Up to the waist, she was one word—stunning. Perfectly manicured toes varnished in blood-red nail polish lay among coloured straps of leather that approximated as shoes. Her ankles rode into long, slender ebony legs that seemed to go on forever. They terminated inches well above her knees, interrupted by the thin hem of an ultra short black skirt. It functioned only to trace the outline of sinfully rich curves beneath. Supple hips filled the contours of the skirt with the sensual ease with an apple belonged in a palm.
From the waist up, no words came to mind—only visions in rapid succession. Visions of pale brown skin bisected by a bikini top; a brown expanse riding upward, swelling into mounds that filled out the front of the top and long bare arms crossing stubbornly beneath the swell of cleavage.
Again, the image of an apple in a palm came to mind. No, make that two apples—soft, firm, full, luscious apples just big enough to fit in inside a fist…my fist. The fit was so perfect each section of gorgeous red touched the skin of my fist.
The red deepened in texture against the inside of my hand, if that were possible, and the smoothness promised the same glorious delight that had caused Eve’s fall in Eden and Snowwhite’s death at the hands of seemingly innocent old woman.
The apples lingered, and in my mind, I attempted to sample the images. They had to come from somewhere. Yes, my mind. And they had to lead somewhere—or at least, point to something. There simply had to be a face to those legs that brought unbidden images to my mind.
Something stirred inside me, and it had nothing to do with apples. While I tried to understand what had stirred inside me, some loosely focused thing moved before me. I blinked and followed the movement: it was a hand, accompanied by a girlish medium-pitched voice.
The apples dissolved before my eyes. There was nothing sinfully round and red in my fist. Yet it closed around the slender length of my tablet PC pen.
“Are you all right, doctor?”
I came to full present, my mind clearing so quickly it seemed my thoughts had never left the interior of my office. The young female student who had had the effrontery to wave—was it her hand?—before my face was seated across from my desk. Nothing about her outfit was remotely reminiscent of red apples, and the ordinarily made-up face did not match what I had expected to see above the swell of cleavage still lingering in my head.
“Of course.” I wasn’t sure of my response myself, but I needed a few more blinks to put things in perspective. I blinked three times behind the plain lens of glasses perched on the bridge of my nose, and tried not to clear my voice. “I was just thinking about what you were saying.”
That was a lie, because I could not remember for the life of me whatever she had been saying. I racked my brains. She was a student. The last time I checked, I was still the guide and counsellor on the faculty. So whatever could she have possibly been talking about in my office had to be mundane. I couldn’t trust myself to say anything yet, for there was nothing mundane in my head.
The student rescued me. “The answer is no,” she said.
“No?” I asked flatly, still lost but not showing it.
“You asked whether I could write codes to find the sum of ten consecutive numbers in C-plus-plus.”
C++? Okay, C++. Surely that was…a programming language. In a flash, it all came rushing back. Long legs and red apples yielded to the issue on which I had been offering career guidance and counselling.
“And your answer is no?” I asked, stepping back into my G & C mode as my thoughts congealed. “Why? You have spent three months already doing it?”
“I also did C before that,” she admitted. “The thing is, I am not very good at it. I only know enough of it to pass my tests. I even crammed lines of code for my exams.” She smiled sheepishly at that admission. “And next semester, I have to take Java.”
“Basically, you are still as undecided as you have been.”
“I feel like it would be best to have a taste of them all before finally choosing.”
“A taste of them all?” For some unfathomable reason, the word taste loomed in my head, and I thought of it in the literal sense. Taste, as of gorgeous red apples.
Jeez, get a grip. You want apples? Go out and buy some—in as many colours as you want! Growers using genetic modification might even throw in a palette of them for free.
I took my mind’s own advice and got a grip, then returned my attention to the student. “The problem with tasting everything, as you put it, is that the world of IT runs so fast new things will emerge before you are done tasting. Each of them—C, C-plus-plus, Java and Visual Basic—they all have their strong points, which is why certain groups of programmers prefer certain languages for certain purposes. You just have to decide where you best fit in, and start working toward that goal.”
“It is a bit difficult to decide when I don’t know how much I don’t know about each of them. Or come to think of it, how much I know,” my student said.
To be honest, I knew as much about programming as I did about ordinary word processing, which meant close to zilch. About the most advanced thing I’d done with computers has been to configure the pen for my tablet PC. Even that came with default configurations so I didn’t have to do much beyond changing the writing colour of my pen. As I am yet to screw up the courage to appear thoroughly unprofessional and write up counselling notes in pink, I am yet to explore the various ink colours the manufacturers made possible beyond the default black. I even have no idea how my scratching the light pen across the tablet produces properly formatted text on the screen. But it happens to get the job done, and that’s quite enough for me. Programming was Greek.
I said, “Let me just say this. Some of those languages are werewolves, some are vampires, others are hybrids. It all depends on what you want to code with them. Or what part of the industry you want to be in.”
“That’s what I don’t know yet.”
“A lot of people don’t either,” I agreed. “Perhaps you should give it a little more time.”
“Just continue cramming to pass?” she asked incredulously.
“That’s a bleak way of looking at it,” I countered. “And I wouldn’t advise it.
She exhaled loudly and her shoulders sagged a bit. “I am back where I started.”
Her statement challenged me, because it tasked my professional competence. She couldn’t be back where she started if I was doing a marvellous guidance and counselling job. My expertise lay in pushing students along the right path and helping them make sense of their decisions, mostly to do with their academics and careers. Each case in which I failed to recognise the right path or point in the right direction was my failure.
“Another bleak admission,” I said.
She looked warily at me.
“You don’t have to be defeatist about it. We all fit in somewhere. The problem is finding the right place.”
“And the right place is…?” She let the question hang uncomfortably.
“You are going to have to make that decision yourself when the time comes.” That was the most profound thing I’d heard myself say in a long time, but I ploughed on, reluctant to relish it. “In the meantime, you can’t give yourself over to swotting codes. Just roll with it and see how you fall in love with it.”
“Fall in love with it?” Her eyes lit up.
“You have to. Passionately. Otherwise you will never love any of it enough to devote time to it outside regular studies.”
Her face showed I’d said the right thing again. Score two.
She rose and pulled the strap of a laptop bag onto one shoulder. “Thank you, sir. I have to go now.”
I bid her bye. Of course, it wasn’t the last I would see of her. My office was a routine stop for students to groan on and on about what course they found difficult, the inconvenience of choosing one path over another. The regularity and sameness took the seriousness out of the problems. After several years, I am yet to confront a real problem.
The moment she was out the door, I wrote up the main points of the session with the light pen in my hand and watched the scratches I made on the tablet manifest as true fonts onscreen. I filed it away under her name and filled in few data fields to update her details on the school database.
The progress bar was crawling along the middle of the computer screen when a knock sounded at my office door. One student had barely gone when another was taking their place at my door. Nothing surprising there. Rather absently, without even looking from the screen, I allowed entry.
I don’t know what became so fascinating about my computer screen at the moment I verbally allowed entry. A million things could have happened to stop me from concentrating on the screen—rather, to make me watch the door for when the next student on appointment walked in. I didn’t, until I heard the voice.
“Good morning, doctor.”
I looked up then and nearly swallowed my tongue. Images of sinfully red apples and gorgeously formed curves assaulted my vision. I saw most of what I had seen before, drinking in the sight in a quick flash: manicured red toenails, slender feet, endlessly long legs encased in skirt that barely made it over the rear, an inverted V opening over a pierced belly button, skin that winked the tantalising colour of chocolate, cleavage perfectly filling out the front of a clingy top.
The image wasn’t much different from what had been in my head minutes ago, except for one major point—now the image had a face to go with it. It was a face not to be forgotten in a hurry. It wasn’t particularly ravishing, not in a supermodel sort of way. What it lacked in memorable features, it compensated for in contrasts—the captivating combination of virginal innocence and sultry seduction.
“Do I know you?”
Even before I replied her greeting, she was taking a seat. “You came highly recommended, doctor, which is the greatest reason I am here in the first place.”
“Recommended… By who?”
“And your mother is who?”
The name didn’t ring even the faintest bell. I was still recovering from the impact of the girl’s presence. Why that should be surprised me. It wasn’t that I wasn’t used to seeing girls dressed to kill. Practically six out of every ten girls walking into my office were underdressed. Designer labels fell over themselves to push forth the lowest cut, briefest, skimpiest piece they could conjure. Women—my own fiancée not exempted—were equally tripping up each other to get their claws on the latest designs. So I had built some immunity to states of undress. But for some reason, I seemed to be losing that immunity before a student. I had never felt this way about a student before—never, no matter how they dressed to kill. The thought hit like a lightning bolt.
“What’s your name?”
“Prisca. Prisca Braithwaite.”
“I don’t think I have ever set eyes on you. Are you in the department?”
“What department then?”
Her confidence faltered. She stared straight at me. “I have never been here before. This is my first.”
“I have already guessed that. Which means I have to open a file in your name. And I can’t do that if you don’t give me particulars to fill in.”
“Okay. Prisca Braithwaite. Daughter of Cecilia and Tunde Braithwaite. An only child, as far as I can tell. Tunde is dead, died when I was very young. Don’t know much about him other than what I hear people say about him and what he looked like in photographs. But he left quite some fortune for his wife Cecilia—that’s my mother. She has kept an iron fist over everything they owned together and what she was left with. She has expanded most of the empire in time, so she’s plenty more than she ever had when Braithwaite was alive.”
“That’s very telling,” I said when at last she stopped. It was the longest speech I’d ever heard from a student, or anyone at that, sitting across from my desk. The depth to which she carelessly went about her background was uncalled for.
“Is that enough?”
“I need basic details to open a file for you, not your entire family history.”
“But… I thought the more history you got, the better,” she argued.
“Well, I am looking at the blanks to be filled in here, and nowhere do they ask about the family fortune.” With a shrug, I jotted relevant data and came up with only the three names she’d mentioned.
“What sort of things then do you want?” she asked, innocently.
“Let’s start with your department, and then what majors you are looking at. Then we could go on to how well you are getting on with your lecturers and coursemates, what courses are a challenge, things like that. Naturally, we should make progress from there.”
She looked bewildered, said nothing.
“You did know at least that those things would come out during G and C?”
“G and C?” she echoed.
“You don’t know what they stand for?”
She shook her head.
“Guidance and Counselling,” I explained patiently. “You seem to be in the wrong place.”
“No, I’m not.”
“How can you be sure?”
“I couldn’t have misread my directions,” she said, half to herself. She surged to her feet and looked around the office. “You don’t have a couch.”
“For patients to sit in or lie in while you do your job.”
“Patients?” I recognised the source of confusion. “I’m not that kind of doctor. Mine is a doctorate, nothing medical. And I doubt students would need couches when they walk into my office.”
“Very well then,” she admitted and resumed her seat across from my desk. “It’s your job to help people with problems, and as I’m already here, we’ll just get on with it.”
“So, what then is the matter, Pris…” I consulted my note for her name.
“Prisca,” she finished for me. “The name is Prisca Braithwaite. And I have a sex problem.”