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  • “Actually,” said Mitch, “you’re quite ordinary.”
    He said it casually, as a matter of fact. As if it were nothing to be ashamed of. I was nineteen, growing up in apartheid South Africa, full of feminist sentiments. Ordinary! He was supposed to be my friend, my ex-lover, and he thought so little of me. I paused mentally, all the time looking nonchalant, hiding the confusion his comment had caused me.

    I was a loner, an outsider, beyond even being a non-conformist. He was implying that - once you got down to it - I was just like all the other people he knew. How was it then, that I felt so strangely out of sync with the world around me? I truly thought I had something special to show the world. I had read books that none of my peers seemed to have any interest in. I questioned things. Politics, social norms, values. I was so very serious. But Mitch was right, I was, ultimately, ordinary.

    Mitch had this endearing way of lifting your spirits. I understood so little of his goodness then. Now I miss it, as if a huge chunk of me withered when he finally gave up and went away forever. Forever, off to New Zealand with his wife, whom I never knew, both fine veterinarians. While I stayed in this place of highveld storms and small , suburban, wired walls.

    I managed to qualify as a librarian. A pretty little book shelver in law firms, consulting firms, accounting firms... Firms all full of eligible men, but none of them like Mitch.

    We were together by the sea for a few years before he left. Students, bunking lectures, lying entwined in my room. I was shy and anxious, he was kind and curious. When he was gone, that was what I missed the most. At least it was the hardest thing to replace.

    Before I met my husband, I would lie awake at night remembering him. I would torture myself, lying there. See - you silly girl/ woman/ old lady, see what you went and lost! When Mitch went, I lost his spirit. I lost the lightness of his being and the moments of forgetting. Forgetting that I couldn’t be conscious for more than five minutes without thinking about food. My strange, ordinary affliction, a consciousness that threads through every ordinary thing I do. When I was ill, I begged to be just like everyone else – ordinary – and fate answered my prayers. Now, I can imagine very few people quite as ordinary as I am.

    After Mitch left, I went off the rails for a while. I finished studying and worked for a year in a stuffy, archaic law firm full of pompous men who made you call them Mister. I had a crush on some stuffy Oxford graduate who ignored me in favour of a wealthy young colleague with a bright future ahead of her. Every time he visited the library, my heart would leap and I would stutter while he patiently waited for an answer, looking through me as I smiled my reply. I was merely there to keep his neat life constant and unaffected by the storms of my librarian-like passion. I was naive and twenty two.

    At twenty three I went to England, the land of my grandmother. I dreamed of finding home. I spoke in curled pronunciation and pretended I was one of them. All in all, I made a right royal idiot of myself. My cousins thought I was a country bumpkin trying to look clever but ultimately I merely came across as desperate and unsophisticated.

    I never managed to stay in England. No ancestral visas for the whiteys back then. We had been expelled from the Commonwealth and even the asylum centre wasn't interested in helping me. What political ticket was I on, anyway?

    So I came back here, to the land of "sunny skies and Chevrolets". Except the people who made chevvies had disinvested... I guess it was kind of like how some Americans felt embarrassed about being American during the George Bush era and were trying to think of other places to go and live. Except there is nowhere else to go....
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