Shaheen had looked forward to the meeting with the kid, her nephew, Sahil with hope. The only time she had seen him was two years ago before leaving the city for studies. He was only a few days old back then – a beautiful tiny mass of skin that didn’t seem to have much of bones inside it, which seemed so vulnerable that it scared her. She remembered how when her sister, Fatima, had offered the baby for her to hold, she had felt a shiver run through her body just a moment before Fatima had dumped the baby in her hands, overly-conscious as she was in those first few moments of the responsibility that was suddenly thrust into her hands, an image had popped up in her mind where she saw her hands tremble and seeing the baby fell towards ground. The vision ended before the baby had reached the ground but the terror it created lasted for a few very long seconds. She had stood there not wanting to show how she was feeling, looking at her hands which held the precious thing and willing them hard not to shake. And it was several minutes before she dared to undertake the dangerous adventure of walking to the chair a couple of steps away to sit down.
…… She hadn’t expected to return until the end of her studies two months later, however, she had to come back after her father had suddenly taken ill. She had sensed how forced the composure in her sister Fatima’s voice was when later called her to give the news of her father’s suddenly taking ill, and wanting to meet her, and so could see through the meaningless assurances of her sister which followed – that she shouldn’t be worried, that the father wasn’t dying anytime soon, etc. Ever since she had been suppressing a strong urge to weep.
Though the fear of losing her father was reason enough for her to want to weep, it wasn’t the only reason – her girlfriend, Tanvi, had deserted her, failing to come to terms with her homosexuality. Shaheen didn’t blame her, as she herself had been struggling to come to terms with her own. If anything, she had felt sorry for Tanvi who probably will never come to terms with her basic instincts, will be arranged-marriaged now that she was taken out of studies by her parents, to some stranger and become a sad wife.
Besides, her homosexuality had won her an unwanted notoriety in her college hostel in last few months, she had no idea as to who guessed the truth, some students were making fun of her, the serious ones (especially girls) avoided her – and some teachers were putting pressure on her to leave the college.
By now though, her mind was made up. She was not going to give up, not going to leave college. She no longer felt guilt at her homosexuality and, for herself, was prepared to fight for her rights against a prejudiced society and even live the life of a social outcast if it came to that, as it probably would, but her trouble was that she knew she won’t be alone who shall have to face this social prosecution and that her family will have to deal with it too, it is this – the fact that others should suffer because of her, which filled her with guilt. She sometimes believed that it could be better if her family should break their links with her when she comes out to them so that they won’t have to lose their dignity.
Whatever way it might be, she must tell her father. At least, that will take care of that other guilt for not letting him know. And it will be alright, she told herself. Yes, it will be. It must be all right, there is no way about it. And unconsciously, she had counted on her meeting with Sahil to cheer her up before she met her father; for last few months she had tried to indulge more and more in all little things she enjoyed to ease the ever-burning fire of agony that was now inside her all the time – chocolate, coffee, comedy series, anime comics, looking at pets, babies etc or their pictures etc. She had been like that since she was a child – always looking to get more and more of these little things and they always managed to cheer her up in her bad moods, she called them her Patronus charms – from Harry Potter, the series formed her entire personal library. And now she needed them all the more. In the last few months, she had discovered her homosexuality, loved and lost her love besides being hated for being herself – all this meant that she had lost her belief in God, praying to whom was one of those Patronus Charms. She had looked forward to meeting with the kid with high anticipation and bought a toy car for him. That little thing must have grown a lot by now, she would wonder, yet not sure, if it was the right toy to buy for the kid.
Her sister met her at hospital entrance with a forced smile, which did what it was supposed to do – make her smile back, and a hug to top it up; took her to her father’s room, the child was sitting on a bench in front of his father’s room in hospital, deeply engrossed in his play. Before entering the patient’s room, she greeted the boy forcing a smile on her exhausted face. In response, the kid just looked back with suspicion in its eyes. She tried to call him again with same high hopes, and getting the same reaction, failed to hide the frustration of dejected hopes. This disappointment, clearly visible in her eyes had prompted her sister to remark as if the child’s behavior had embarrassed her, that he was shy around strangers and that he will soon take to her. ‘It is a small thing. It happens.’ Shaheen told herself, as she responded with a small nod but the disappointment didn’t go away, nor was she able to hide it when she handed over to her sister the toy car, not wanting to approach the suspecting kid herself, before asking to be taken to her father.
And perhaps it was because of this disappointment that she failed to reveal her secret to her father, who had lost most of his health and the mere sight of whose weak body was enough to shock her further into that dark abyss. Though she had tried to prepare herself for somewhat similar sight, it wasn’t only that she knew she was about to lose him but, also, that seeing him so weak and vulnerable was seeing the last pillar of her faith (since she had already lost God) going down to ruins. She even failed to put on a smile while she told him he was going to be alright, knowing that she had done a worse job at consoling than her sister had done for her sake.
Her father …. Who had been her hero. How he had raised them, the two sisters after his wife died. She was only two at that time but she had had as happy a childhood as anyone could expect. He was as much a friend as a father, often teasingly asking his daughters about their boyfriends. Though even those innocent memories had become painful to her, when she discovered her homosexuality – there never were to be any boyfriends. Would her father accept her?
But she never could bring herself to tell him. Their conversation died very quickly, though the two wanted to hear each other talk, both were too exhausted to speak.
After a night’s sleep, she tried, with new energy, to make friends with Sahil who was playing with his new toy car, making the car run to his father who will make it run back to the child. She implored Sahil to make it run towards her but he still responded with a confused look and instead looked at his father as if to find reassurance in his eyes that this woman wasn’t some evil witch. ‘The stupid kid!’ she felt an impulse to curse while her brother-in-law offered an apology not much unlike his wife had done earlier. Shaheen had started feeling depression upon finding herself being judged like that by a child. Don’t they say that children are avatars of God himself? (when she asked herself this, she forgot for the moment she no longer believed in Him) Was she so out of place, so disgusting, so far gone already?
It takes a great deal of effort to resist the temptation to see yourself as people around you see you, no matter how sure you are of being right yourself. This was one of those now increasingly frequent lapses in which she thought of herself as nothing – not a wanna-be art designer, not a daughter or sister; but as a homosexual, nothing but a homosexual, that, just that – that was all her identity now, along with all the prejudice attached to it, and, though she knew it was ridiculous, she couldn’t help thinking that the kid was suspicious because it had somehow seen the ‘wrong’ in her.
She sat caring for her father the whole afternoon that day but couldn’t gather strength to tell him the truth. And should she? What was the point? He was dying anyway. Why should she give him the additional shock? And there was so much to tell him, so much had changed I last two years and she had told him nothing. But was it fair to let him die without knowing her truth? For it was now ‘her truth’, the truth for which she would have to fight all her life, to work towards a future where no one else would have to suffer like her. It was so unfair, why should homosexuals suffer from an additional test of coming out to their parents? Why should heterosexuality be taken as the norm? How could people be so stupid?
But what had to be, had to be. She must tell him when he wakes up.
Though it wasn’t to be, for the nurse who had to come to check on him remarked he was dead.
All her life, Shaheen would never be sure for how long she was sitting with his dead body thinking him asleep. She burst out crying aloud, feeling a pain almost physical in her whole being and thus drawing the attention of her sister and brother-in-law who were sitting outside the room.
Fatima, as was her nature, pretended to be strong when dealing with a crisis for benefit of her younger sister and so her tears were silent and her actions controlled as she consoled her sister. Her husband sprang into action to fulfill the formalities of the hospital and funeral leaving the two sisters alone.
Fatima took her sister outside, an arm behind her back, another holding her hand and made her sit on a bench where her attention was drawn by her son who wanted a playmate. Though grieved by loss of her father and already having a sister at hand to console, Fatima was too loving a mother to say no to him, and started making the car go to the other end of corridor of her child, who would do a happy dance and go ‘yay’ raising both his arms in on seeing the magical movement of the vehicle and fetch it back to his mother, so that the trick could be repeated. Fatima wanted to distract her sister with this play but her sister was having a revelation.
‘I need a family’ shaheen was realizing ‘I can’t do it alone, no, what was I thinking? I am not strong to do it alone. I need a family.’ If not her father, her sister must accept her. There was no way she could survive being abandoned by her.
She needed her sister. And so she told her in half-trembling voice, “Sis, there is something I had been wanting to tell you and father.”
Her sister stopped playing with Sahil showing all her attention to her younger sister “What?”
“I am a homosexual.”
She could feel herself shatter to pieces at the question. “A homosexual. I have had a girlfriend at College.”
“You mean you had …”
Fatima started saying something but checked herself and then went silent for several minutes during which she looked away from her sister, not able to look at later whom she loved so much as if having lost interest in her. Fatima will stand by her later once the shock was absorbed but this absorption took a few minutes. And those few minutes would have killed something very precious in her younger sister, a few movements of that utter loneliness, of that belief that no one cares for you, even if it later proves only to be an illusion, is enough for that inexplicable ‘something’ to die within, a ‘something’ for which no word exists, but which is source of faith required to appreciate what is beautiful and embrace life, a something only felt by some of the most sensitive souls.
But this very moment which could have been the destruction of that ‘something’ ended up giving her a memory which would help her fight the hardships of her life for the next few years.
It so happened when she was about to hit the rock bottom of that abyss she had so long found herself in – very deeply yet unconsciously, she felt a need to be held, to be comforted, to have her sister’s – anybody’s arm on her back, she had a strong unconscious need to be touched by a human (looking back at the moment in retrospect she would realize that there no form of Patronus charm compares to human touch), just as when she had felt when she came to know of her father’s death a few minutes before; but this time she didn’t cry out aloud, who will console her? Had she not cried back then because she knew her sister was there to comfort her? Was she such a monster to lose so loving a sister as Fatima? Everyone at college hated her. Even the innocent kid, her own nephew hated her. Was she never to be loved? She suddenly thought herself, ugly, monstrous, and wished to die, not to kill herself, but to die, she had no energy to kill herself. When had she become such a monster that even children hated her? Her own sister! Maybe her father would have hated her, she had insulted his memory, maybe she was so detestable after all. Detestable, disgusting, monster …
Trying to hold this storm inside her, she was unconsciously looking at Sahil across the corridor, who too, was looking at her as if measuring her with his little eyes, but she didn’t notice it until a wide smile formed on his face and he ran towards her and, two seconds after she was marveling at how monstrous, detestable she was, the kid offered her the toy car wanting her to play with him.
Copyright – Sidharth Vardhan