Fiction by Korkor Kanor
A square of toilet tissue used to be all it took – the patterned kind for added texture, unscented, two ply thickness. Lucinda would place it flat in her mouth and gnash it into a soggy mess before rolling it with her tongue.
“You’re eating loo roll?” Her GP tried to depose his disgust but Lucinda heard it barge through his teeth.
“No never swallowing, just chewing.”
She had swallowed though. At six years old, her legs carried her to the bathroom one evening and she stayed there for an hour with a book. Spells of sadness often drew her to these two-tiered white walls. They weren’t sterile and clean as you’d suppose; white wallpaper that didn’t belong was blistering to reveal a second off-white layer beneath. Here she would read until her eyes grew tired of light and words.
On the toilet lid, a teary-eyed Lucinda sat and sniffed, its lavender scent teasing as she retrieved snot. The source of the smell wasn’t the shower gel or air freshener though, it was the loo roll. On impulse, she tore off a square, intending to dab her face and inhale the calming scent but its four corners ended up in her mouth somehow and she began chewing. A hearty push sent the soggy ball down her throat. She remembered instructing her brain to ignore the flavour, like summoning the symptom of a flu, and just enjoying the feeling of a blocked airway. It made her choke, albeit briefly, and this was satisfying. The whimpering stopped and she was able to read for a while. The habit would lead her for a few months until she stopped it in its tracks one day; the build-up of mass was metastasizing in her entrails, a build-up that her bowels refuted moving so she didn’t excrete for days. Her body became a blocked pipe.
An anxiety disorder, was the counsellor’s guesstimate. It was out of her jurisdiction to formally diagnose a medical condition but she could help determine the root with Lucinda’s help. When did the urge come? Whenever. Where does it happen? Wherever. Lucinda couldn’t pinpoint the moments. She just knew that the propensity came as fluidly as teething pains for toddlers during their terrible twos. Except it wasn’t socially acceptable to swig
Hennessy in public so toilet stalls were her refuge to chew and swallow tissue.
Pica, the dietitian noted. An eating disorder characterised by the consumption of non-food items. Uncommon in adults but not fallacious. Reasons unknown but usually triggered by deficiencies or trauma in childhood. Were you starved as a child Lucinda? It’s a behavioural thing, not so much chemical.
Bezoar. The gastroenterologist threatened. That’s what happens to cats who ingest hairballs. You don’t want that. In the meantime get a waste bin and use wipes instead of loo roll when cleaning up after yourself. Does the smell of tissue arouse you? We’ll check your blood and urine. When was the last time you had sex? It could be pregnancy. It wasn’t pregnancy. Harrison could only take so much biting. What started as a glinting kink had become an annoyance. My chick’s a vampire, was his initial boast. Hickeys and love bites all over. Now Lucinda was the bloodthirsty nightmare. A fucking mosquito.
The sexpert said it was natural to want to bite. Do you like inflicting pain? Lucinda didn’t know. She just clamped her teeth into whatever got between them during sex: pillows, skin, labiorum. She stopped swallowing semen though. Harrison grew worried with her tendency to bite and forbade her mouth from touching his penis. No oral sex until the issue was sorted.
With that, Lucinda practised not chewing, began ritualistically swallowing handfuls of fufu whole. Twice a week, she’d mix the powder with water until they coalesced in clumps. A wooden spoon would push the clumps into one solid mound which she’d round with a pestle. Like a child she’d psyche herself up, tear a bouncy ball-sized piece from the rest and covet it in soup – abenkwan on Wednesdays, nkatenkwan on Saturdays. When she placed it in her mouth, her tongue would flex backwards straight down her throat without chewing. Then she’d swallow, gasp for air before trying again. Those days were an ordeal for her.
It didn’t help though. Abstinence from chewing only enriched her desire to swallow loo roll further. The smell of scented toilet tissue would waltz the bathroom until Lucinda would submit and lodge two squares of it into her mouth. Always two now, one for either side of her mouth. Sometimes she’d chew and there was some accidental taste but she didn’t mean it. More often than not, she’d treat it like gum; the myth of it staying seven years in her body was enough reminder for her to spit. Tufts smelt to the lining of her molars, the interstices between her incisors, troubled her taste buds. One night during Emmerdale, she sat on the open toilet, constipated, pushing like she was in labour, fearful that she would tear herself a
new asshole if she grunted again, breathless for the food baby that would not break free. Nothing emerged. Exhausted, she brushed her teeth and rinsed whilst her gut curled and clotted at the presence of this tumour of tissue.
A bruxism, the dentist suspected after her referral. Head tilted back, a tiny metal spatula clanked at Lucinda’s teeth for a final time before the bright light went out. She had overcome the swallowing toilet tissue habit but manifested a new one: tongue chewing. White lesions decorated her tongue like a stencil. She’d chewed her tongue so voraciously, impressions of her molars could be found along the perimeter.
It was an incorrect diagnosis, the bruxism, but Lucinda did not know at the time. So she complied with the dentist’s orders and carried a prescription of Ibuprofen and packet of Wrigley’s everywhere she went, popped either one the way celebs do pills, sometimes alone, other times together. Ibuprofen for the pain. Wrigley’s for the sensation. If she found herself in a toilet with loo roll in her mouth, the taste receptors in her mind shut off to keep
her from chewing or swallowing. She’d memorised the flavour of toilet tissue the way gin remembered juniper berries. Religiously. And so the desire for the actual thing weakened.
Google gave Lucinda the right diagnosis – a clinical, Latin one that legitimised the involuntary chewing. Morsicatio linguarum. It appeared without italics on a webpage about body-focused repetitive behaviours between nail-biting and hair-pulling. The rabbit hole of information sent her down an alley of academic papers outlining abstracts, symptoms and possible solutions of this condition with italics. Lucinda saw images that looked like her own tongue, puckered and pink, in black and white. Histopathology documented the sub terrain of similar mouths and their misdemeanours. There was no cure for morsicatio linguarum, just treatment: SSRIs, cognitive behavioural therapy. She had to relearn how to use her mouth.
Forum pages proposed alternative remedies: hypnosis would retrain the mind to not see the tongue as food, Chinese herbal medicine would saturate the tongue in a taste that would make chewing it revolting. Both were trickery that Lucinda was too wise to fall victim to. Smoking cigarettes didn’t help either, too expensive. Instead, Lucinda deterred herself by purchasing the least attractive loo roll – one ply and unscented – instead of the usual Cushelle or Andrews multipack. These new rolls were the kind used in industrial and public toilets – humungous, unattractive and designed to barely do their job (too much force would have your finger in your asshole). Buying one roll at a time became a form of rationing for Lucinda. Too big for the ringer they were stowed away in a cupboard to keep from taunting her; too thin, plain and dry, they didn’t taste as good as the usual flavoursome tissue she was used to.
Taking a shit or piss became a new experience. Lucinda reimagined the short distance to her indoor toilet as a trek to a public pit latrine many metres from her home. Never again did she take her phone or any form of entertainment to bide time. Instead she tended to her bowel movements like potty training: an in and out task quite literally. No contact was made with the toilet seat as she went about her business, instead she hovered over the bowl in imagination of the germs of the imaginary families that would use this same facility (in her mind, there were seven). The Lota beneath the sink was always full of freezing water ready to use after wiping with the tissue that didn’t taunt. A cold ass crack coveted the warmth of underwear which would knock onto Lucinda pulling her skirt down or buttoning her trousers back up quickly; this would lead to her washing her hands and then exiting the room as per domino effect.
Peritonitis, the pharmacist suspected, and offered her a course of Amoxicillin. When Bonjela could no longer cure the soreness in her mouth, Lucinda gaped it open at the woman behind the counter. A lump of inflamed flesh at the back of her gum stared furiously back at the pharmacist and she immediately identified the problem; Lucinda’s wisdom teeth were infected.
Days later, at the dining table with Harrison, Lucinda would share the same bowl of fufu and soup. It was a Saturday so the soup was lava, every piece of meat a mountainous volcano.
“Akokra bottom,” he teased after she took the first peppery bite.
Puzzled by the Twi, she let the fufu sit in her mouth as she questioned whether to chew or swallow. Only when she decided did she speak again.
“Akokra bottom,” he repeated and slacked his jaw behind his mouth. The laughter in his eyes snitched that he was mocking her tongue-chewing habit. “My dad used to do it too, chew his tongue. That’s what I nicknamed him, Akokra bottom.”
Harrison’s skin had healed in harmony with Lucinda’s lesions. There was little to no evidence anymore of her tongue chewing except the odd contortion of the mouth when she considered her thoughts. Like now. Now that the pain in her wisdom teeth was gone, she wasn’t sure whether to chew or swallow the fufu whole.
She bode this thought by tearing off another piece of fufu. “Abrewa,” she corrected him. “Abrewa bottom.”
Korkor Kanor is currently studying a Bachelors in Law. She’s a keen writer interested mostly in short stories, novels, poetry and op-eds but has recently developed an interest in visual arts and photography.
Originally published October 23, 2019