I have never been good with numbers. Maths; yes, but numbers as entities do not stick in my head. They float away before I can grasp them, and become muddled. When I used to work at the restaurant, closing the till on a late Saturday night required extra concentration, lest I fall into my old poor counting habits: 20, 40, 60, 80, 100 ; 20, 40, 60 80, 200 ; 20, 40, 60, 80, 300 ; … ; 20, 40, 60, 80, 700 ; 20, 40, 60, 80, 200 ; 20, 40, wait no… (2s and 8s have always felt the same to me).
I hate when people read phone numbers to me, always skipping too fast over the sequence, not pausing long enough for me to grasp what the number is and then re-formulate it; translate it from thought-image to written figure. I can do high-level mathematics, and working out budgets and savings or debt interest has never been an issue, but I avoid thinking of life in terms of numbers because it just gets too confusing.
And so – whilst I can tell the time – I find myself struggling with larger time-bound markers which are expressed in numerical form. I struggle with years, ages, and even months (did something happen in March or May ; June or July? The numbers are basically the same and their names too are similar).
And that’s basically how I lost my early twenties.
It started with the year of 21sts. Mine was at the beginning of the year; front-loading the celebrations and acting as a warm-up for the festivities to come. The rest of the year was a haze of work-days and uni assignments punctuated by weekends suffused with top-shelf booze, bizarre costumes, and nostalgic music. In what felt like the same year (but was really the following), I completed my final year of undergraduate and decided to move to Melbourne – a city which was strange to me, and in which I had no one: I shall be anonymous for at least a year, I thought. To justify what I thought would be my incredibly brief séjour to this ephemeral city I enrolled in an Honours degree, since it’s easier to meet people at a university (or so I believed at the time). For the first time in my life, I found that I had to buckle down and study hard and what with my studies and the distractions of a new town and new friends, that 9 months just flew by.
At the end of the Honours degree, I decided to take a brief break which somehow turned into 5 months back-packing in South America and a 3-month road trip through the USA and Niagra Falls/Montreal (it seems weird to say ‘Canada’ when I only went to two places).
Although I had sworn-off the academic life after the raging stress of Honours, this time travelling gave me enough space from it that I decided that undertaking a year-long Masters degree in Comparative Literature was just what the doctor ordered (spoiler alert: the same thing happened post-Masters, but I still ended up doing a PhD – can’t wait to see what I decide to do next…).
So in between the Americas and the Masters, I returned to what-is-now-home (Melbourne) where I met my partner’s extended family for the first time. They are truly wonderful people, and from the start we hit it off, finding shared interests in literature, philosophy, and a general approach to life. As the conversation turned towards the more personal, my partner’s cousin asked me:
‘How old are you?’
‘I’m 21.’ I told her, without needing to think about it.
There was an awkward pause as my partner turned to stare at me.
‘Kali,’ my partner said, with a look of genuine concern and confusion, ‘You’re 25.’