Triskaidekaphobia

It’s May! It’s Mental health awareness month and this morning, I just heard Biko say he does not believe in “writer’s block”. It is a foreign concept to him and he has written for, get this, 13 years! 13 is Taylor Swift’s lucky number. 13 is also considered to be an unlucky number. Maybe that’s why Taytay likes it… but if you were to count the things that superstitious people believe to bring bad omens, then black cats and jumping over one’s outstretched feet have nothing on Thirteen.

Did you know Judas Iscariot was the thirteenth dude to sit at Jesus’ table during the Last Supper? Yup, the guy who openly kisses another man in the Bible is also considered bad luck because he was late. Maybe he just didn’t want to eat in a room full of extros but hey, all the bad things that follow are directly linked to his arrival, though late. No one likes late things. Ask us girls. Anyway, luck is not a number because if so, then Maureen wouldn’t have gotten so mad at me when I beat her with an equivalent of 13 marks on our KCPE results. I’ll probably reach out sometime in 2023 and make a joke of it, after say… 13 lucky years.

She was in a hall the first time she thought back to the incident. A long hollow room that housed her and more than a hundred of her friends and classmates who she would remain in touch with just but a handful. She was 13 years old, coincidentally, trying so hard to recall the answer to the social studies question 57. The answer to the question was either Kabaka Mutesa 1 or Kabaka Mutesa 2. Such a close tie. She needed to think critically of her answer, so she sat back and opened the floodgates to her memories.

“I wish I never sat back in that seat. I wish I never tried to remember which Kabaka was exiled by Andrew Cohen because then I wouldn’t have remembered being between his thighs and not knowing any better.”

She must have been six or seven years old, which when you add up brings you back to Judas’ Digits. Her mother worked a lot. Her dad, not so much. Sure he spent his days out of the house but everyone knew where to find him. Her mother was the one bringing in the bread. She worked her ass off and to help her, she had some of her younger siblings stay with her, to help raise our girl, who by now deserves a name. She has however not responded to my text asking which name I should use, so as the Hogwarts Houses sorting hat, I deem her a Sophia.

Sophia grew up with her aunts as role models. They gave her breakfast and helped with her homework and taught her how to hold a pen. They were her big sisters. Her protectors. She felt safe around them. Turns out she shouldn’t have.

As Sophia sat on her locker, the last paper on her desk with only three questions to go (she always did the Religion part first). She remembered him. “I can’t tell you if he was one of my uncles or a cousin to my aunts, or maybe a childhood friend of theirs.”

“How sure are you that it wasn’t a stranger? Someone who was not as close to the family as you suggest?”

“Because he feels familiar. The environment we were all in feels surreal, since it is all in my memories, but it is definitely familiar. There is this feeling in my heart and in the pit of my stomach that tells me, assures me even, that they knew that man. They actually knew that man and it disgusts me”

Sundays were for Sophia and her mom. Strictly. She would wake up early as the sun glazed the horizon a golden hue and slipped into her mother’s bed. Her dad barely came home on weekends so the bed was almost always empty for her. She would snuggle into her mother’s arms and wait. Not a word was spoken. They would enjoy the silence that the morning offered together before embarking on a fun-filled day that began with breakfast, then church, then ice cream and then they would take the long way home for lunch. In those few minutes that she first got in bed with her mother, those sacred minutes, she relished in the joy of being with her.

“I loved Sundays. I still do. They were basically the only time I got to really see my mom. Probably the only time I ever felt safe if I think about it now,” she says. “There was this man, who I have never really seen in my adult life. He never really comes to any family gatherings. I know because I check. But I am scared that the moment I stop looking for him he will stand before me and I will not know what to do.”

When her parents were away, her mother winning bread and her father winning World’s Absent-But-Present dad, her aunts were free to roam. A cat and mouse scenario. They would lock her in her room when they had boys over and open only to give her food. She would be let out for bathroom breaks, of course. “I always knew when they came to let me out. The chattering would go down, the music silenced. She would be escorted, like a violent murderer in prison, and someone would wait by the bathroom door for her to finish and escort her back to the bedroom. A prisoner in her own home.

“I think that is why I loved being let out to stay when guests of the family came. I don’t really know. But it weighs on me. I honestly cannot tell you when I saw him first, or if there was a handshake that led to me sitting by him, and him having his feet outstretched on the couch, and to me sitting between those legs in a dress. But I can tell you I still feel his fingers between my thighs. I still feel his fingers going higher, and I still see my aunts both seated on the next seat, acting like they saw nothing.”

The man has no face, just the familiarity of someone you are comfortable being around. The familiarity of people you call family. These strangers that are closer to your parents or in this case, aunts, that you feel the need to call them “Uncle”, because your aunts have made it comfortable for them to be around. They have made the room familiar enough for him to run his fingers up your legs.

“Have you spoken to your aunts about it?”

“How would I start?” she asks back. “I have tried. I got to the point of having them sit down with me and I started asking it. But we were at my grandmother’s home, and I did not have the strength. Plus, I think they will just deny it. My family has developed this strange gift of making me sound, look and feel weird.”

I ask her how they do that.

“I don’t know if they know they are doing it, or if my aunts had enough practice bullying me when I was younger, but I will say something and they will negate it, or do something like try to help with the dishes and they will come in saying I’m not doing it right. Can you imagine that? I “washed a plate wrong”! I cannot really put it in words, but they whisper about me when I pass.”

“Like they know something that you don’t?” I ask.

“Yeah! Exactly. It messes me up so bad. I hate going to those family gatherings, but then I also feel it is my right to face that man when he shows up. If I can recognize his face…or his voice. I really hope I can recognize something about him. It might put my mind to rest”

As she sat in that hall, years ago, hollow in her chest as she realized what she was recalling, a tear rolled down her left cheek. “An invigilator passed by me, saw the tear and thought I was sad about finishing school. You know what my therapist says?”

I clearly don’t.

“She says that me remembering his fingers on me is real. That I should not think it was a dream. That my mind is probably waiting for me to get to the correct space to remember. She also says that I should be prepared to remember worse details. That the man might have hurt me. Invaded me. Stole my innocence at 6 or 7 years old.”

She told me the fear of the number thirteen is called Triskaidekaphobia. She has always had an irrational fear of this number, even before sitting on her desk in the hall staring at the Kabakas. She could never write the date when it was the thirteenth and always made a joke about being superstitious about Friday the 13th, saying she was scared of Jason. Maybe her Jason came with a certain familiarity.

[It’s May! It’s Mental Health awareness month. As usual, MIRAWU will do 4 stories on Mental Health. Reach out to me if you would like to tell your mental health story, journey or experience.]

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