The twilight sky of the evening was starless and unusually red. Moonlight glimmered lazily on the roofs of bleak houses of my town. People, who strolled at this hour, looked rather ghostly in this dim glow. Swollen clouds and a haze concealed the redness of the sky. Our gatekeeper, Ram Din, was sitting on a box outside his dwelling place. On nights like these, Ram Din had to smile more than usual because, in the growing darkness of the night, his milky-white teeth were the only emblem of his presence; he, otherwise, was a strong, serious man because of the nature of his job or the nature of the circumstances he had been through. He had been serving my family since he was a boy and all of us knew that he was not a man.
It was the night before my arrival and the big auction. My father was a political leader of All India Muslim League and well, my mother was British and a painter. My house was decorated with a plethora of flowers and lights. My mother was a perfectionist. Sometimes it took a week to decorate the house to my mother’s satisfaction.
“Ram Din”, called my mother (hand on her swollen stomach), “help this young man here (gasps) . . . take him upstairs and open the door to balcony.”
He was not just a gatekeeper; he did whatever was asked. He became my mother’s assistant whenever she needed one; he transformed into a head chef whenever there was a feast at home. He was the most trusted person in our home.
Ram Din threw his cigarette in the bin and led the way. “Here sahib, let me hold your tool bag.”
He hadn’t reached halfway when he heard my mother calling out his name, this time a little louder than before.
“Ram Din … Din … call your sahib (gasps) send someone for the woman your sahib told you about.”
Ram Din dropped the tool box and ran towards my mother. He took her to her room. My father arrived. He bent and held my mother’s hand. “Everything is going to be fine … you just need to relax, I have sent for the woman, she’ll be here any minute.”
“Mam sahib, take deep breaths . . . I’m going to Dargah (shrine) to pray for you, Imam Din will be here any minute with the woman.”
He left for Dargah and my father stayed with my mother. Ram Din lit candles and prayed for my safe arrival and my mother’s health all night. Everyone who wanted a piece of peace for his heart came to this Dargah; everyone was welcomed here regardless of their gender, religious, or political orientations. He dozed off there and woke up with Imam Din’s voice. “Raam Dinaa … O Raam Dinaa, you are needed back home; have you forgotten about the auction?”
Ram Din wanted to ask him about my arrival but he feared Imam Din. Imam Din hated Ram because he wasn’t a man and yet he was loved by everyone in our home.
When Imam Din reached home, the auction was about to begin but he went straight to my mother’s room. He was stopped at the entrance and was told that my mother was dead asleep; Imam Din added that she became hysterical when I made an appearance and the doctor had to calm her down with a pill. He came outside with a bewildered look on his face. He saw a small coffin lying in the corner of verandah. He mistook it for a wooden box for my mother’s paintings. He knew that my mother would behave frantically if the wooden case for her paintings was to be this plain. He brought out the painting kit and painted my mother’s favourite patterns on the box. My mother, Elizabeth, taught him how to draw and paint. He placed it under the sun to let it dry.
Meanwhile, the auction started in the lawn which was covered with a clear tent. A maroon coloured, handcrafted carpet was laid at the entrance. Chairs were decorated with tulle and lavender paired together. Mason jars filled with flowers were placed in the centre of the table. My father, Abdullah, dressed in white, traditional Indian dress stood at the stage. The stage was erected between two trees. Twinkle lights coupled with net pleated fabric were wrapped around both the trees.
Without any further delay, bids started. Ram Din stood at the back. He wanted to buy one of the paintings but he had spent all his savings last night at Dargah and was left with only one rupee in his pocket. Disheartened, he went back to my mother’s room to check up on her. He was once again stopped by Imam Din. Ram Din came back and took the box that he had painted to his room. He started packing his things to leave after the auction. It was weekend and he used to visit his community every weekend.
After having sold every piece of artistic labour, my father called Ram Din. “Raam Din, bring some soup for your Mam sahib.”
My mother was sobbing and pleading. My father sat next to her and held her. “We’ll be fine. We’ll just be all right without this. We deserve better.”
“And why does he deserve any less?” my mother pointed at me, “Why does he have to suffer?” “Why can’t he live with us?”
I was crying at the top of my lungs just when my father stood up and grabbed me by the arm and took me outside. He looked for the coffin. “Imam Din, Ram Din, where is that damn coffin?”
For Ram Din, this was a bolt out of blue. A COFFIN? He went to his room and brought back the painted box. My father was infuriated by the paint on the coffin. “Why can’t you, for once, act like a man Ram Din?”
“How can he act like a man when he isn’t one?” Imam Din said disgustingly.
Ram Din had tears in his eyes. “Oh, now here come the waterworks.” said my father.
I could hear my mother’s sobs. I cried even more loudly and my father lashed me. Ram Din stepped forward to free me from my father’s grip but my father pushed him away and handed me to Imam Din, who was my father’s favourite because he was a man. ”Take this damn thing with you and throw it where it ought to be.” my father said pointing to the coffin. My mother came out of her room but my father took her inside and gave her a beating for creating such a scene.
Imam Din was holding me by the neck and the rest of my body was hanging. He was choking me. I could feel the disgust in his eyes because I was not one of his kind; I was not a man and wasn’t a woman either.
Ram Din followed him. He stopped him and tried to hold me. Imam Din smirked and let him. I wasn’t breathing. “Get a good look, he’s you.” Ram Din was crying; I could feel his tears on my face. “Hurry up you damn chick, I have to dump him.”
Ram Din begged him to let me have a proper burial but nothing could shake Imam Din except money and cigarettes. Ram Din bargained me for a rupee, cigarettes, and a matchbox.
“You are your mother’s best artistic piece to bid for at this auction.” said Ram Din and laid me in the painted coffin.
“Just one day of trans life and rejection.” Now my tombstone reads: worth a rupee and two packs of cigarettes.