My Secret Fear

Overcoming a phobia
The familiar musk of goats assails my nostrils before I hear their herd -bells jingling outside. Forcing my gritty eyes open to the pre-dawn, my head thumping from last night’s gin, I rub my nose against goat-dander wafting through the open window.

Across the bedroom I see my husband standing on one leg as he pulls on his trousers. Zipping them, he glances at me and leaves the room and I remember walking home last night from Vernon’s party, sobbing gin-soaked tears and falling down an embankment. Something itches on my shoulder blade.

‘There’s something itchy on my back’ I say as he disappears through the door. ‘Can you see what it is?’
My words hit the wall and a minute later I hear the front door slam. Rolling out of bed, I walk naked to the dresser, twisting to see in the mirror. A flash of fear shoots through my veins as I see the circle of blisters burning my skin. ‘Ag, don’t be stupid, leprosy’s got no sensation.’ I say but I’m not convinced.

My phobia is a shameful affliction, which crouches in its crypt, locked away since I was six. It skulks among the fretting detritus of my life, its dread emanating from a scene in Ben-Hur where Charlton Heston finds his leprous mother and sister, untouchable and shrouded in shadow. It haunted my childhood dreams, turning my night slumber into apocalyptic scenes from Dante. Even now as I scurry, with guilt-heavy eyes, passed begging lepers in the Souq Arabi Khartoum, it reminds me of my irrational secret.

As I dress, I wonder what caused the lesions on my back. I know it is not leprosy but I can’t help the fear consuming me. It’s not as if I can go to the doctor. We live in Wad Medani on the Blue Nile, two hundred kilometres from Khartoum. As far as I know, there are no doctors here and anyway my husband has taken the car to work. I can’t ask him to drive me to Khartoum because he’s not speaking to me after my jealous accusations last night. Then I remember Vernon’s an entomologist. Perhaps he will be able to tell me if the lesions are from an insect sting.

Half an hour later in his living room, Vernon peers at the offending spot on my shoulder blade. The lesions have formed an angry circle like a brand punched against my skin. He was as reluctant to inspect my back as I was insistent and now I expect he knows no more than I.

I ask ‘well, what do you think?’

His fiddle-form face serious, he says ‘I am afraid it’s leprosy.’

Stunned, I stare into his eyes, frozen with fright. He smiles and it dawns on me. I begin laughing, he’s teasing. Inhaling in short gasps, my diaphragm is confused into hiccoughs. Exposed for the first time my affliction is wrenched into the light. It slithers, writhes, withers then dies.

Now Vernon watches me with concern. His joke isn’t that funny. Wiping my tears with my fingers, I thank him for trying. ‘It’s probably just a spider bite’ I say. ‘It will go away by itself.’


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