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My Ten Cents

View from my room

View from my room

Went grocery shopping in Brooklyn and was no doubt a source of amusement to many. Apparently asking for a sim card (I had to repeat “sim” three times and play-act making a phone call) in a pharmacy is akin to crazy. In fact the guy so eye-balled me I lapsed into a mumble of “maybeyoucallitsomethingdifferenthere”…I put emphasis on “here” you know just so the people understand that there are other places and besides Erica said I should ask for the sim card “here”. I asked three different people at the local CVS pharmacy, first guy thinks I’m nuts (he’s the one that eye-balled). Second guy says “it’s in the front” at which point I wonder where that is. So this isn’t “the front”, I think to myself, and try make my face have a corresponding feature.

“The front, the front,” he says again.

So I do the math and work out that this must then be the back…I came in through the back. I then wander and go and find the front. At where I conclude, with my good understanding of geometry, must be “the front”, is a desk with medicine behind it, this is stupid. If I ask these people for a sim card then I’m truly crazy. But I ask and the guy says it’s in the front, gesturing to where I’d come from. He then steps from the desk and walks me back, shouting, to the second man I’d asked, for where they keep cell-phones.

“Cell-phones? But you asked for a sim card,” Number 2 gives me a disapproving look.

“Yes, it’s a sim card I want.”

“Well,” my Number 3 Knight in a white coat, who stepped from his medicines to show me something, says. “You should consider just buying a phone instead of a sim card, you know.”

He looks at me expecting to see a face that appreciates his wisdom. I look stunned as he gestures towards an array of phones.

“It’s better,” he continues.

I decide to smile and nod which is good cause this pleases him and he leaves me alone. At which point I leave the shop.

I go to three grocery stores, it’s a bit like rifling through porn magazines, the way I guffaw at the price each time or like watching a string of horror movies. Oh my goodness a box of tea is fifty rands. A small bag of rice for that price and so on. I move through the colourful aisles swinging my near-empty basket, long contemplations (I spend over half an hour in each store, doubling back many many times) of the purchases as if each were a precious jewel for my sweetheart. In the end I get cornflakes and a box of something I’m hoping is milk, a box of sugar and Oreo cookies (comfort food is essential). In another store I get a small bag of oranges, some lemons and a bottle of water. And in yet another I get a bottle of something called juice (I couldn’t bring myself to buy a box of Ceres for fifty rands. Yes I’m a starving artist who eats Oreos). For today at least (my first day) fifty rands seems to be the very extent of my money-seam. Soon enough the horror movie that made me balk will do little but raise an eyebrow and I’d be buying coconut water for sixty rands and organic potatoes for gold. But still on the first day I get some fingers of ginger, an apple, a mango and a bag of baby carrots. I eat a burger in a restaurant and convulse (I must be getting something out of this, maybe I secretly enjoy it) when I receive the receipt. But the waiter, a middle-aged man with slicked-back hair, is so painfully sweet to me. He mentions that he’d noticed I’d come in an hour ago and walked out again. I’d walked out cause it was too bloody cold inside when outside the sun was intense and beautiful. And after Jo’burg’s winter I couldn’t bring myself to sit in a cold restaurant. A walk around the block (read: lost) got me hot enough within an hour to finally consider the restaurant favourably.

The best is the money. No the best is how people are surprised at what you don’t know about their country. The ticket lady at the subway asks whether I have money on my metro card. I have just taken the airtrain from JFK, and then bought the metro card for nine dollars and ridden to Atlantic Terminal from someplace called Jaimaica Station. I have no clue how much is left so I give her the facial expression to go with that at which point she says check it on the thing-a-mie over there – duh. I do so. Apparently I need a further two dollars and some. No problem. I go to the money in my pocket. Wow. The money. The notes are fine, clearly marked. The coins – and there are many of them – are another story. The quarter is easy enough to figure out. Then the one cent coin. The five cent. Then the dime. And it dawns on me that as familiar as I am with the term “a dime” I actually don’t know what it denotes. Now my scant Italian should have steered me in the right direction but it didn’t, not immediately. I mean it should be obvious right and yes I do feel just a bit stupid but whatever.

My favourite was at the check-out counter where, I guess, I was taking too long and the guy asked to count the money out for me, all the while sharing a knowing look with the customer behind. Hi my name is Yewande, I’m a tall oddity. And when I open my mouth and start to say something the initial expression on the face of the person I am speaking to is confusion – in America I am incoherent.

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