That was not a problem. I didn’t think it was. Reproductive rights group even made a killing championing principles that women should be at liberty to negotiate their rights to sexual equality. Given, those rights were limited to equal voice in bedroom politics, ensuring their liberty to decide when to use contraception of any kind and when to have babies.
In our liberated world where everyone screamed to be given sexual freedom, children became sexually active before they knew about the birds and the bees. If it got any worse, baby boys would be born holding condoms in hand and baby girls would be born pregnant. I have seen bumper stickers with the words, VIRGINITY IS NOT DIGNITY, IT IS LACK OF OPPORTUNITY. It was the most succinct, summary declaration of attitudes around sex. Later the bumper sticker words ended up on a screensaver.
So, if Prisca decided the only use for her boyfriend—boyfriends, I had to remember it was always plural—was a sweaty roll in the hay, nothing terribly wrong there. It was a dangerous, exciting lifestyle. There were people who would castigate her for it openly and envy her secretly. Growing up, I would have fit into the category myself. But this wasn’t about me.
I told her my thoughts the next time she came to my office. People her age were into the sexual liberation game. It wasn’t right the way the media sold sex on the airwaves and in print, but the world we lived in had everyone dealing in once-upon-a-night. Maybe something was wrong with society and her perspective of it, not necessarily her.
After listening patiently, she said, “It’s not that I sleep with them. It’s that that’s all I do with them. Every time, all day, all the time. I want to do it over and over and over again. It’s never enough.”
“Which is why you have to do something about it?” I supplied the ending I knew she was thinking.
She lit up a bit. “How did you know what I was thinking?”
“Just trying to understand,” I said.
What did you expect after I met your mother?
The thought flashed through me, but I didn’t voice it. After meeting Cecilia, I’d begun to think along the same lines, and it wasn’t very glorious.
“Take this other day, for instance,” she began.
“What other day?”
“The day before.”
The day Cecilia Braithwaite came calling at my apartment. Curiosity unfurled inside me. Something must have happened that day that not only prompted her visit but left her coiled with tension and barely concealed frustration. She hadn’t revealed much, other than what exactly she had come to say, but I knew Cecilia kept something hidden, something that had rattled her morning.
“What happened the day before?” I prompted.
She was seated across from me, as usual, my desk a buffer between us. There were still ordinary things about her, things I have come to expect with Prisca—the deep V running down her front giving glimpses of ebony skin and slightly swollen mounds with every movement, the outfit calculated to both entice and look sparingly fashionable at the same time. I was no prude, but her wardrobe was the least of her problems, I decided, ignoring telling her to dress more decently next time.
Next time? Would there be a next time? I questioned myself with the perplexity of man who’d bitten off more than he could chew.
“You know how it is when a man looks at a woman, he is immediately smitten? It happens a lot in erotic stories, something they call instant attraction.”
Erotic stories, I thought. Weren’t those the stories with plenty of kiss, lick, suck and tell that soft sell magazine editors passed off as true-life romances from the heart and made vulnerable readers pay three hundred naira for a copy every week?
“You mean erotica,” I stated and waited for her confirmation.
“Some people call it that. Others call it porn.”
I hadn’t read much erotic stories as I would have liked to. Never had the time, come to think of it.
“Do you ever think of it as porn?”
“No,” she said firmly.
“But plenty of people do,” I prodded. “You said so yourself.”
“Yes, they do. But they don’t really know the difference.”
“Is there a difference?”
“Of course.” She began to say something and then fell silent.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know how to say this without sounding offensive.”
Offensive? I should have thought about that before agreeing to anything to do with Prisca. I couldn’t point to any other student who could come into my office and pour smut on my desk. Embarrassment would never let many people even talk about sex. It was taboo.
For Prisca, it was just a problem she had reckoned with and had to deal with. I was only playing a role in the bigger picture.
For me, it was still just a problem—but in an entirely different league worlds away from career choices.
Simply, prudes didn’t do psychology if they couldn’t stand the baser instincts of humanity. I wasn’t one. “Whatever you have to say,” I told her, “however you want to say it, just say it. Don’t hold back anything. I want to see into your mind.”
She was visibly relieved.
Now where we were. I didn’t fight hard to recall. “I asked whether you found any difference between erotica and porn.”
She warmed to the subject, unabashed. “I mean, they are both verbally graphic, but erotic stories weave in more character development and their plots are usually more artistic, real. Porn is just…porn—wham, bam, thank you.”
The difference has always been put that way by those dealing in one or the other. Nothing spectacularly new, everything recycled and recycled to death on websites for genre writers. It simply had no immediate effect.
I backtracked. “Let’s go back to two days ago. What happened?”
I didn’t know what to expect, but whatever happened the morning of Cecilia’s visit probably would reveal more of Prisca and her mother than anything either of them had ever said. That conviction was safe, a knowledge that felt about to be shattered. I waited patiently, wondering whether Prisca was going to keep on talking. She had volunteered that the-day-before issue herself. The ball was in her court; the next move was hers. My job was to listen.
“I was talking about instant attraction. A man sees a woman and the first thought is how to get into her pants.” She paused to give me a straight look, meeting my gaze boldly, as though challenging me to contradict her. “It doesn’t happen to only men. Women, I think, feel that way too sometimes.”
“It’s just the chemistry of attraction,” I explained.
“The only difference is that I feel it all the time, with every man I see.”
“That can’t be true,” I challenged.
Every man you see? Her mother’s scathing words rang in my ears. Everything with a third leg. Every male.
“It is,” she argued, self deprecatingly.
“So tell me this. You are walking along the street and there is a mental man on that street. Most likely, he’ll be naked, every bit of him hanging out in the open. Would you still get the hots for him too?”
She cringed at the thought. “A mad man? No.”
“Why not?” I queried. “He’s male, he’s anatomically complete and everything is just there for the taking, if you really want it.”
“No,” she repeated.
“Is it unthinkable?”
“It is preposterous.”
“Okay, so tell me this. Have you ever seen a mental woman pregnant?”
She took time to think it over.
“Don’t you watch Newsline. There are always stories of pregnant madwomen. It’s never been the case that they were subjects of fertility experiments or some artificial insemination programme. Somebody got them pregnant.”
“I know it can’t be immaculate conception,” she said.
“And there has to be sex before pregnancy.” I had been getting out of line and now had to concentrate on the main point I was trying to make. “Somehow, some way or another, it happened…to them. They aren’t any different from you and I.”
“Just a few missing nuts,” she summarised.
“Which brings me to my point. You are not much different from the man who gets a madwoman pregnant. Every part functions. So why would it be any different between you and a mental man who’s still anatomically a complete male?”
Holy cow, the things coming out of my mouth! I was on a roll. There was no stopping me. For a change, I was the doing the shocking.
Prisca looked scandalised. “Are you asking if I would sleep with a madman?”
“If you would still feel the instant sexual attraction to any male even if he were mental?”
“I have thought about it sometimes,” she admitted.
Now it was my turn to be shocked, but I didn’t show it. There has never been any process to chart every range of human thought. If science made that possible, the results would be devastating. People had random thoughts about random things all the time. Ninety per cent of them made no sense at all; others were simply unspeakable.
Whatever had happened the morning Cecilia visited me fit into the second category. Prisca blew it out of the water.