The chococino maker is unplugged. This is an evening for wine. And not any ol’ pressed and fermented grape juice, mind you. Red wine…pinotage, cultivated from one of my country’s finest vineyards.

The first sip of the dark maroon fluid is severe. The experts claim it’s because the wine has not been oxygenated and given time to develop and come into its own. But I know better. I know it’s because it treats everyone stand-offishly and harshly the same. Then it waits.

I took on my doctoral studies, not because of a highbrow desire to express my wits…I barely have any, but to give some effect to a dream that had been floating over my brain like a cloud ever since I worked in a state morgue as a young student. It seemed clear to me that in life there is an unremitting battle raging between two sides. I wanted to be part of the side that brought peace and safety and joy. And furthering my studies seemed like the shortest cut between my dream and its realization.

Naive? You bet your bum.

Wine waits patiently for those brave enough to take a second sip. But it remains suspicious. It gives you just a sense of fruitiness…maybe a bit of berries…but it holds back its best because it wouldn’t give itself to those less deserving, those who grimace and those who demean.

Four experts were lined up to assess my final academic project. Three experts lauded my efforts and called me an ace. But my heart beat only for the fourth. The fourth assessor is the hero of my field. Keep her from doing her final exam and save her the humiliation, was the Fourth’s final opinion. I cried, sitting on the cold tile floor in my kitchen. The Fourth’s report was scathing and meant to draw blood. Thirteen pages of gruesome condemnation.

Every sip of wine reveals something more about itself. The experts would have you believe it’s because of the vineyard…the angle of the vines to the sun, the composition of the soil, the nature of the grape… I beg to differ. There is magic in wine. At least the wine in my country. Too much human touch goes into making it. As the wine gets to know you, it changes. It allows you to see where it came from. It allows you to see who it really is.

In the end, the Fourth voted for me to obtain my degree. But the sting has never gone. And it’s been 7 years. Tonight I start a new research project as I’ve done plenty of times before. And my mind, the Great Judas, reminds me gleefully of my shortcomings, described in horrific detail by someone I admired. So, tomorrow I’ll pile other things on my research project…as I’ve done plenty of times before. And in a few weeks I would have forgotten about my research…as has happened plenty of times before.

My study supervisor had said to me then that politics in academe is so harsh because there is so little at stake. I don’t know if that’s true. What I do know is that I feel like a glass of red wine. Maybe a merlot. And the first taster grimaced in disgust and called me stale.

Maybe I’ll come back one day. Maybe time will toll me against the wooden insides of a barrell until I’m sharp and strong and my flavours mix together like heaven. Maybe my self-doubt will mature into a chocolatey after taste that would never have been there had it not been for the suffering.

Maybe…maybe one day I’ll be like a fine wine, drank all the way to the bottom…

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