Not much has changed. The air is still dense, though a little drier than it should be in December. The drivers still haven’t discovered the need for fourth gear. The roads still leave their signature on your car, every palsied scrawl from a pothole is an autograph from the red-brick city.

I had an idea, so I descended into the city from the mist-wreathed heights of Hilton and made my way to the campus, sighting the clocktower of the OMB already as I crawled down the R103 past ancestral haunts and 15-year-old memories. I parked under the jacarandas, where I’d parked many times before, and ascended the concrete steps to the Cecil Renaud Library.

It was quiet. Too quiet. With only post-grads and a few dedicated (or life-less) lecturers in  attendance, the university is just a shell. There are still two guards in duty at the library, and no amount of sweet-talking will get them to let me in.

“Kumele uye ku-RMS, baba.”

So I followed the familiar paths to RMS, then Student Fees, then back to RMS and finally into the library.

“Please login to use the Library Network”

Well, I haven’t had a login password for 5 years, so what now?

I approach the desk, inhaling the comforting smell of books, linoleum and dust.

She doesn’t recognise me, but I explain my story.

“I’m here because the only copy of my thesis has been stolen. Can I give you my surname?”

It feels weird, I won’t lie. She tells me that there are two copies – one in the reference section, and one on the second floor. She hands me a scrap of paper with the reference number on it.

100 MACK

Once more I ascend, the stairwells reminding me of past indiscretions and obsessions and stress. Once on the second floor, I navigate the stacks until I find myself in 100 – the philosophy section. There, bound in black on the shelf and standing out between MacIntyre’s Against the Self-Images of the Age and MaGill’s Masterpieces of World Philosophy in summary form is my MA Thesis

Against Evil – A comparative study of ancient Greek and contemporary Zulu protective magic

Of course, when presented with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I take a picture. I discover that there have been four occasions in the last five years where someone has needed to read my work, which is flattering to say the least.

Back at the desk downstairs, I discover that there’s no way I can take the book out. I’m no longer a student. As far as they’re concerned, my seven years at the university count for nothing. And it is then, when I’m beginning to feel like this was a fool’s errand, that I see her standing there where she always was, just behind her desk a little way back from the main one. I greet her by name, and she remembers me.

As I gently place the black-covered book on the seat next to me and prepare for the return journey, her trust evident in the January due-date on the final page, I feel justified in the axiom I have dispensed to many of my friends:

“Always make friends with the admin staff”