Author’s note: This is a short story that I’ve written. (But it is actually one of my novels that I am currently working on.) It is copyrighted material that will not be replicated. And while it is purely a work of fiction, the theme is heavily based on reality. Any names, characters, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The first time I wore boy clothes, it felt very strange. My father took me to the barbershop to cut off my long wavy locks, and then to the bazaar to buy me a pair of pants and some t-shirts. What felt even more strange was that I was not wearing a headscarf anymore. I couldn’t help but feel liberated; like as if a heavy burden had just been lifted off of my head. But I was still curious for it had taken me a long time to start wearing it in the first place, and now that I was free from it, I wanted to know why. My father simply chuckled softly, patted my spiky little head and said:
“You are a boy now, Nang bachay*. Boys don’t wear scarves.”
“But why?” I asked, as I looked up at him with my ever curious eyes.
“Well, you see bachay, God created men and women very differently. He did not use the same ingredients for both of them. He spent more time on women, so they came out very beautiful. It was not His mistake, because God never makes mistakes. But, because He had spent so much time and energy on perfecting the woman, He did not want to flaunt her beauty as He is known to be very humble and modest. And, so, He ordered them to cover their beauty, because it is only through His divine creation of the woman that He is able to portray His humility,” he explained.
“But, you are too young to understand this Nangiala, once you grow up you will understand,” he added, patting me on my spiky head again. He was right. I did not understand what he had told me, so I did not question him any further. Besides, all I truly cared about was the fact that I, unlike my sisters, was free from wearing it. And that was all that mattered to me. That I was free. Free like the falcon that I often saw flying over the snow-capped mountains.
Besides this new-found freedom, I noticed that my father started to treat me differently than my sisters too. He would take every opportunity to spend time with me and take me places. He loved to show me off to all his friends, and take me on long walks outside of the village. He never did that with my sisters.
I also became aware of the fact that the people in our village, especially the women, were beginning to wonder about me, considering that everyone knew that my parents only had four daughters.
“Who is that little boy?” they’d whisper amongst each other. “I thought Droon Khan didn’t have a son, where did this boy come from?”
“Eh, it looks like he had a son all along, but kept him hidden from us all to prevent him from getting the evil eye. It makes sense, look how long it took him to finally have a zwey*.”
“Ah, yes, but look how skinny and delicate he is…are they feeding him well?”
“He is very sweet-looking though. He looks just like his lovely mother.”
Naturally, my father would pretend he didn’t hear them talking about us behind our backs. It was probably because he was well aware of the initial shock of their seeing me for the first time. He also figured that once they got used to the idea that he has a son, they would stop. And they did stop. Eventually.
I loved being the centre of attention. Despite my closeness to my sisters, I knew that they were envious of our father’s blatant affections for me. Each time he’d come home from work he’d call out for me and envelope me in a tight hug, smothering my whole face and head with kisses. He would often bring me toys and sweets, or grab me by the hand and take me to the bazaar so that I could choose whatever I wanted to buy. All I had to do was just point to a toy, and father would buy it in an instant, not the least worrying about the price. He would then gaze at me and smile. A smile that has never left his face since then.
And so father was constantly smiling and laughing. Mother, on the other hand, didn’t seem as pleased as my father. But I knew her life was much easier now, because people stopped talking discourteously about her. As a matter of fact, because of my being a boy, she had suddenly acquired a new-found respect from the women in the village. Of course, at the time, I did not understand why my being a boy brought so many drastic changes to both my parents’ lives, as well as my own, but it brought me great pleasure to know that I, and nobody else, was the cause of all of it.
However, Brekhna and her three daughters didn’t shy away from showing their envy and hostility towards me. They all knew they couldn’t touch me anymore because I was “special,” so each time I was around them, they would ignore me completely and pretend like I did not exist. I did not care, because I despised Brekhna and my asinine step sisters. I remember how they would all verbally and physically abuse me and my sisters. I also hated the way Brekhna physically abused my mother when my father was away. But my being a boy suddenly changed all that. I knew I had the power and privilege to get rid of all of them, once and for all.
And the day finally arrived the year I turned eight. By then I was spoiled rotten. I spoke my mind, without a care in the world. I’d cuss and swear and often get into fights with the boys at my school, which would result in my getting bruised, especially on my arms and legs. Luckily, my father had not noticed the bruises as I’d often wear long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants to cover them. My mother knew, but she never dared to tell my father, for she was conscious of how sensitive he was about me.
However, this time I decided to use the bruises to my advantage. It was the day before Eid-Ul-Adha, but I knew it would be far from being a happy occasion. I forced myself to cry as soon as my father came home.
“Baba, look what Khaala* did to me?” I wailed, showing my father the bruises on my arm that I’d gotten the day before. The look of horror and rage on my father’s face was enough to make me stop crying. He looked like he was about to explode.
“Brekhna!” he screamed, his face so beet red that I was expecting to see steam come out of his ears.
Upon hearing her name, Brekhna quickly rushed into the living room, a look of open fear in her dull brown eyes. I almost burst out laughing, but quickly covered my face with my hands to make it seem like I was sobbing instead.
“Wh-what is it, Droon Khaana, is everything okay?” Brekhna stuttered, getting more and more nervous by the second.
In response my father charged across the room and slapped Brekhna so hard across the face that she lost her balance and fell to the floor with a loud thud. Upon hearing the commotion, my mother, sisters and Brekhna’s daughters came rushing into the living room. My mother’s jaw dropped open to see my father screaming and hovering over Brekhna, hitting and kicking her, as she cried for him to stop.
“HOW DARE YOU HURT MY SON?! HOW DARE YOU PUT YOUR HANDS ON HIM?! I WON’T SPARE YOU FOR THIS, BREKHNA. EITHER LEAVE THIS HOUSE OR I WILL KILL YOU!”
At this point I was terribly frightened at my father’s rage. I stopped my phony crying and clung to my mother with my face buried in her tiny waist. I had never seen my father so enraged. So mean. So violent. And I knew I should have felt bad for what I’d done to Brekhna, but I didn’t. She deserved it. She deserved it all. Even my mother was silent. I could tell she was too stunned to even speak.
I don’t exactly remember for how long my father physically abused Brekhna, but the screams ended sometime before midnight. I couldn’t sleep at all during the whole ordeal. I was almost starting to believe that he was going to kill her. I huddled with my mother, who tried to cradle me to sleep. I was about to doze off when suddenly I heard my father enter the room, which made me bolt upright. For the first time in my life, I was afraid of him. He smiled at me – the special smile that he had only reserved for me – and cupped my small face into his huge palm so that he was looking directly into my eyes.
“It’s okay, bachey. No one will ever hurt you again, you hear? This is my promise to you,” he whispered, and then kissed me on my damp, cold forehead. “Now go to sleep. Go on.” I reluctantly got up and went to my bedroom that was right next to my parents. My sisters shared a bedroom at the end of the hallway, while I was given the room that was right next to theirs. I tried to sleep, but couldn’t. I heard my parents whispering, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I heard my mother gasp softly and a chill ran down my spine. I then heard my father moan and then all was quiet again. Deathly quiet.
The next morning, Brekhna left with her three daughters. I did not know where they were going or whether they would come back, but all I know is that I never saw them again.
*bachey — child
*zwey — son
*khaala — aunt
© January 2011