I refused the urge to jump into any counselling session with Prisca even after unbelievably agreeing to let her into my office. There was something about her case that spelled danger and I would be stupid not to sense it. How much danger I sensed was uncertain, but it was there, simmering under the surface. In any case, I needed an entire arsenal to even spend one minute in her presence. The transition from dealing with career choices to tackling sex problems demanded it.
The motto of Boys Scouts came to mind. Be Prepared.
I did, for long endless hours after clearing my schedule so I could pencil her in for a couple of hours the next day and sending her off. The psychology tomes didn’t contain much about human mating behaviour beyond basic Freudian analogies. Texts delving deeper into the darker bits of the S word would have been right on the mark. I swotted up like I was preparing for a test, and the image in my head—of me swotting up texts minutes before a crucial exam—was laughable.
It was no laughing matter when Prisca came the next day, right on schedule. She was dressed much more decently, and had the air of a girl who had spent endless hours ransacking her wardrobe to find clothing that didn’t look like rags screaming sex. She might as well have worn a head-to-toe burqa and still given the impression of being stark naked underneath. The impression came from the awareness in her eyes, a waspish defiant look that said, I am all yours if you want it, so what’s it going to be.
It was going to be impersonal and professional, if it was going to be anything. As I watched her take the seat across from my desk, the deliberately slow ritual she made out of sinking her bottom into the seat, calculated to show off the sleek outline of her outfit, I rigorously told myself I was still unsure why I had agreed to this madness in the first place.
It was well past noon, but her appointment didn’t begin until school time was an hour from ending. Lectures and students were rounding off for the day. Those who’d managed it were spending their remaining time in the faculty internet café and library. Sixty minutes—three thousand six hundred odd seconds—should be ample time for whatever the first day with Prisca brought.
Which was a lot.
She began with a little sketch of her family, concentrating like before on a dead father she didn’t know quite well other than what she saw in photographs, a family fortune he’d left behind and a vivacious mother who’d parlayed the inheritance into even more massive fortune.
Nothing out of place there, I said, thinking about my own family. No comparable fortune, no inheritance. It was impossible, since both my parents had unceremoniously exited Planet Earth in a Santana kissed from behind by a lorry loaded with cement. I never knew that until much later, when Uncle Paul witlessly threw it at me one day as though I had something to do with it. Beyond that, he didn’t elaborate, just managed to sow the seed of uncertainty and endless search inside me. I was already searching my way out of his home before he finally gave me my walking papers.
“There doesn’t seem to be anything out of place about your family life,” I said at last.
I wasn’t swapping tales of childhood woes with Prisca, but the comparison seemed harmless from where I sat.
“You mean, nothing…dysfunctional,” she pressed on.
“You’ve been reading bits of pop psychology?” She wasn’t the first person to spout a handful of psychological jargon before me just to let me know how up-to-date they were on the field. Students routinely came to me ready with an arsenal of puny mumbo-jumbo that ran out in the first four minutes.
“Not really. I was only pressing on whether there could have been something wrong with my family,” Prisca replied. “I mean, it is usually the case with things like this. When someone has a problem, they usually are told to look into the family tree. The worm that eats up the bitter leaf is usually right there in the stalk or something like that.”
“Only in the movies and the proverbs they come with,” I said patiently. In the mean time, I thought up another saw about the apple falling far or not falling far from the tree. My mind focused on the redness and my gaze diverted to the real-life mounds swelling beneath the low neckline of Prisca’s dress. She chose just that moment to shift slightly, and they pushed a fraction higher. I held my breath and concentrated, then released it slowly. “In real life, things aren’t always so clear cut and predictable. Of course, we can always look back to our families to find the source of something we assume to be a problem…”
“I am not assuming, doctor,” she said. “I know I have a problem.”
“Yes, a sex problem.” I repeated the phrase matter-of-factly.
She nodded victoriously, but kept still, waiting for my next comment, her gaze fastened to mine.
I held her gaze challengingly. “Why have you concluded you have a sex problem?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” she questioned.
“Not to me, it isn’t apparent.”
Not to me, it isn’t apparent? Wrong answer. Dead wrong. I was the counsellor, I wasn’t supposed to get involved in her problems, in anyone’s problems for that matter. My opinions were my stock in trade, but they didn’t count—professionally. I wasn’t to make judgements using them as measurements, at least not to the hearing of anyone.
Not to me, it isn’t apparent didn’t exactly cut it as professionally considered opinion. I blushed to think what the blokes at the practice board would make of it. It was damn right personal, that opinion, and my head needed to be screwed on right.
And where did she get off asking me questions? That was my prerogative. Hers was to give answers.
I took another stab at redeeming my upper hand. “Why did you think it would be obvious anyway? You are a young woman. We both know some things are common among young women your age.”
“Young women my age do not have sex problems,” she stated vehemently.
“Have you checked thoroughly?”
“I know that.”
“Because…”—she faltered slightly, searched for the right word, then bit out—“because they simply don’t. I know it. They don’t.”
“That seems a rather general conclusion.” With that observation, I paused to make some other observations in my note. This time, I didn’t use the light pen. For some reason, I preferred good old pen and paper, even though I had managed to open a file in Prisca’s name on my student database. I was done in less than a minute. I lay the pad open, lay the pen on the page. “So let’s talk about this…sex problem. What really do you consider a sex problem?”
She shifted rather uncomfortably, refusing to meet my gaze for some seconds. For all the boldness she had shown before now, this was suddenly a new bridge she had to cross.
“Are you okay with talking about it?”
Her gaze lifted to meet mine. “Yes.”
“Good,” I encouraged her. “That’s good and quite brave. Now talk to me.”
She took a few seconds to gather her thoughts, and I waited, patiently waited as I did with everyone before her.
“This thing called…”—she gesticulated wildly with two fingers in the air while searching her vocabulary. “It is some big word, though. When a guy is too much into…you know, sex and women and stuff, they call him a philandering womaniser.”
“That’s the same thing, don’t you think?” The word came to my mind but I waited to hear her out.
“I am just trying to remember the correct word for a woman—yes, nymphomania. That’s it,” she exclaimed.
“Nymphomania,” I repeated. “Is that the word you were looking for?”
“Yes, that’s what’s wrong with me. I’m a nymphomaniac.”
If I’d never seen one, I was looking at one—at least, that’s the look she gave me. She hadn’t grown horns, as she seemed to think she had.
“Are you even certain what the word means? I mean, outside the dictionary. Everyone knows the literal meaning, but do you understand what it really means when applied in clinical psychology?”
“It’s the female version of a man with sex on the brain.”
“So you think you have sex on the brain?” I prodded.
“Doctor, it is me talking about myself. I know I do. And before you ask why, this is why. I’m always thinking it and feeling it.”
“Thinking and feeling it. That’s it?” I said dismissively.
Our gazes held fast, lingered for some seconds.
“Even now,” I repeated, neutralising the potency of the moment. “Even now, as in my office?”
“Yes.”She inhaled deeply, released the breath with a shudder. “I know it is inappropriate. I should be thinking something else, something clean and harmless, something other girls think about every now and then.”
She lifted her shoulders elaborately. “Fashion, food, makeup, boyfriends—you see?” She groaned on the last part. “You see, I’m doing it again.”
“I don’t see something wrong in thinking about fashion, food, makeup and boyfriends. People your age ordinarily do.”
“I don’t,” she admitted. “I don’t think about fashion, food and makeup. They are just there and I just buy them when I need to.” She certainly looked the sort of girl who didn’t have to think much about them. She could order the first and last from a catalogue over the phone and have it delivered at her doorstep. As for food, a slew of maids could take care of that.
“I don’t think of them either.”
“So where is the problem?”
“What I mean is, I don’t think of them as some girls do. You know, talk about them, what they did or said, what they didn’t do or say, where we went on a date out, who was giving some other girl or guy sheep’s eyes and stuff—those silly things girls talk about all the time. Those things don’t bother me.”
“Boyfriends don’t bother you.” I effectively summarised the drift of her words. “Does that mean you are sexually interested in girls?”
Any other student in her seat would have bridled with intolerable embarrassment to hear that statement about them. Not Prisca. She was cool, calm, collected. She didn’t turn a hair at the insinuation.
“I am not a lesbian,” she responded evenly. “Boyfriends don’t bother me, because I don’t spend time thinking about them. I just sleep with them.”