TW: Violence, Transphobia
I woke up with a pain in the chest. It could be around 6 am, I guess. I roll on the mat and sit up. There is a chill breeze come in through the window, it is not a breeze – I recognize it with the same weight in the chest. I am in Pamban, a coastal village in interior TamilNadu to start research work for our documentary. I reached last night along with two of my friends who are sleeping beside me and it is coastal wind, not just any breeze. Picking up my change of clothes, I walk out of the hall where we all three slept during the night to the outdoor toilet and bathroom space. I mindfully avoid my slippers and let my bare feet land on the sand, it is smooth with soft peaks falling flat under my feet, winter has smoothened this sea sand. I walk ahead to the toilet.
The water is cold, so cold that my teeth rack through my cheeks. Before I could grab the towel, a silent wind comes in and my body shiver. I pat my body with towel and proceed to wear my cloths. I put in my chest compressing bra and proceed to wear the t-shirt. It amplifies the chest pain and I try to focus on everything else apart from my breathing. I hastily draw the track pants over my hips and come out of the bathroom. The scene is lighted now and I could see the distant blue line and whitish borders diminishing and building up again. The long hair strands in the crown of my head are wiggling and I slightly smile. I go inside, drop my towel and get my phone and start walking towards the coastline.
I walk to the end of sand and watch as the waves crash slowly along with the bunch of green coral leaves mixing up with the already existing piles of them. I grew up in a coastal town which is five hours from here. The coast looks very much similar to that of the town. I stare at the sea and it accumulates. So I take my phone from my pocket, thinking of sending a text to Amudhan, he must be sleeping, I think as I unlock the phone. And the date is 16th February, I instantly realize why I am at the verge of sinking in. Three years ago, a distant grandmother who brought me up died on this day and I couldn’t grieve properly. For the past eight months, things have been very ugly with home and I cannot go home. I drop my phone back into the pocket and walk back to the home where we are staying currently.
I doodled for some hours and we finally go out for food around 11 am. Now it is hot and everything in the is vision blurring bright. We sat together for lunch in a small hotel and we get rice with fish kuzhambu and fry. I could see the work that is going on inside the kitchen and the smell of raw fish, cooked and cooking fish and the very familiar sea smell hits. I eat quietly while my two friends are actively discussing the course. Teju notices and looks at me checking if I need anything. Chest pain intensifies suddenly and I drop my eyes. She waits patiently and asks, “What’s wrong?”
I breathe in and reply “I want to go home”. She stiffens and proceeds immediately to cautiously shake her head saying no but then stops in the mid and asks a concerned “why”. I just couldn’t handle the kindness and avert my eyes from her.
“‘Az, what is wrong?”
She asks again and warmth floods in my chest, hearing someone calling me Az. Az is a temporary name I am keeping to myself till I could find a name for me. I tell her that I want to visit the graveyard of someone who brought me up. My friends are silent and I gaze at the distant homes. Now all I could feel is just that miserable want and my utter helplessness in wanting it. Nizhal breaks the silence in his calculating voice.
“Will your parents be home?”
“No, they will be in their house, they don’t usually feel the need to go to the village for this person’s death anniversary”
“So, you will be safe?”
I shake my head. “No, my uncle is there”
Alarm flickers in Teju’s eyes and I just try hard to swallow the grief and accumulating sadness.
‘Do you have a plan to go and return safely?’ Nizhal asks. I remember that I have a cousin brother, living in the village who is painfully trying not to be transphobic. I nod and then open my phone, I get to the google drive contacts saved up and find out his number. I have changed all my phone numbers and contacts after shit went down, eight months ago. I dial his number and wait patiently for him to pick up.
By 1 o’clock in the afternoon, I had all things ready. My friends are anxious and I am anxious too. But I couldn’t take them with me, my family gets really agitated if they see my friends and community. I say that and they reluctantly agree. They tell me if they couldn’t reach me by 7 pm, they are going to call helpline. I nod but really hope that doesn’t happen. My uncle doesn’t get back home until 8 pm and I could slip into the village, reach graveyard and come back. My brother will let me know if my uncle is early.
I get the bus and sit in. It is not at all crowded and it is peacefully comfortable. I watch as the palm trees and sand peaks rush back. I remember the old wrinkled smoothest skin of my grandma’s cheeks and the cold skin of her dead body. And I remember the separate cot, pillows and plates given to her and remember how painfully she longs to kiss me in my cheeks during festivals. But her smile and voice are fading. I don’t remember them. I am wearing my favorite white tshirt and a black pant combo. I want to come out to her.
I had already texted Amudhan conveying the plan that I am going home. I could feel his heart beat quickening and I imagine leaning into him, holding each other. He texts back asking me whether I could catch the bus to Chennai by night. I said yes. For some time through the travel, we play songs – we listen to the same songs together, taking turns in deciding what could be the best song to play next.
I reach the village by 6 in the evening, I rush to the graveyard which is opposite the back-water marshes. It is getting really dark and the accumulated fear slowly rises. I push that back and walk fast. There is almost no one around, people settled inside their homes for the night. I hear TV sounds inside homes. The pathway to the graveyard doesn’t go inside the village and I take that path. I reach her grave – just a cement block and a cross with her name, no definite years of lifetime marked because no one knows when she was born and how old she was when she died. I had known her birthday but I forgot. It is in the same February, I guess. I haven’t brought any flowers or incense sticks. I sit beside the grave stone, shoulder bumping into the cross. My black pant and sneakers are so good, I secretly smile. If everything goes by plan, I can start my T shots before May. It just fills my heart so much that I feel like I am dissolving into this rushing joy. This overwhelming joy is still so new that I feel scared and lean closer to the stone. Time ticks by, after ten minutes I stand and look back at the cement upraising. It suddenly feels meaningless to be here. I think furiously – what do I want? I want to remember her, I realize – how she looked like and smiled. I take back my phone and hurriedly dial my brother again.
When I rush back to the home, I keep on going into the details of which album I am asking him to search for and which specific photo I am asking for. But he doesn’t know my grandma and I am sure he cannot find that photo. When I reach there, he has brought down all photo albums of mine and I had to search through the albums. I tell myself that it is an easy task that I remember the photo well. The hall doors were open and I cautiously look around. There is no one here, apart from my brother and I could see the glimpse of framed photos in the hallway – photos of each one of the family members and the old photos of me, so many. I clamp my teeth together, pushing down the feeling of nausea and the immense grief. I check my phone once again, secured in my pocket and kneel in the veranda and look into the albums. But it was clear that none of those albums has the photos I am looking for. I look back at my brother and for the one last time I try describing him the cover of the album – photo of red flowers, I describe it to him. He looks like he understands how my voice is trying very hard not to wobble, he rushes back into the home to try his luck for the last time into the old bureaus. I take my phone and check the time – it is 7:30 pm. I have already replied to Teju and Nizhal that I am safe and I will be out of the village by 8 pm. I open Amudhan’s chatbox and he is waiting for my message. I started typing but I hear footsteps. While I turn around, I realize that there is no way to run, only into the hall that I never can do, willingly. He instantly grabs me by my elbow and pulls me. I lift my eyes to the hallway where my brother could appear anytime. I try not to see him but I hear my uncle yelling. My brother rushes down the doorstep, calling to my uncle and I see a few albums in his hand. I stupidly try to take those albums from my brother’s hands and look if he has the album I want, but my uncle grabs me by my neck and the phone in my other hand flies and scatters. He pushes me and the inclination favours my sight and I could see the red flowered album cover and I also see my phone on the floor, vibrating. My uncle and brother intensely converse and I keep on staring at my phone, it vibrates. And I know that Amudhan is panicking at the other end, waiting for me to reply. I stare and I stare and stare as if it might bring the vibrating phone to me. My uncle suddenly pulls my elbow and starts to lift my shirt sleeves. I know that he is doing this to prove his point by showing out the scars in my arms from self-harming habits I developed to cope up with the abuse, he is claiming that I am mentally unstable by showing out those scars. He grips me so hard that my body screams to let go. But the first lesson I have learnt in this is, not to shout – when there is no one around to help, you don’t shout because your shout of pain will only be understood as resistance and it results in more rage in them and more pain to you. I remembered but it hurts to feel this helpless. I stare at the phone which is silent now and I breathe out through my mouth. It could have been such a victorious image for my uncle that he smiles and I realize instantly that I am safe right at this moment, these are all only to humiliate me. When my brother manages to pull my uncle away from me, I jump and pick up my phone. I try to pick up the album but my uncle plucks it from my hands and looks at me with a smile that is really ugly. For one fraction of a second, I wonder does this kind of expression even exist on earth, but the album is in his hands and my brother is trying hard to stop him. He urges me to go, my uncle yells, knowingly dead naming me again and again. And there is rage inside me, trying to flood out of my chest. But I force myself to look down. My brother understands that I need the album and he tells my uncle that those are the photos of that old lady along with me. Hearing this, my uncle lets out a very ugly bark that is supposed to be a laugh and throws the album away. It gets dropped at the gate and I rush at once, pick it up and exit. And I run to get the van to the nearby town where I can get the bus to Chennai. I sit down at the auto and look at the messages. I quickly send a text to Nizhal and Teju saying that I am on the way out of my village. And I open Amudhan’s text box. He was sending me a bunch of photos while my phone was away. And they were slowly loading. Phone screen has been broken in numerous angles and light blinks out in misshapen gaps. Photos were loading, I send him a text saying that I am on the way. It is getting sent slowly. I lean back and breathe. I open my phone and check again in a few minutes. I got the photos and Amudhan got my text too. Those were our photos, me and him – laughing, smiling, in peace, calm. I clutch the phone tightly and see those photos again and again.
I reach Chennai in the morning. Amudhan is waiting at the metro and I walk toward him, he takes my hand, his face carefully blank holding in everything, I am tired and we walk silently. We take the tickets, get the metro and sit in the seat. It is still half dark and I could see half the reflection of me and him in the glass, sitting next to each other, holding hands. I see him, I see me. And I realize after I start to take T shots, I cannot sit next to him like this, cannot hug or hold hands with him like this in public places. And my chest caves in, fear spreads over, along with some pain that gnaws intensely. He press my palms, I look up at him. His eyes are full of warning – don’t you dare think along that dark path? And I swallow my cries just until we reach home. I lean onto him and close my eyes to stop seeing the reflection, he leans into me. And I try to only listen to him, his heartbeat, his warm body and his hands on my shoulders and I try to settle.