Nora took a sip from their cup. Their lips quivered slightly before they tucked them in their mouth, careful not to spoil their calm demeanor. They gently fell back on the couch as their back gave in to the day’s exhaustion. Lazy wings of the beige fan overhead danced on their glassy eyes. Their calmness was no match to the storm starting inside their chest; their heart thumped each time with a dull pain. They recognized experiencing this pain, when Mahin said he’ll let them know when he is tired of them. Well, not in so many words but that’s what it sounded like to Nora, anyway.
“I’m doing it again”, they thought as they drifted. To their left, the city laid stretched out, parts of it moving lazily between traffic lights in the evening rain.
“So you’re saying, you’re not dysphoric?”
Nora blinked twice before answering hurriedly, “No, no I’m not… I don’t want to impose that term on myself just to claim I might be trans. Chih that would be so wrong!” Then after a pause, they added quietly “What’s wrong with not being dysphoric?”
Mahin shrugged, replying, “Then how are you sure you might be trans?” Nora felt confused. They were certain they had read in some article that said one does not have to experience dysphoria to be trans. “Hmm, I see” they said, with unease. “I also wanted to talk to you about something.” Nora moved closer to him, curled their arm around his and said in a low voice, “What do you think about us? I mean, are we still good, or is there…someone else you came across? Because if you have, that is fine I guess. You just have to inform me and we will split.” Saying split felt like their heart split open.
Mahin paused for a few seconds to really think, which Nora later realized was the myriads of girls he had already been talking to online and probably even meeting behind their back. Like a scanning machine his brain scanned through a list only he could access. He finally said, “No.”
“Not yet, that is.”
A year later, the clouds of affection parted and Nora could look back at those days with more clarity. They felt twinges of pain thinking that their boyfriend was gate-keeping and violating them, not only with transphobic comments but by putting up a whole façade of a caring man who was doing them the favor of sacrificing his polyamory just to be with them. They spent sleepless nights blaming themself for not standing up to him and every morning woke up with a feeling of betraying themself. They couldn’t stand up to him when he hinted they had too little “knowledge” about the “important things”; like he was some ultimate measure of knowledge, like he could decide for everyone how much knowledge one should have and how much knowledge was not “knowledge enough”. They couldn’t stand up to him for the hundreds of such moments of condescension and disrespect for reasons that Nora later understood were centered around them not living up to his standard of women. Gosh, they weren’t even a woman and even if they were, what were all these expectations dumped on them like being the ideal partner was some kind of achievement? You only deserve love when you become the “proper woman” in some douchebag’s eyes. Utterly pathetic, Nora thought.
They still live with resentment towards themself for loving him in ways that could ignore this violence for more than a year. So much self-love and self-care slipped through their fingers, in order to give him love and get love, rejection and hurt in return. “Why do we love at all”, Nora thought “if loving means carving ourselves into things you are not?” They drifted and spiraled deeper into a void; tired, half-conscious, half-aware of the fact that someone was sitting right in front of them, waiting to say something. Perhaps answers to life’s questions always demand dissociation from reality and more and more fatigue, producing no answers whatsoever sometimes. Questions we deal with in our realities and questions we want to process and unpack as we step down from the stages of said realities, leave all the performance behind and look at realities from a distance. Perhaps this distance is what’s missing when we love someone. Nora snapped out of layers of thoughts in a couple of seconds. They glanced at Roushan quickly to see if she noticed they had dissociated. “I know things will be tougher for you, now that…” Roushan’s voice trailed off. She gave away a particular eagerness to get Nora’s attention that could be measured by the soft insistence in her voice but her courage to complete that sentence faltered. Her mind toiled to produce some sensible words. Nora noticed that Roushan was struggling to tell them something reassuring. With one glance, they knew their mother had nothing to offer.
“Why are you here?” Nora finally broke the silence, fixing a firm gaze at Roushan’s eyes. Roushan seemed utterly void of anything significant to say to her daughter.
“I won’t stay for long. Please hear me out, Ma”, Roushan said quietly, holding back tears.
Nora let out a sigh and raised a brow; they were waiting for their mother to come up with some sob story. How funny that she had come to their house finally, after Baba passed away.
“I know it must hurt so much to take your father’s death alone”, she said. “Yes, but why is that your concern and why are you here?” replied Nora impatiently.
Roushan looked down on her lap and let a few tears roll down her cheeks, before saying, “I just came here to tell you some things I should’ve told you years ago”, Roushan managed to blurt out. “But before I do, I want to admit that I’m responsible for your incomplete childhood.”
Nora flew into a rage instantly. “How dare you? Walking into my life again and saying that it was incomplete? Why, because you chose to leave me and Baba?” They scoffed and said, “You think you are so crucial to our family now that Baba is no more, don’t you? You are not a part of our family. You stopped being family the night you walked out on us. And, do not, for a second, mistake my childhood, my life or my father’s upbringing of me as incomplete.”Roushan let out a short sigh, looked up to them with red, teary eyes and said, “Alright, but my life was incomplete because you were not in it. You were so young, Nora. So new to this world and its ways. I couldn’t tell you why I had to leave your father. And you with him.”
“Over the years when your father tried so hard to ensure that you and I could never get in touch, he never told you that I made countless requests to him for a chance to talk to you, to get to know you, to tell you that it was no longer possible for me to remain in a loveless marriage. But your Baba was stern about not letting that happen. He was so determined about not letting me keep my baby daughter.” Nora’s lips quivered as Roushan continued, “He must’ve been a wonderful father, a better parent than I could ever be…
but Nora, you must know that the questions and hollows in your life were unfulfilled because you father never let me come close to you.” Roushan let out her final words in whispers as she broke down into tears.
Nora couldn’t stand the sight of their mother being so miserable. Rage and betrayal from a past they had kept buried for so many years wanted to burst out of them. Their mind sent out multiple voices getting across several messages to them, some telling them their mother was lying, trying to get attention and some saying, maybe she wasn’t. They couldn’t be in that room, in that very moment anymore. It was too much to take; the blow was too big to absorb. Their mind glided gently into another episode of dissociation as they tried to fight it. Nora’s mornings were alright; lazed in the company of their cat and yet-to-finish novels. They waited for their afternoon tea, when a boisterous Baba would burst into their room and grab them by the hand, take them to the old terrace swing and pour his heart out about his day to them over some coffee, swinging in the light breeze that carried the smell of his jasmines. Nora never stole any of his moments; they just said, “I don’t know, tell me!” giving him the complete joy of finishing his stories, his way. Often, they smiled to themself looking at his ruffled gray hair and the wrinkles on the corner of his eye and thought, “When did you become so old?” Baba passed away and Nora’s world collapsed. It felt stupid to think that he was gone at first but gradually the sight of each of his empty belongings; his arm chair, his mug, his ashtray he said he won’t use from the coming week made them cringe in pain. The pain that came from the loneliness they thought would accompany them all their life. And just when mornings started to be alright again, they received a call from Roushan. Nora dragged themself back to the room. They thought of the night their mother stormed out on Baba, they were so little and could only figure out their mother had left once they felt their absence in everything, everywhere. It was a numb pain; the pain numbed by Baba who refused to speak to them about her. Nora realized there is so much comfort in suppressing memories because now when it came back, they couldn’t help but dig out hurts they had long forgotten. And it hurt like never before. By then, Roushan stood up and was about to leave. Nora nearly had some sort of a revelation; a hundred thoughts ran through their mind at light speed. Nora couldn’t disbelieve their old, crying mother; not that day, when it felt like she laid bare the most vulnerable bits of herself to them.
Maybe, after their last disagreement, Baba and their mother never found one reason to reconcile, not even for Nora’s sake. And what does it mean to leave but to make a choice amidst hundreds of choices we make every day that change our lives for good? What if Baba was too entitled to accept that he was nobody to hold back their mother? What if he was unwilling to admit or had no concept of the fact that their mother had full agency of walking out of a marriage that was not working for her? Nora didn’t have to know the reasons for Baba’s disapproval of their mother’s presence in their life after separation, because they knew Roushan had breached the lines a woman must never dare to breach. After all, in the eyes of the rest of the world and to Roushan and Baba, they were a woman too. Those few seconds of embracing their performativity to society revealed to Nora, once again, its deeply problematic biases; the same biases that kept their mother from them, the same biases that won’t allow them the space to perform and exist as someone beyond the binary.
With thoughts from the past and eagerness for a plausible reunion, Nora gazed at Roushan with soft eyes. She was ready to leave, they didn’t know what stopping them would entail. They let out a sigh, the warmth of which carried their amorphous memories, their last hopes, their newly found clarity. Everything.
“Like every breaking wave, on the shore
This is as far as I could reach”
First Queer Short Story Collection of Bangladesh