The guy sitting next to me is odd and not just odd, but scarily odd. I secretly wonder if he is a lizard; he has such a reptilian coolness about him. Clad in his well-pressed grey suit, his pale face devoid of any emotion, there is an uncanny stillness about him. Oh, perhaps he is a ninja lizard and he has been especially trained to never show emotion; always be one step ahead (yes, I like this version very much). I smile at my creation of the ninja lizard man and as he spies my expression, he seems deeply concerned (but perhaps me grinning like a fool trying to hold back laughter is a cause for concern). Before I can consider if I am being too harsh on ninja lizard man (or what kind of food a ninja lizard eats), we are both summoned. As we are greeted warmly, I wonder what kind of an odd pair we make, ninja lizard man stoic and calm, and me, looking on the verge of lunacy with a stupid grin on my face. I also wonder as we walk towards our interview rooms, which one of us is more “employable” (if I was recruiting, ninja lizard man would have fascinated me beyond measure, I would have employed him just for the opportunity to study him).
Much later that day, my nephew hands me his newest creation, a dinosaur; a carefully constructed, fragile looking thing held together with white tape. Before I can contemplate how impossibly cute my nephew’s semi toothless smile is, I am reminded of ninja lizard man. The memory of him suddenly makes me uncomfortable, my collar too high, the fabric scratching at my throat, my shoes too restrictive, suffocating my feet. The dull ache from pulling my hair too tight threatens to spread and sharpen around my temples. I have an inescapable need to be outdoors, to take off my shoes and feel the ground beneath my feet. I look at the random pieces of taped cardboard in my hands and wonder when it stopped being a dinosaur.
Let’s see, I could blame my family and my past (the easiest and most convenient cop out). Growing up in Durban, surround by a predominantly Indian community, a decision to study law, medicine or engineering (you know, to make sure I could get a “good job now that the blacks are getting all the jobs”) was hardly unconventional. So, I pulled out the cookie cutter and thought I would craft myself a career in the field of engineering; any other dreams, like my toys from childhood, were packed away to be given to someone else, I had lost use for them. That being said, I cannot claim that I was pushed into my choice, in all honestly, having completed high school, I had no idea what the right choice was. The window through which I saw the world was impossibly small and my sight of the opportunities available to me, even smaller. I knew that I had to get a job, be self-sufficient but I had no idea what my purpose was, I knew what to do, I just didn’t know why. Months became years and soon it was easy to believe that doing something well is the same as wanting to do it. Before you know it, you’re waiting to be interviewed alongside ninja lizard man.
Maybe it’s normal, to come to this point in your life, to take stock and feel like you have somehow failed a test you didn’t know you were taking. I didn’t want to be compared to ninja lizard man; I knew I would be found lacking. More dangerously, I didn’t want to be compared to ninja lizard man for fear that we were indistinguishable. I knew that if I needed to I could throw on his scales and that I could wear them well. I knew that day after day the scales would become more comfortable, beautiful even. There is no fear in this play acting, but maybe what scared me was that one day the pretending would stop; one day I would know how to be him more than I knew how to be me.