The shards of glass tainted with blood lay scattered in the room like the crushed mulberries trampled by the foot of naked children in an abandoned backyard. If one could switch on the lights of that room, or perhaps, hang the sun on the ceiling, one would see the impressions of the fruit on Neel’s right cheek, on his arms and on the barren yard below his neck.
But in the Room number 21 of Highfield apartment, where Neel lived with his husband, Joseph, everything was dark for the past six months. It was only on one ordinary day when Neel decided to hang the trembling sun on the ceiling. He picked up his phone and called his mother several times.
However, it was the fifth call when he finally got the courage to speak up.
“Maa, Ne..el. Neel.”
“Neel? H..how are you, son? After six months? six months! six…”
“I want to come back to India. I can’t live here anymore with…”
“Oh, did it take you so long to understand that there wasn’t any closet at all? After untying a seven year-old marital knot? I always knew that leaving Sayema to marry the firangi guy‘ could be the worst decision you could ever take. So now you know how unnatural same-sex marriages are? And why can’t they work? Look, it’s not too…”
The courage that took four phone calls to build, shattered in four questions.
“Maa, I haven’t called you up for this. I am still sure about my sexual orientation. I can’t stay with Joseph because…he beats me. My decision to marry a man wasn’t wrong. Joseph isn’t the right one. And, I can’t stand these episodes of violence.”
“Domestic violence? Is that what you mean? In the same-sex couples? Who do you think will believe it?”
“If it rains, the water falls over our roof, too. The heterosexual couples are not the only ones who’re getting drenched. The storms affect everyone. It doesn’t knock the door to check the sexual orientation of people, Maa. Don’t build another closet for me.”
“Goddamn your closets! Somebody threw a word in the air and everybody is sneezing this term ‘closet’ since then. Closets! Closets! Closets!”
Maa hung up the phone.
The mulberry like impressions on his skin grew darker. The sun fell from the ceiling.
But at that time, he knew how to catch it.
He rang up Sayema, his wife who had helped him in getting out of the closet.
“Five months of suffering and you didn’t call me even once? You need to pack your bags and come to my apartment. He’s not the only man out there. We’ll find the right one for you. First, we need to get a lawyer and talk to him about the divorce,” Sayema said as she peeled the mulberry maps from his skin.
“Do you think getting a divorce for a homosexual couple is easy, Sayema?”
“Is living there easy, Neel?”
Neel knew that answers to both the questions were same. He didn’t know what the future would bring, but he knew that he had to get himself out of the land of crushed mulberries and fight for his rights.
He kept his dull pants, vibrant shirts, the leather shoes and the ball of sun in his briefcase and walked away.
The only thing that he left behind were the mulberry maps, a deafening silence and a tale of courage.
~ Eshwarya Khanna
(Photography by Arif Khan, Editing: Eshwarya Khanna)