Flight Papers

feminism and creativity, art, madness, and play

9. witness

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He is fucking me. On a thin blanket laid out on a concrete floor in the middle of a tiny Indian apartment, he is fucking me. I can smell the faint residue of his Bidis and whiskey on his face. His chin and cheeks rub roughly against my face as he thrusts, my makeup smearing. He grunts with each thrust. I’ve wrapped my legs around him, and I’m trying to keep up. Together, we smell like beer and smoke and sandalwood and sex.

His cock pulls me wider, wider, more open.

I scream as he fucks, and it’s part pain, part pleasure, part the raw intensity of the sensation.

“Hijra pussy is the best,” He says between grunts, and I don’t correct him.

After the funeral, I’m talking to my cousin Kavita. I’ve known her longer than any of my other cousins. When I last came to India, I was six and she was ten and Akhil, her brother, was a little shit, so she and I became friends. We haven’t spoken since then, but one of the strictures of family is that friendships with your favorite cousin do not fade, no matter how long. Other family laws I can do without, but this one I like.

We talk about our parents and our families—family.— She tells me about every instance where Prema auntie, her mother, told her she wasn’t her daughter anymore.

“I’m still her daughter, though.” She laughs.

“That’s good,” I say. Well, good for you, at any rate.

She stops laughing. “It gets better. It does. Geetha auntie is smart. She’ll understand.”

I nod slowly. Our conversation lulls and turns to Amusing Sibling Incidents, the go-to family time filler. She tells me that Akhil is still a little shit, merely now a very tall one. He works for my uncle’s business, a job that requires a lot of travel and, thus, enables a lot of mischief.

“He toys with the airport security guards,” she says, “I’ve told him it’s a bad idea, but he does it anyway. He feigns ignorant villager and asks why he can’t bring bottles of whiskey and yoghurt and knives through security.”


“Not big ones. He tells them they’re religious, and they let him through.”

At this, my mother walks in.

“What are you kids talking about?” She asks. Her voice is bright and happy and false. She eyes the two of us with mock suspicion. “I’d like to talk to my son for just a little while.”

Hijra. Third gender. Not trans, not exactly. The translation is more to a eunuch than to a trans woman. They live in a caste of their own. It’s not the lowest in precise terms; Hijra are not made to clean shit and bodies for less-than-pennies, but neither are they suitable for inclusion in any family, even a family of untouchables. They aren’t suitable for work, either, unless that work includes begging, performing, or sex. Generally, sex with normal, straight, married men, who just happen to secretly like a little hijra on the side.

In film, they are the fools, the jokes, the comedic relief. In life, hijra is an epithet spit at beggars on the streets.

Five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to find this place. I wouldn’t have had the language or the connections. That’s not a problem anymore. It’s small and dirty even by the standards of Indian bars. It’s also hidden. Secluded, at least. Assuredly, for the privacy of the men who come here rather than the hijra who service them.

When I walk in, wearing a kurti and jeans, few people look. It’s a practiced avoidance, driven by a need not to know. The floor is matte concrete, slightly sticky. It’s cold and foreign under my feet.

Kavi quietly excuses herself.

“So, when are you going to talk to me?”

“We have been talking, mom. We’ve been talking this whole time.” I pause. “I’m really happy to see you.”

“Oh, you’re happy. You have a very strange way of showing it.” She accents each word. Very. Strange.

“I’m sorry. What can I do?”

She’s quiet for a long time. Her eyes are welling with tears. I put my arm around her, and she stays utterly stiff.

“We’re going to scatter her ashes today.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“You can tell me what happened to my son.” She doesn’t scream it. She barely whispers it, and the force makes my ears ring.

I don’t belong here.

That’s the little westernized voice in my head. This isn’t my space. It is not for me. I’m different. I’m actually a woman. My identity is supported and ravaged in western journals, in books and papers written by white women.

They are not me, I am not them.

But still, he buys me drinks. He tells me I’m pretty. He offers me bidis. The raw tobacco smoke seems to coat my throat, but the beer washes it down well enough.

I hang on him. I smile. I giggle appropriately. He’s not a bad guy, he says. And he actually doesn’t seem it—he’s not overly leering or overly drunk, he isn’t behaving controlling or abusively. He seems, honestly, a little dorky, a little unsure of himself. His kisses are slightly off-center, slightly coarse.

At his place, he kisses my lips and neck, pulling off my kurti and running his rough hands over my breasts.

I’m sober and sane enough to insist on a condom. I’m relieved when he tears one open.

He pushes into me, one centimeter, one inch.

“I don’t know if you can fit all the way.”

“Oh, it has to be in all the way,” he says. It has a nice certainty to it. A nonchalance, too, like he’s talking about a petrol pump. It has to be all the way in. I lie back and wrap my legs around him, biting my lip, gasping.

After he’s finished, he gets off me. I stand up, wobbly.

“Was it big enough for you?”

If you have to ask…, I want to reply. Instead, I choke back a small laugh. “Yeah.”

I pull my clothes on. He makes motions of helping me find them, though there’s almost nothing left around here.

“You were tight. Nice and tight. I love hijras.” He shivers. Hijra. Freak. Outsider. Not ours. “You know?”

“Yeah.” I tug down, straightening my kurti as best I can. “Thanks.”

India didn’t bring me what I expected, not once. Not with the boy in the bar, not with my family. Even after my auntie bought me a sari, smuggled into my backpack like poppy paste, there was an otherness my life there that I never quite shook.

I’m not sure, on reflection, that I want to. That I ought to, that it can be my right or luxury to have plant my feet and heart in one soil. Hearts can be cut up, after all, and maybe they can even still beat.

On the way back to my uncle’s house that night, it started raining. It was a torrent, a monsoon, water falling in buckets from the sky, turning the road to mud along with everything else. My sandals quickly got stuck, and I left them embedded in front of an auto rickshaw that was similarly abandoned.

I walked back to my uncle’s house in bare feet, the rain thick, acidic, and cleansing, my toes squeezing between them the soil of my home.

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