Note: This piece is part of a fictional series on life and the world around us.
The school bell belted out its rusty old tune.
‘Ding Ding Ding’
Like clockwork, students reluctantly rushed their way to their classes. I was one of them, with my books pressed against my chest I dragged myself into my Islamiyat class.
Mr Khan tucked his dull green shirt in his pants and took one deep, long breath.
You could see it in his eyes, it was a look that screamed ‘Yaar kya kar raha hoon zindagi ke saath’. He swiftly turned to the board and like a broken cassette player began teaching his lesson. Monotone and utterly disinterested.
As soon as he started reciting the words from the textbook I phased out. I had more important things to think about. What had Amma made for lunch? Who will I sit next to today on the ride back home? etc, etc…
The long 40 minutes finally ended with the bell that indicated the next class and I got up, propped my books up against my chest, and as I walked out Mr Khan grabbed me by my shoulder and told me to wait, he needed to talk.
Once everyone else had shuffled out of the room he sat on his leather chair that looked rather uncomfortable and went into deep thought.
“How do I say this?”
He looked at me with concern and fright. He smacked his lips some 5 times and just blurted out the most horrible words.
“Beta, look at how you’re carrying those books.”
I was confused. How am I carrying my books?
“Listen, you don’t carry yourself like a boy, or a man. You don’t talk like a man, or walk like one either. Puff your chest when you walk and Khuda ka waasta please stop moving your hands around so much.”
Now after completing his good deed for the day by advising a young boy to “act like a man”, he let me go to my next class. Physically, I went to my chemistry class, but mentally I was elsewhere.
Suddenly all the lectures my parents gave me about being stronger and all the bullying I faced in school made sense. It was never them, it was me who was the problem. I was a total weirdo, of course everyone wanted me to change. I was the idiot.
Why was I such a ‘girl’? I was a boy and the little beard around my face meant I was about to be a man and it was high time I started acting like one.
When I got home I brushed past my mother and sat myself in front of our glossy silver mirror.
I watched myself like a cartoon. I walked, I talked and I even tried to be angry. I reached out to myself in the mirror and vowed that I would be a MAN from this point forward. Big steps, chest out and a deeper voice. And of course, I had to remember that I needed to carry my books some other way.
The next day, as I approached the homely asylum that we called school, I gave myself a pep talk. I stepped into that place anew. I carried myself differently, I owned that moment and I couldn’t be happier. I was acting like the man I was supposed to be.
But I could only keep it up for half the day. It felt like I was wearing full body armor on a hot hot day. I was sweating, I was flustered and I was confused. The armor of ‘manhood’ I carried was too heavy and I was crashing under the burden.
I had to slap myself. Men don’t give up, that’s girl’s job. I had to weather through otherwise I would never be accepted.
I would never be a man.
I relapsed back into “femininity” every month or so. But I kept trying to act like men are supposed because I had to. It broke me internally. I was a man but I couldn’t act like one, I just couldn’t. Its like when you get an address but you just can’t find the house. You keep going in circles, until you just give up.
For two years I tried to act “manly”
Every month the loop went on, I would be manly enough for the world for the first week but then I’d start forgetting to keep up with the acting and relapsed back into what was natural to me. By this time I was in my A Levels and the constant battering towards manhood had taken its toll. I hated myself, I hated my family and I hated all of my three friends in school.
It was one of those lazy nights. I did something that as a book lover should have brought me shame. I watched the movie rendition of ‘The Perks Of Being A Wallflower’ before actually reading it, but I was glad that I did. If only I had done that sooner.
I am a misfit, I know that, but I needed to celebrate it rather than hide it. My madness is my beauty and beautiful things aren’t hidden they are celebrated.
Yes I am a misfit, but after watching that movie (and consequently reading the book) I refused to feel like unwelcome, I too fit in the puzzle of this world no matter how different my size and shape.
It took me too long to see that the people and the society around me built a space for me to exist in, a space I did not belong in. I tried my best to mold myself for that space but I just couldn’t but rather I let my inability to do so get to me and it was ugly. It took me long enough to have the epiphany to build my own space, the space where I truly belonged.
In this space I found happiness and comfort. You may throw your taunts, your names and your judgement but guess what? All your hurtful jabs, they bounce off my new thick skin. I’m done trying to fit in according to what you think is right, because according to me where I am is right for me.
I may move my hands too much, cry at an emotional ad, walk ‘funny’ but this is who I am. Deal with it and if you can’t then go away because I’m not changing myself for anyone, not anymore.
I am a man and I don’t need to “act like one”.
Cover image via: tatacliq.com