I’ve fallen out with time. Caught up with an image in my mind I can’t shake. Shipwrecked close to shore, my fingers will soon lose their dexterity, unless I can stave off the arthritis that crept into my mother’s knuckles when she was my age.
When I was a child one of the nuns suffered severe arthritis in her hands and feet. She wore thick black shoes, the toe section elevated into a convex bowl to accommodate the bulk of her crooked bones. Her fingers were like gnarled tree roots.
This nun disliked me. I was not agile with numbers and she taught mathematics and science. She taught us how to do logarithms from a thin orange book filled from top to toe with figures. She taught us algebra, about equations, and the square root of things, but I could only take in the words, not the ideas behind the words, and most of the time I sat in her class fearful of letting her know. I could only guess the answers to the questions she wrote up on the board, the sums she set.
Irritation stamped on her face like an angry question mark whenever she noticed me.
‘What’s wrong with you,’ she said. ‘Why can’t you do even the simplest sums.’
My youngest brother once told me that mathematics is a language no different from any other language. If you can find the patterns in a language, he said, then you can find the patterns in the numbers.
But I could not.
Even now a sea of numbers swim before my eyes and I lose focus. My eyes blur. I cannot hold the page steady. Already, at first glance, I have decided, this is too hard for me.
Too hard because my father told me before I even tried to add one and one together, before I tried to rote learn my times tables, that I was one of the many females in the world, just like my mother and sister before me, who were useless as maths.
Girls can’t count. Girls can’t perform complex tasks that require intelligence. Girls are dumb.
It stays with me this notion of my intellectual inferiority even as I have worked over the years to dispel the nonsense of my father’s prejudice.
Time consists of numbers. And any fiddles with time, including the agonies of day light savings changes, requires concentration to get my mind around the shifts.
My mind is a shipwreck. One I can view safely from the shore. I can see the once tall masts jutting out from the sea line on an angle. Sea birds rest on its topmost tip, its sails in tatters. Under the water, I can imagine the bowels of the boat, fractured where the rocks ripped her apart. Scuttled on the seafloor close to land but not so close I want to swim inside. Best to view her sad ending from a distance.