My Boyfriend, Basil
I still remember the day we met. It was the beginning of summer, and the afternoon breeze was warm and optimistic. You were hanging out at the local nursery. Your scent so strong, it was intoxicating.
I noticed you first, I mean, how could I not? Tall and elegant with established leaves begging to be ripped off.
I felt my whole body freeze. My mind quickly raced, making a mental checklist, as I secretly watched you from behind the branches of some conifer trees: Is my fringe sitting perfectly parted? I am sure it was blown into disarray when I walked here from the carpark. Please tell me I am not still wearing my baggy, faded leggings that I was doing housework in 45 minutes ago? Does he know I am creepily starring at him? I hope these sunglasses are super tinted.
There was a crowd of admirers gathered around you, mainly couples in active wear, offering you free rent in their pied-à-terre inspired apartments. You’d have 24-hour access to the north-facing balcony. A tempting offer, that’s for sure. But you also risked an untimely Nutri-Bullet death. These people don’t chop, they blend.
You were the type of in-demand man that knew how to reject without offending.
“Me? You don’t want me. How about I introduce you to my friends Rose Marie and Corey Anderson?” you deflected. “They love Thai food and spending Sunday nights watching My Kitchen Rules, just like you.”
It worked. You were alone again.
That’s when you saw me. Well, technically you noticed an awkward ruffle in the conifer section, and shouted teasingly across the nursery aisle, “Connor, are you making trouble again?”
“No, it’s me.”
My friends had warned me about your type. Handsome, versatile and friends with all of the salads. They said you would be a temperamental lover, a little high maintenance, and would only stick around for the summer. This I ignored, because when you know, you know, and I knew.
Our relationship progressed quickly and by the afternoon you already had moved into my apartment.
During our honeymoon period I acted with great haste. I spent a week’s worth of groceries on the top tier organic soil and the entire Yates range of natural pesticides. I was adamant no caterpillar would come between us. I have always been the jealous type.
We spent a few weeks getting to know each other before we took things to the next level. You knew not to talk to me for at least thirty minutes after I woke up, and I knew you preferred 5-6 hours of sunlight a day. In the beginning we were obedient lovers happy to oblige all quirks.
I watered you twice daily, once in the morning and once at dusk. I would rotate your pot at 180 degrees each week to ensure you weren’t receiving a disproportionate amount of sun across your leaves and stems. We called this our little waltz. We were a modern day Ginger and Fred.
By mid-summer you had truly matured. You graduated from pot to planter, new soil and fertiliser was purchased, and we were ready to get intimate. We started slow, a few leaves picked for a Caprese salad. Heirloom tomatoes of course, nothing less for true love.
Then it was a diced bruschetta on a lightly toasted baguette with a torrential downpour of extra virgin olive oil. “If it doesn’t glisten, it’s not worth kissen’,” was your mantra.
I was always anxious when I picked your leaves, afraid I would get too greedy and there would be none of you left. But the more leaves I picked, the larger you grew. We continued to water twice daily, and added a fortnightly pruning session to our schedule.
Next we got experimental. We added you to a peach, rocket and pomegranate molasses salad. We infused cocktails with your leaves when friends came over. You topped pizzas, were thrown into pasta sauces, and added a certain je ne sais quoi to every chicken dish imaginable.
A solid two months passed without any hiccups. We’d survived Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the biggest relationship hallmarks. Ha. Friends, what do they know? Me and my boyfriend, Basil, are made for each other.
Rolling out of bed one morning in February, I checked my phone for the weather, before the usual dash to the watering can. It was bad. A heatwave was coming. The kind of heatwave where grandchildren who never call their grandparents call their grandparents to make sure they are still alive after day five. Basil was in trouble.
We made a plan. There would be three watering sessions a day during the heatwave. The planter was pushed as far into the shade as possible. And the plant itself was to remain intact; no leaves were to be picked during this period. We would present a united front. It was us, against the weather.
Halfway through the heatwave and things were looking dire. There were drooping stems and worse, wilted leaves. By the last day of the heatwave, our love was under attack. The caterpillars had arrived. Translucent holes began to emerge in the once pure green leaves.
When you know, you know, and this time we knew it was the end. The end of summer. The end of us. Only a third of Basil survived. What was once a proud, leafy and fragrant herbaceous bush, was now broken and sad. We knew what we had to do.
I started to reluctantly pick every leaf off Basil, all except one. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry because, well, my cry face is ugly. My lip quivers into a zigzag, and I didn’t want Basil to remember me this way. I wanted him to remember me as the blushing flower in baggy leggings at the nursery.
Back in the kitchen, I rustically chopped the leaves with a Jamie Oliver sensibility. I lightly toasted some pine nuts until they were golden. I grated some fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano until it piled into a cheesy Everest. I thinly sliced a clove or two of garlic, and fried the thin sheets until they were transparent. I mixed everything in a bowl, added the juice of a lemon, and seasoned with cracked pepper and coarse salt flakes. Lastly, I added extra virgin olive oil, glug after glug, until it glistened.
I went outside to say my final goodbye to Basil.
“We’ll always have this Summer,” I said.
“No, we’ll have every Summer,” he replied.
This story was originally published on The Planthunter with illustrations by Alice Oehr.