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  • Falling in love is easy for some, an utter impossibility for others. Nobody has ever been able to uncover the secret of love, what it is, when it happens, and whether it exists at all. It often hurts: the beauty, the nostalgia, the loss. When you love something ugly, the hard realization that love is a selfish act in itself is soothed by the thought that if you did not love it, noone else would. A temporary exaggeration, a juvenile infatuation, you think. You lull yourself in fuzzy, false security, and in no time, you have already fallen too deeply to ever get out again.

    That is when you catch yourself admiring her savage outline from a distance. You approach her silhouette to touch the dirty, chipped skin with an an endearment and familiarity unknown to you before. You adore how she gives herself to you when you ascend her highest tip and look down at her spread out before you. You lose yourself in her many winding paths. You love her many faces and personalities, her harshness and even her complete ignorance of you. She has become your home, and everything they sing in love songs is true.

    You decide to surrender to the itchy mosquito bite that is love and scratch it till it bleeds.

    It has happened to me once: I fell for an ugly city. And it has been happening over and over ever since. And now, here I am, in the middle of a concrete closed-off highway of another ugly city on a Sunday, admiring the framing high rise buildings with Plexiglas in place of necessary real-glass windows, the graffitied, aligned but awkwardly bent, lamp posts, the torn fences and patches of old grass infested with cigarette buds that peek through the concrete road. The runny traces of spray paint marks under another ugly pichação. The precious public spaces, so rare that they are much fought-over or totally abandoned. The dreadlocks of Rastafarians selling their wooden jewelery at the street corner. The random strangers who become as close to you as your family. The drops of sweet, colored Popsicle water running down your finger, dripping onto the asphalt below. The rugged beggar who, crunched at a street corner next to his affairs, looks up at you with a hundred questions in his eyes. The jungle of differing house heights in the distance. The dodgy police stopping you at the side of the road that you may or may not have to bribe. The shifting of objects and persons on the public bus. The way the polluted indigestion of the city colors in the sky in pink and red at night. The rubbish bins filled to the rim. The old lady at the neighbor’s house who is always on the balcony, leaning over the railing as if waiting for something. The flickering lights of a tv in the opposite building at night. The bright eyes of a child in a baby carriage on the metro.

    In all that you admire what’s at the bottom of it all. It is ridiculously perfect because of its profound imperfection. Its ugliness is nothing but life. And you love it.

    How could you not?

    To my first city love, Johannesburg, and the ones to come.

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