In spite of my turmoil, the week promised to be nice. The adjective was lame, but it would do. I tamped down my frustration, enough to communicate without screaming whenever Prisca visited. As the week ran out, so did her desire and my frustrated longing.
Cecilia Braithwaite dropped in toward the weekend to hear good news. I stopped at the good news, not going further to elaborate and risk divulging needless information. She was still withdrawn. Keeping tabs on Prisca in secret hadn’t helped her deal with their separation any better. I wondered how she was dealing with Jonathan. Had she finally kicked him out? I couldn’t ask that. She wasn’t my case and I had no business.
“With some luck, there could be some difference,” I concluded at the end of my explanation.
“Aren’t I supposed to be the despondent one?”
“I just don’t want to raise your hopes in case there is some relapse.”
“Is there? A relapse, I mean?”
If you only knew, I thought. My most recent dream and the hysterical call that had snapped me out of it came to mind.
“It is always possible,” I replied. “That doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. A lot depends on how well I push her and how far she allows herself to be pushed. At the same time, a lot depends on the strength of her will to push forward or fall back.”
“Is she yielding either way?” Worry tinged her voice. She sounded desperate for a positive answer, for hope, but I couldn’t give the answer she sought.
“Prisca is strong, in good ways and bad ways. We are working hard to bring out her positive strength. She just needs to know she has all the support she can get to wade through this moment.”
“Don’t make excuses for her,” Cecilia said, her tone hardening somewhat. “I have bet her entire trust, all ten million naira she’s to get when she graduates, on this. She better wades through or she won’t see a dime of her trust fund, and I mean it. Drum that into her head.”
The figure made my head spin. Ten million. Not many people could write ten million and get all the zeroes in the right places—and it was waiting for some Daddy’s Girl who wasn’t even twenty-five. People would do anything for it. But Prisca…?
“Mrs Braithwaite, have you ever seen a heroin addict in the first stages of cold-turkey withdrawal?”
“I have heard what it feels like, but no.”
“At that stage, your body is firing on all cylinders looking for relief, you feel like your head is splitting into a thousand bits, your nerves quake, you are cold and hot all at once. You are fighting every reason thinkable to have just one fix to calm the urge. The craving for a high stays and endures until you feel you are going stark raving mad. You don’t have to experience it to know it’s pure hell. What Prisca is feeling these days is something close.”
She considered my description before replying. “I never assumed it would be a picnic.”
“You know your daughter better than anyone else,” I went on, challenging her to prove me wrong. “Do you honestly think the money is the only reason your daughter is subjecting herself to the torture of withdrawal?”
Cecilia Braithwaite didn’t answer my question, didn’t have to. Her expression told me all I needed to know. Her willpower was being tested alongside her daughter’s endurance. Her life was as shambolic as Prisca’s, and she would do anything—even hold a ten-million-naira trust fund as bargaining chip over her daughter—to make it right again.
* * *
Prisca survived the week. Because she did, I survived it too, stubbornly tamping down my hormones that seemed to blow off every time she was around. She kept the positive thoughts around her, and they flowed in every word she said about herself. Finally, something good was happening, and it was plain to see.
Also plain was the atmosphere her presence created—at least for me. It was no good convincing myself the atmosphere involved her too. Despite suspicions regarding her proclivities and insatiable appetite, I told myself, This is all me, it’s all in my head.
But every time I gazed at her while she spoke endlessly at my encouragement, I could never see her in full. I saw only parts of her, parts I wanted to see, parts that yearned to be explored.
Her mouth, generously adorned with bee-stung sensual lips.
Her lips, pouting and coated a shade of pink, tilting every now and then when she cracked a smile.
Her chin, slightly pointed but riding firmly and surely backward into jaws set in obstinacy.
Her throat, with its column of soft caramel skin.
Her collarbone, peeking through the neckline of her blouse, dragging my gaze to that spot where her pulse beat in fastidious rhythm, quickening when she got anxious and slowing to barely visible tics when she relaxed.
Her blouse, the front of which I could see, and the parts of her scantily hidden beneath the fabric that stretched taut over sister mounds of flesh.
I dragged my gaze from her heaving bosom, ashamed of my wandering mind as I looked back into her face. I settled into a pose, leaning forward to rest my chin on my hands which I had steepled on the desk. My gaze locked with hers, and I was a goner.
What I figured were idle wanderings weren’t idle at all. Awareness flared in her eyes. The little thing was not an ignoramus, an innocent or a fool. She knew damn well where my gaze had been and understood the unmistakable impact it had on me. Damn it, the effect would be the same in any man. It didn’t matter that I was her counsellor. But I was and it was time to get my head checked.
She asked outright, “Do you think love exists?” Nice diversion. Much safer ground.
“Yes,” I said, my calm returning. “It’s all around. The love of a parent for their child, the love of…”
“I meant the kind between opposite sexes, men and women. Does it exist?”
“The entire institution of marriage is founded on it,” I answered rhetorically.
“Yes,” she agreed, then appeared serious. “But I don’t believe it is real. Love is just an overused commercial password for getting what you want when you want it.”
“Like what?” I was treading on uncertain ground. Luckily, she noticed.
“I’m not talking about sex, although you can’t exclude it. Love is overrated. When I hear it, I just cringe. Especially those three words people think could change their lives forever.”
“You have never used it before?”
“I have never used the love word before,” she replied stoutly.
I love you, love it, love you, love you, doctor.
The disjointed phrases spoken from her mouth in my dream echoed in my head.
“Have you?” Prisca asked, cutting into my thoughts. “Have you said I love you to anyone before?”
“This session is not for me.” No need talking about myself when she was the one with the issues. “So, no one has ever said those famous three words to you?”
“Israel did. Once.”
“Who’s Israel?” I was lost. Israel didn’t enter the seven days of the week named after men that Cecilia Braithwaite had mentioned to me.
“You are thinking one guy too many, I know,” she said in self deprecation, stifling a groan of self disgust. “Oh, god only knows what it must sound like when every conversation comes with a different guy’s name.”
“Nothing of the sort.”
“It’s…mortifying to think how promiscuous and loose I must seem.”
“Do you take pride in spicing every talk with a different guy’s name?”
“No. I’m ashamed of myself.”
“Good. Then those guys don’t count. Even if you’d need a list as long as your arm to fit all their names, all that is heading into the past now. They don’t matter. What’s important is you.”
She absorbed the exhortation in silence, then said, “Israel was the first guy to say he loved me. We’d been going out for months already and I think we lasted that long because he was good in bed. He matched me perfectly.” Her eyes gleamed with the words, though she kept them averted. “On Valentine’s Day last year, he came into town and took me out for dinner. He was staying at a hotel, so I spent the night there with him.” She grimaced self consciously. “I guess it is pointless to tell you at this moment that we…”
“Had sex?” I supplied for her. “It’s hardly new. Come on, Valentine’s, with two young birds like you choosing to spend the night together. Don’t get the wrong idea about sex. It isn’t intrinsically a bad thing. You just have to get your reasons in the right order.”
“Okay.” She sighed, relieved. “Anyway, by the time we woke the next morning, we’d used fourteen condoms.”
If I’d been eating or drinking, it would have completely gone the wrong way or choked me to death. I stifled my surprise. How had they managed that? Fourteen? Fourt…it was an awfully huge number for just a night! Did they get any sleep at all, these poster children for aphrodisiacs?
Israel was good in bed.
The words assaulted me, unleashing an unnameable emotion inside me. On the outside, I remained unfazed, listening, waiting for her to go on.
“I got out of bed and dressed up before Israel woke up. He was so romantic that morning. I’d never seen him that way, and it made me nervous. He even said good morning with a smile. He turned in bed, took my hand, kissed it, looked into my eyes and said, ‘Prisca, I love you, I love you more than my life.’” Her voice dropped low to deliver those lines the way I assumed a love-smitten Israel had done, and she aped it perfectly as far as my assumption allowed.
I realised I was hanging on her words. “So, what did you do?”
“I ran out of the room and left the hotel.”
Poor Little Bitch Girl—Cecilia’s words, not mine—would do any hard work on her back it required to get a man and keep him dangling on a thread. She’d use a man’s body to satisfy her whimsies, surrender to any proclivity promising release, suffer the use of her body in any position required. She’d do anything but get emotionally involved. Poor Little Bitch Girl had it bad.
* * *
Two days later, she could laugh about it. I chuckled along like a man laughing with a crowd without getting the joke. I got the gist perfectly. More escapades followed.
She began with “Why do guys always have to work so hard at impressing girls? They’d even pretend to be what they are not, just to get a girl to go out with them. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Most times, the finer points of human mating rituals don’t make sense.”
“Human mating ritual? You sound like an evolutionary biologist.”
Better then to keep the simmering atmosphere from reaching boiling point!
She returned to her tale of youthful flirtation. “Once, I played hard to get with Haruna.”
Haruna. Day Five Guy, her mother had counted.
“I strung him along for a while, then told him plainly I wasn’t interested anymore. He didn’t take it, thought I was only teasing him. Which I was anyway,” she added with a slight smile. “He changed overnight.”
“He was a musician and he took to showing off his outfit like a peacock. He’d come with a bunch of girls hanging onto him like he’d stuck them to his body with super glue. In a singsong voice, he’d say stuff like”—she mimicked Haruna the Day Five Guy as best as she could—“‘I got moments of happiness, check me, check me, always first class.’”
“What, he made first class?”
“No.” Prisca began to giggle. “He’d go on to show off: ‘Jeans on my waist, Yamaha bike, guitar in my hands, Nike on my feet. Ray Ban glasses, Apple Iphone, all girls around me Genevieve look-alike.’” The giggles intensified, and I chuckled freely now, enjoying her enjoyment. “It was crazy really. As if anyone cared what he wore or what the girls around him looked like.”
“Why do you think he went to that ridiculous length?”
“I don’t know.” She laughed out loud and harder. I enjoyed the mood for moments until she paused and gathered herself. “But something happened the first time I met him. When he asked me for my phone number, I kind of snubbed him. Then he eyed me up, like sizing me up and said he was sure he’d seen me somewhere. Did I get around? I must have taken umbrage then. I told him to go to hell. He said I was tripping and I said, yes, I tripped over him—while he was climbing out of the gutter. It was a challenge of sorts. He was trying to make his words rhyme, always the musician. Later he said I didn’t know what I was missing. When I asked what it could possibly be, he said he had a body like Hrithik’s.”
“The actor. Don’t you watch movies?”
“Not a name I am familiar with.”
“His name isn’t Hrithiks. It’s Hrithik. Haruna’s words were ‘my body is like Hrithik’s.’ I thought of something to rhyme and said my phone number was thirty-four, twenty-four, thirty-six.” She laughed heartily.
I put the joke together, rather, the rhyme—iks, iks. “You gave him your vital statistics in place of your phone number.”
She nodded. “The best I could do, but he didn’t get the joke right away.”
Iks…iks. I got it right away, as she bubbled with laughter. This Prisca was new, not weighed down by darkness and dangerous secrets. This one had verve, vitality and fun.