(By Isha Jain)
She opened her steel-grey eyes in dread as a crow flew by screeching outside the window. She had tossed and turned all night. The night was coming to an end and dawn was approaching. She hurriedly got up and went to the bathroom. Her steel grey eyes stared back at her. “How did I get such eyes?” she wondered.
After ascertaining that her appearance was as she wanted through the cracked mirror the hotel authorities had put up in her room, she collected her belongings and headed for the stairs. At the reception, she said to the manager, in the gruffest voice she could manage, “I want to clear my account.” The manager smiled obsequiously and said, “Sure! But won’t you like to have your breakfast first?” She pondered the question for a second. She was hungry! But she had dreamt about today for so long. She could not take a risk. She had to get out of that place immediately. She refused the manager’s offer, again in a gruff voice and cleared her account.
She went out on the road trying her best to not look scared and not fidget. She walked like everyone else on the road walked. She ventured towards the cab point, got into one and asked the cab driver, again in a gruff voice, to take her to the airport. Her brow was sweating from the tension and the anticipation that something will go wrong. She tried to put on a mask of nonchalance when actually her heart was thumping at a furious pace. She forced herself to breathe normally as the cab progressed closer to her destination. . Hunger, sleep, exhaustion – all were trying to overtake her will, but she would not heed. Her life flashed in front of her eyes. “It was difficult. Oh yes, it was. Nothing short of hell!” She thought, as her eyes stung with the tears that she desperately tried to control. “Why me?” she wanted to ask the cab-driver, the people outside on the road – some chatting, some laughing, some smoking a cigarette, some heading for their work.
“What did they gain from this?”
“Why did they do this to me?”
These questions were racing through her mind. She could think of nothing else. She controlled herself, warned her mind against venturing into this dangerous territory. These questions had no answers; this was what she had learnt over the years of her life in the most bitter way possible. These questions had no answers!
The music blaring on the radio shook her out of her reverie. A girl was singing in a melodious voice. “How beautiful !”, she thought. “But then how was this possible?”
The cab-driver saw her looking at the radio with a mixture of surprise and disbelief. He smiled and said, “Phoren piece, good no? You are also going to phoren? Good for you. You are getting lot of good things in phoren that we won’t get here. You enjoy yourself. But how did you manage to get the visa? It’s pretty hard these days to get a visa for phoren. Only big-shots are able to get one. Are you a big-shot too?”, he scanned the not flashy, commonplace clothes that she was wearing with skeptical eyes before thinking better of it.
She did not respond to the jabbering of the cab-driver, lost in her own thoughts. How indeed did she manage to get a visa in these days? It wasn’t easy. She had to approach many people, bribe several of them, shell out a lot of money in general, go to many places, wait and wait endlessly for nothing – all while maintaining a cool, composed façade. The façade was important, in fact imperative, so that no one could have guessed what the reality was. Day in, day out she went through the same routine, without letting any emotion play on her face, by putting on a mask. The reality, if anyone would get their hands on it would have jeopardized her.
No! She had to play her part to the end. The curtains were not yet closed. There was work that still needed to be done. She caught the reflection of her steel-grey eyes in the rear-view mirror. Steel grey eyes – eyes that forbade her from relenting, or from taking a moment’s rest, eyes that asked her to be as hard as their color, eyes that egged her to go on.
She composed herself and put the mask on her face firmly back in place. She started chatting with the cab-driver in the gruff voice which had now become a part of her and smoked a cigarette. The airport was now visible. She tried to control the vigorous heartbeat, struggling to keep her mask on nonchalance. She alighted from the cab after paying the fare and the tip to the cab-driver. The cab-driver helped her put her meager luggage on to the trolley and drove away.
Here she was, with her bags, standing where she so longed to be at. Now that she had finally reached the place which she had imagined for years on end without rest, she was feeling oddly scared. She was scared, scared of it all falling apart, of her efforts going to vain. She couldn’t bear even the thought of what would happen if someone got their hands on the truth. The very thought shook her to the core.
Gulping down her fear she moved towards the entrance. Cool air greeted her. She stopped herself from crying out loud with happiness and kept the cool composure. “Celebrations can wait”, she thought. “There’s still work to be done.” She headed to the counter, showed her papers and waited in the line with the other boarders. There was only one line at the airport: the small line of people who were given the permission to cross-over. Ironically, no one wanted to enter the country which was once considered enchanting. “Where did we go wrong?” she thought. She pondered these questions often, but always came out blank. There were simply no answers, no logic that could explain this. . She took a deep breath and waited for her turn. Her palms started sweating as the line moved forward. She wanted to run to the washroom to make sure that she had taken all the precautions and everything was in place. But that would look conspicuous. Heart in her mouth, mask firmly over her face, she waited for her turn. Before long, she was standing in front of the attendant.
“Ticket please”, the attendant extended his hand without looking up at her.
She gave her ticket with all the papers to the extended hand.
He examined the papers, “In a bit of hurry, aren’t you? Why wouldn’t you be – it’s a splendid opportunity”, he looked at her as he handed her papers back. “You’ve got strange eyes.”
She tried to breathe normally and gave him a nod.
“First entrance to your left”, he said.
She thanked him in the same gruff voice and proceeded towards the place she had longed to see since so many years. She tried to keep a check on the surge of emotions that threatened to take over her.
Finally came the time to board the plane. She held the railing to ascend the plane with all her might, taking in the solidity of it. The automated voice told her the directions to her seat as her boarding pass was scanned at the entrance. She took the allotted seat. The plane was half empty and no one was sitting beside her. She closed her eyes and thanked God. She thanked God that no one was sitting beside her, thanked God that she reached where she was safely, thanked God that no one came to know her dark secret.
Her mind raced to the past. The past in which her father protected her and kept her safe even though he knew that it was a crime to raise a girl. He kept her hidden from the world; the world in which ‘girl’ was limited to being a word defined by the dictionary. He kept her safe and bided for the time she would be able to go away; away from the horrors of this world. He poured his money into smuggling the clothes which kept her gender identity hidden from the technological glare of the country, which was still a bit limited when compared to other countries. Leaving him behind to accomplish her destiny, to embrace life without fear – this was the hardest bit. But she had to do it – for his sake and for hers. She shuddered involuntarily and discreetly wiped of the tear; an attendant, in his crisp shirt and pants was coming down the aisle.
“Would you like to have something, Sir?”
“No”, she heard herself replying in the gruff voice that now seemed as a natural part of her.
Nothing from people of your likes, she added in her mind.
She will now soon taste freedom, she thought, as the wheels of the plane set in motion. Her steel grey eyes had a glint as they caught the sun’s reflection.