It was unclear to me why I’d been defensive about Prisca to Jemima. Granted, I’d have done the same thing with any other case. Each student—each case—was different; each demanded the same level of confidentiality. Jemima had no business looking into my case files. She ought to have known better. In the three years we’d been together, discussing my cases didn’t feature in our talks. Yet never before have I openly confronted her with envy about the girls who went through my office. Never needed to. I just didn’t have it in me to risk my professional ethics for a quick roll in the hay even though some would probably not mind. Hell, some would welcome it!
There was something about women that drove them toward dangerous men, to seek out the most unattainable man around and try to bring him to his knees. The more conflict the liaison promised, the greater the potential for scandal, the sweeter the triumph when the hapless idiot fell under their spell. Men forbidden to them were the sweetest conquest. Doctors. Pastors. Priests. Counsellors.
Did I imagine it or was I in that category?
The rationalisation didn’t work. The next week, it still didn’t. Talk about a rock and a hard place. Something was fishy—and damned if I could smell it! Even if I convinced myself otherwise, admitting it was difficult. My famed professional ego and personal detachment were taking a hammering.
My week of rationalisation started off with Cecilia Braithwaite. This time she chose not to call early in the morning. She was leaning against her Rav4, parked in front of the faculty. She gave me only enough time to get out and engage the security lock on the Picanto before coming toward me. Class was no matter, but there was plenty of money wedged between us. That didn’t matter either. The haunted look I’d noticed on the morning of her visit was still evident.
Poor woman. To walk in upon the two most important people in her life betraying her love and smashing her passion in the most elemental manner. What memories she was battling, ghosts she was fighting!
“Mrs Braithwaite,” I said.
“Good morning, Doctor Mala.” Cecilia sounded cheerful, even though I knew it was forced cordiality. The ghosts of mornings past couldn’t be hidden.
The pleasantries were dispensed with in seconds. I invited her into my office, offered her a seat and concentrated on regulating the air conditioner to just the right temperature. It wasn’t even eight, but the air was oppressively humid and hot—the kind of mornings you enjoyed riding on a bike just to have the wind blow against your face, the sort of day on which a cold morning shower was pure bliss.
“I’m immensely grateful to you for deciding to help Prisca.” Cecilia Braithwaite spoke without preamble. “How is she doing?”
“I wish I could stand here and tell you everything will be okay, Mrs Braithwaite, but I can’t.”
“Of course not. I understand. The most important thing is that you are working with her.” Pause. “Are you…seeing her today?”
I said no. Prisca wasn’t listed on my schedule for the day and I was attempting to ensure she wouldn’t take my office for granted as to barge in without appointment.
“Do you think she’s okay?”
I considered the veiled question, explored the open intent. In spite of everything, she was worried, concerned. The milk of a mother’s love still welled in her bosom.
“I haven’t seen her since the morning I visited you.”
“You mean the morning you opened the bathroom door.”
She had been looking away but turned to me quickly. “She told you that?”
That and a lot more too dangerous for my peace of mind. But it wasn’t my place to discuss Prisca’s fantasies with her mother. I risked violating confidentiality. Cecilia battled with the knowledge that someone outside the Famous Three knew about the elephant in the room.
“She doesn’t live with me anymore,” she said.
“You sent her away?” Maybe I was rash to think the milk of kindness still flowed. Perhaps it had dried up.
“No. But there was just no way we could live under the same roof after that.”
No way. The elephant in the room was that huge. I said, “She must live with a friend then. Daniel perhaps?”
“No. A girl friend. But I don’t know which one, and I haven’t called around to find out. She’s better off where she is at the moment.”
“Maybe, but then maybe not.”
“Meaning?” Apprehension took over her.
“That morning must still be standing between you two like a wall. You will have to address that sometime.”
“No way,” Cecilia said vehemently. “Not in this lifetime.”
“You are going to have to, if you really want to help her. Sooner or later, it will poison whatever you two have. She admits not knowing her father. You are the only one she’s got without a father. No number of Jonathans and Daniels can supply that.”
“Isn’t psychology great!” Cecilia exclaimed and laughed a tight horrible laugh that surprised me. “You are telling me, doctor, that she was looking for a father figure in my bathroom.”
“No.” A crude way to put it. “But she is searching for something. And her behaviour all this while is a manifestation of something going on inside her. That’s what we are trying to find out without pressuring her too much.”
“This is unbelievable!” She almost screamed the words at me. “I know I want her to get help, but you are actually trying to absolve her of everything!”
“Definitely not. I am only trying to step into her shoes,” I explained. “They are not very large shoes but they have plenty of spikes in them. Already she thinks you want to cut her out of her inheritance.”
Cecilia’s expression turned to stone. “That will be the least of her worry. If she doesn’t get help and get straightened out, there is no way I am turning over millions of naira that her father and I worked hard to make, so she can spend it all on a long list of men to keep her hot. I am doing her a favour by keeping that inheritance out of her hands. Can you imagine what lengths men will go when they realise there is only one thing she wants from them? Not love or marriage, not ring or commitment, not even children or partnership, but something men settle for without hassles? Any man crossing her path would think they had hit jackpot. They will get all the action without doing any time. That’s what men ordinarily want anyway. Ten years from now she’d be nothing but poor little bitch girl. So yes, she’s right to be worried I will cut her off. If that is what it takes to get her to do something about her life and not piss away her future, then so help me god, I will take away every kobo she’s worth and give it to charity!”
Cecilia made her point, however she put it. This was a mother concerned for her daughter’s future at the point of pain. A mother not to be crossed. A tigress firmly clutching her cub firmly in her teeth by the scruff of its neck. It was up to her let go or bite down hard and snap the tender neck.
Her logic was faultless. I couldn’t argue with it. For that matter, I couldn’t exclude myself from the male species she’d just railed against.
“Mrs Braithwaite, I understand your fears.”
“You don’t!” she corrected me. “Not unless you have a daughter whose week has seven days named Edward, Chinedu, Ayo, Robinson, Haruna, Daniel and Jonathan.”
The last name was tortuously torn from her, but she managed it with legendary composure and the right amount of fiery indignation. It was obvious she didn’t worry about Jonathan the same way she did about Prisca. In the battle between mother and daughter, Jonathan the intruder was clearly running up losses. His chances of recovery were slim, tenuous at best. A woman in Cecilia’s position had the right to be pissed and vindictive. A woman with her means could afford to scheme vengeance upon a feckless lover like Jonathan, if not set a contract killer upon him outright. Failing that, she had resources to make the poor man’s life hell on earth.
Evidently, she’d reached her limit for one morning. Ringed fingers reached up to push away straying curls of hair, highlighted with platinum this time. She rose, indicating she was at the end of her tether.
“I am sorry I came unannounced, but thank you for seeing me all the same.”
No need. I walked her to the door, where she paused. The lambency I had noticed a while ago was replaced by firm resolve.
“Could you please not tell her I came around?” she requested.
I agreed with a slight tilt of my head.
The tigress had chosen not to bite. She was handing Prisca a rope. Who was anyone else to assume otherwise?