I am a normal girl, but the society doesn’t think that way.
It all started about two months ago. It was an early December day, sailing along ordinarily except for what happened that dusk, which at that point of time I didn’t realize, could have the potential of stirring my deep recesses just enough, triggering to force everything out on a piece of paper, that I am sharing with you today. Or maybe, it will be just my secret diary, bestowed with the unique privilege of knowing my story.
I opened my eyes and it took me a minute to figure out that I was in my grandma’s home, a modest structure of brick and mortar coated with a layer of pale white that resembled the insides of an old poetry book which had been exposed to more cobwebs and dust than human hands and minds, in its long span after coming into life at a café or some quiet corner, long before the publishing house decided to give it a formal existence. I opened my eyes again, and this time around, my ears told me that mom’s yelling, and it must have been a brief one minute before my eyes could practically see my mom with her hands clutching the pillow in fury, that had been under the care of my head a while ago. I realized I had fallen asleep again and my mom had been calling out my name from the veranda, for a good number of times while being circled by her circle of gossipmongers who liked to call themselves our neighbours, and when she couldn’t elicit a response from me she came darting across the drawing room, the squat hall and then to the bedroom where grandma rested in summers in the greed that the big windows of it would provide her the coolness of breeze, making up for the lack of an air conditioner. I sat up staring confusedly at my mom who looked nothing less than Goddess Durga, with a pillow squeezed tightly in hand, in the absence of a trisool, lion and ten hands. She ranted about how I had so much to study, and yet I preferred taking extended siestas. In a funny way, I thought of how she was neglecting her garden-work assigned by grandma, gossiping with her friends whom she met once for a month every year when we came to visit grandma in the month of December.
Our yearly visits to this small town was as punctual as the postman delivering letters of both love and rejection, of appointment and suspension, in all seasons. We chose December because my aunt had marked the month of May and my uncle clung to June as their periodic visit-months to grandma, though it meant I had to sacrifice my December-classes. I must confess, on the last day of class at school, before we journeyed to this sleepy town in an old government bus, I always felt jubilant waving goodbyes to my friends whose faces betrayed their inner jealousy of seeing their friend break free from the humdrum of daily classes.
My mom at last, went out, giving me the order of latching the ‘big windows’, which I obediently followed. It might rain, she said. One look at the clock and it nodded to me politely, unlike mom, about how many hours had I been merry-making in slumber-land! It was 5 in the evening. I went into the bathroom. An intense splash of cold water took the place, though temporarily, of the much-loved coffee, as it jolted me back to cent percent consciousness. In a small town like this people didn’t quite like the idea of coffee while they were comfortable and happy sipping 7-8 cups of tea daily. Why ask for coffee and look like an idiot, I thought. The time was appropriate for me to lend some strength to my scrawny legs, I thought.
So the decision to jog in the nearby park was made with the enthusiasm of a kid who had recently learned bicycling. I walked past grandma who was busy snoring while grasping one of the many wooden-colored beads with her thumb and forefinger, the ones that they believe takes you closer to God! Mom was getting ready for her daily prayer. I opened the outer door, stepped on to the veranda that was lit by a bulb so less powerful that its non-functioning wouldn’t have made a difference on a full moon day. As I was placing my right foot into the slightly stained sandal I noticed a colony of ants feasting on an ugly looking morsel that must have slipped of grandma’s hand while she was having her lunch in the afternoon, basking in the soothing diffused sunlight of winter, overlooking school-going children returning to their homes in autos overloaded with obese minors who looked more starved than the fitter ones. Not paying much attention to the sight of morsel, I went out and skirted the ten or so undulating houses that stood, like two short siblings sandwiching an outsider or two tall friends separated by a misunderstanding of a low house, between grandma’s home and the park.
On reaching the park, I saw a smiling kid behind its iron gates. The gate was a number of long vertical iron rods pointed at the top, held together by two thick horizontal bars of metal, one crisscrossed at the middle and one at the bottom, providing it the resilience to hold itself when the kid started dangling from it sidewise. It looked akin to the strong iron bars of a big prison except that one couldn’t ever picture a prisoner smiling behind the bars like the kid did! I asked him to slow down so that I could jostle past the gates with the least harm. I strolled down the path that ran full length circling the park. A few senior citizens were employing all they had to defy the law of aging, while a few children played in ways that defied gravity. Halfway, I saw a guy sitting on one of those benches that feigned immaculately, that it was made of wood until you took a seat realizing it was the harsh cement kissing your buttocks. He was alone perhaps. He seemed to have come here straight out of a rigorous session of meditation, anybody would tell, for he stared at the moon with the concentration of a hermit for a long time, as if he drew his secret energies from it and the process would be disturbed if he blinked to miss the sight of the moon which ironically hid behind the clouds at times, and after the clouds floated by, when it peeped again, it shone even brighter than before, suggesting how strongly it was connected with its mortal friend.
After six rounds of jogging and hundred rounds of glancing furtively, I stopped at a bench opposite him. As I perched on the cemented surface I was curious to note that his not-so-brief gaze at the moon had finally called it a day, perhaps suggesting that no creation of nature could hold his precious view uninterruptedly. In that case, I considered myself lucky, because for the next twenty minutes or so, I had the privilege of occupying his view of the park, and life(maybe). Then all of a sudden, he woke up like a man abandoning his un-comfy seat, walked up to me and asked if he could sit beside me. This has always fascinated me – how we could feel like the most important person in the world the very moment somebody asked for our approval. I of course nodded but hid the happiness that accompanied it. I shouldn’t let go covering my emotions – my 14 years of experience on earth shouted so!
Our first meet lasted for less than an hour but in that, we talked about things that spanned generations and continents. At first, we had our fair share of reservations, but as time crawled by, the temporary ice between us thawed. Generations, meaning I told him about my grandma, narrating the woes that followed her relentlessly, soon after grandpa’s death. He spoke about his family in vivid detail and from his lucid monologue interspersed with my occasional ohs and hms, I could make out that he had a humble background. His father was the peon at the only English medium school the town had, and his mom looked after them, him and his younger brother. Continents, meaning he spoke eloquently about his dream of making it big in America. To be honest, I could already imagine his gigantic balloons of dreams being crushed cruelly by fate. But the aspiring writer in me augured otherwise. After a while, I was so immersed in the exchange that I could hardly remember ma’s words – ‘come back home by 7’. The talk ended without an explicit promise of meeting again, and I liked that.
For the next 15 days, we met each day discussing life, and our love for poetry. Yes, he loved poetry, though not the way I did. I wrote lyrical sonnets, whereas he read poems that didn’t necessarily rhyme. But then we loved poetry and that was enough to spark a conversation and many smiles that lasted the length of a twilight and even after. One fine evening, I showed him my secret notebook, that had my thoughts and feelings carved neatly with a golden ‘Pierre Cardin’ on its crisp white pages. He read out a poem called ‘Dream’ loud enough to provide belligerent men a chance to find fault with us. A bespectacled old man demonstrated his disappointment at being disturbed midway reminiscing the glory of his youthful days. My friend lowered his voice, nevertheless he read the rest of the poem with a cheerful passion, similar to that of a singer who displayed his unwavering passion for music, even after performing the same song for the umpteenth time!
On another evening he brought me a slice of plain chocolate cake wrapped neatly in a garish paper. I stuffed it in one go, feeling bad just after it slid into my stomach, for having not offered him his share – which I felt, was half of it. Sensing the undercurrents of embarrassment on my face he explained how he had eaten almost half of the cake soon after his mom had finished baking it and had served a generous slice to his little brother. He lied. In reality, I could clearly picture, how he must have asked his mom the required money with pleading eyes, scuttled to the ‘All-in-one’ shop at the corner of our road, and how he must have selected the costliest cake he could afford. I slept late that night, with my mind running a marathon of all the possible outcomes that our friendship could yield. But I never saw what happened the next day, coming.
I love you, he said. It felt sublime. We held hands and watched the moon saunter into visibility much like the way our love had planted itself in the real world, glacially yet surefooted. I could share with him things that I could never share with a girl. I felt we were the luckiest among so many other couples who were sitting in the park, hand in hand and warmth in the heart. Towards the end, I wanted to kiss him. But I quashed the bad idea on second thought, resting happily on the cushy grass of the park. Suddenly, the lights went out. It was dark. He made a sudden movement, hinting at the possibility of my wish turning true. Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness, we could gauge the urgency of feeling loved in each other. He briskly held my cheeks with the tenderness of a flower, his face inching closer to my lips ever so languidly.
It was a disaster, not because we didn’t know how to French-kiss, but because while we were locked in each other, the lights came rushing back, dispelling the milk of moonlight that was the only pure witness to my first kiss, in a split second, also in the very split second, an angry looking man came running at us, caught him by the scruff of his neck and hurled him to the ground. I was shocked, but before I could produce any reaction the man took me home, dragging me by my arm. On my way out of the park, I could see couples kissing, I searched for the ‘guardians of society’ who would thrash them seeing the unholy act like it had just happened with us. But that didn’t happen, the couples kissed uninhibitedly. My hands hurt from being dragged ruthlessly, but not more than what I was feeling inside. When we hurried past the gate, I tried to steal a glance at him for one last time. But unlike the majestic person, I was so used to seeing, my eyes beheld a vanquished warrior, lost to the conventions of the society.
I have lied about one thing – I am not a girl, but that shouldn’t change the way you view my story, my love for him. Or have you already changed to grey-tinted lenses?
On reaching home, the usual events took place. Anybody with the slightest inkling of the norms of our place would know what took place next.
To cut the painfully boring long story short, I was grounded for the remaining of December, for bringing a great deal of ignominy to my family, by loving a guy. Mom prayed to God, begging him to return the manhood of her son. Grandma’s chants grew louder as she played with her pious string of beads. Meanwhile, I hoped that his dreams of America came true, someday. I missed him.
It was the last day of our stay at grandma’s place. The mom and the daughter cried in anticipation of the separation which was due that late afternoon. Grandma asked me to get her a packet of milk, and as I was about to step outside, she stopped me, and only after consulting with mom she nodded at me dispiritedly as if she still feared my capability of bringing her shame- the thought of it sickened me.
I trudged my way down to the ‘All-in-one’ shop. The weather was in its splendor, the mellowing warmth of late morning beckoning the onset of an early spring! On my way, I saw two dogs mating unabashedly, and on reaching the shop, two people scowling at me unapprovingly. I tried my best evading their hurtful gestures, and in the process ended up looking at ‘him’. Yes, he was there at the right of the wide entrance of the shop. He flashed a smile that concealed his inner turmoil well. I was too afraid to reciprocate. I ignored him. He came up to me and tried talking, but I wouldn’t open my mouth. While he looked at me, his eyes conveyed the inextinguishable flame of love I could savor an entire life! But I couldn’t look at him, never! All I could manage to register was the sight of suspicious eyes and scornful stares, crippling permanently the lives of two hungry souls, pinioning two lads such that they could never dare to fly again! I ran away.
As the old dilapidated government bus sputtered to motion, climbing down the winding roads of the sleepy town, I sat in a window-seat fighting back tears, hoping against hope to see him again. In the valleys and in the mountains which shimmered amidst the milk of moonlight, I longed to meet him, away from human judgement.