i hide it away.
the shirt, far too big for me, goes underneath the mattress, and the dolls come
i set them up,
quickly, as if to show i’ve been playing with them. my heart yearns for the
cars that my aunt gave me, for my fifth birthday.
my mother likes it
more when i play with my dolls.
a shadow falls
past my room, and it steals my breath away. i cough. “hello, mrs.
sparkles,” i say, picking up a doll and smiling at her. my mouth is
stretched wide, made of lies and stars threatening to burst.
like some tea?” i continue, just as the shadow becomes a human, my mother,
and steps into the room. she smiles.
we both know it’s
we smile, mouths
wider stretched. they almost break, shattering. but they don’t. the proficiency
of hiding our feelings runs through this family.
i look back at the
doll i’m holding. her eyes, glassy blue and dead, judge me, silently. she knows
about what’s underneath my mattress. she knows that i’m not what i should
she calls. my heart twists, my guts turn. “play with your cars.”
my eyes shoot up.
my mother nods.
“they make you happy. i like to see you happy.”
a smile breaks out
onto my face, one that supernovas could not mimic. the room lights up, sun
streaming through the window, and my heart explodes.
you,” i say, almost reverently.
my mother looks
like she wants to say something, secrets of the stars at the tip of her tongue.
she doesn’t. she simply nods and turns away, and says something under her
at the time, i did
not hear it. i am too busy chasing after my cars, too busy unraveling the
secrets at the tip of her tongue. i have forgotten about the something
underneath my mattress.
later, i realise
what she said.
will change the world.”
i am six years old
and my best friend is a boy.
we have the same
haircuts, short cropped black hair, the same laughs, music whistling through
the wind, the same passion, ferocity, love.
we climb on top of
the slide and i hang upside down from it. he laughs, trying to get me to sit
back up, lest i should fall. i refuse.
he asks, and the name still twists my heart, turns my guts. “do you think
we can change the world?”
i smile at him,
the sunset beginning to fall. “i think we can do whatever we want to.”
silence falls. he
ponders my statement. “i think,” he says, “when i grow older,
i’ll marry you.”
i laugh so hard, i
almost fall off. “is that so?”
not?” he says. “you’re like me. you like karate, you like video games
and you like cricket, and you’re better than me at all of those.”
make a difference?” i ask. he smiles, and the sun frames his face.
“amma said i
should always marry someone smarter than me.”
i beam. “i
wouldn’t mind marrying you.”
“that’s that settled then. we’ll get married when we’re older!”
the next day, we
run around, telling people of our engagement. our mothers laugh and smile, our
fathers grin and muss our hair, our friends listen in awe and ask if they can
be married to us too. “why not?” we say. “let’s all get
the next day, we
are back. my best friend and i, we sit in our respective places. he looks at
me, more than usual.
“what are you
doing?” i ask. it’s hard to see him properly, especially when it’s almost
dark and i’m upside down.
name,” he says, and cold fear runs down my spine, like a black hole had
been melted and made me shiver. “it doesn’t fit you.”
i agree, and the black hole changes into a red hot supernova of relief,
finally, someone understands. “what would you call me then?”
he thinks, and
looks then at the sky. it is dark, and the stars have come out. the sky is
still tinged with pink and red, and it reflects off of his face.
he decides, and it clicks. the stars come into formation.
repeat, and it fills with me with a strange feeling that i cannot put a name
he smiles at me,
then jumps off the slide. “well, sky, you coming?"
i jump off,
landing with a whisper of a thud. "race you back home!”
i am in a strange
it doesn’t smell
like home. home smells like spices, like my best friend spraying his mum’s
perfume everywhere, like maggi noodles.
it doesn’t smell
foreign, with no furniture, no love crafted into the air. i set my suitcase
down. i look around. it’s bare, but there’s room. it’s more room than the one
bedroom apartment we had to live in for two months.
i close my eyes,
firmly shut, and then open them again. if i squint just enough, i can see the
drawings that my sister will draw on the wall, and my heart warms with the fire
of a thousand suns.
i can start again.
make myself known as sky. make myself known as whatever i like.
i smile at my
family. they smile back, holding the tears in their eyes and breathing in
we can make this
i do not wear
it is summer, and
it is hot outside, the sun shining down with ferocity and anger. i refuse to
wear my skirt. i fold my hands over my t-shirt and smooth out my
my mum and dad
have a heated whisper argument in the kitchen. my sister sits on the sofa,
chewing her lip nervously. i perch on a chair, right next to the kitchen.
my dad gives me a
thumbs up behind my mum’s back. i nod. he comes over to me. “it’s too warm
to wear trousers,” he says, kneeling in front of me. i open my mouth,
ready to argue, but he says, “you can wear shorts, though.”
i close my mouth
again. i nod, beaming. “thanks, dad.”
you,” he says, pulling me close. my sister and my mother watch. “and
that will never change. i will always love you, no matter what.”
it sounds like
he’s warning me of something. i don’t quite know what it is.
at school, i make
one, a girl with
the hair of gold and a soft, sweet voice to go with it. she is kind to the
bone, so full of love and affection for me. i am in awe of her, every single
two, a girl with
enthusiasm and songs. she is always singing and drawing and dancing, at one
with the arts.
three, a girl with
nothing but acceptance to the brim. she is the other indian, the one my parents
approve of. she makes sure that i am okay.
four, a boy with a
snarky mouth and a snappy memory to boot. he can recite the times tables almost
as fast as me, and smiles at me every day, even if we are academic
they make me feel
okay. they make me feel sane. one and four wear trousers, like me, two and
three wear skirts. they have all seen me cry, they have all seen me
we are a
constellation, holding each other up, making each other feel safe.
i was getting
comfortable. i was dragged away, yet again, this time to a place called
it’s unfamiliar. i
can’t taste the apple pie that one had baked for me once. i can’t see the
drawings that two drew for me. i can’t feel the smile that three gave me every
day. i can’t hear the sarcastic comments four made every minute.
i do not like it.
my parents look uneasy. my sister looks happy, dancing in the living room that
has been stripped clear of any sign of life.
i breathe. it will
be okay. i will make myself known as myself.
i hate it
the girls whisper
about me in their little clusters, angry words in german rattling back and
forth. the boys look at me like i am some sort of zoo attraction.
i try to wear
clothes like them, act like them so i will fit in. they crawl up my body and
fester in my heart.
i cry myself to
the girl with hair
of anger and a temper made of fire sticks up for me.
she hisses at
everyone to include me, that i’m just as good as them, that i can play with
it has been two
years, but the love i have for her has not faded one bit, a raging fire inside
they play hockey,
and i see a person made of sunshine.
they are a friend
of the girl of anger and fire. they don’t talk much, preferring to keep to
their drawings and sketchbook. they remind me of two, but quieter, more
i do not mind. i
talk about everything under the stars, and whenever i wheedle a response out of
them, it is one of the best feelings i have ever experienced.
slowly, i spend
more time with them. i seek them out. they seek me out. they talk more, i
listen more. they make me laugh, i make them smile. i stick up for them, make
sure nobody talks smack about them around me.
days blur into
weeks, and they keep me afloat.
somewhere down the
line, we become friends.
the person made of
sunshine has a brother. the brother has friends, each a different colour of the
towards me, teaching me new things, helping me out. they all tell me about
different things, but they have one thing in common: they teach me how to
slowly, i start
dressing like myself again. i start speaking up and speaking out, against
things i know are wrong.
the brother takes
me under his wing. he glares at everyone who threatens me in any way, he
supports me. soon, his friends become mine as well.
for the first time
in my life, i feel at home.
they talk about
gender, and as soon as they mention the word nonbinary, i know.
i tell them.
sunshine smiles and supports me, like always. they ease into my pronouns, my
“my name is -
” i start, unsure how to finish.
says sunshine for me, and my heart bursts.
i come back home
after a long day of school, placing my backpack down carefully next to my desk.
i lay back on my bed.
stars dance across
my ceiling. the constellation i created when i was younger is still there, with
my four friends. now, more have been added, and my heart beats for all of
i get up and look
under my mattress. nobody is home. the shirt, the same one that i took from my
dad’s wardrobe years ago, is still there.
i hold it tight, i
hold it close. it reminds me of my best friend, how he was the first to call me
sky. it reminds me of the constellation i made (and still hold dear in my
heart) with my four friends. it reminds me of sunshine and my friends now, the
ones that helped me live.
together on the shirt, making a universe. i smile. my dad never realised it was
i pad out of my
room, and place it back in its drawer, amongst the other clothes my father
owns. i had made it mine.
i smile again,
then walk back to my room. i take out a pen, i take out my notebook and i start
the shirt lays
there, a reminder of all the memories i have collected through the years, all
my pain. it has been a constant companion in me realising that who i am is
okay, a product of late nights and salty tears.