His body ached like that of a broken man as he cowered behind the Ashwattha tree. His eyes were wild as he listened for footsteps but he could hear nothing over his own desperate breathing. He knew his hunters weren’t far behind. They were playing with him, tormenting his already troubled mind. He lay there trapped like a tiger surrounded by man, greedy for satisfaction and a feeling of self-empowerment. Only he didn’t feel like a tiger. He wasn’t strong or muscular and he would rather avoid conflict than leap in head first.
He glanced down at the sari which lay like a defeated, bloody burial sheet around his body. The radiant gold now resembled tarnished bronze and the bold red was lost among his own blood. What had once been his secret joy, he now wore like a mantel of deep shame.
He thought back to all the days growing up, when he would take his mother’s best sari from her room and go into the fields where he could be alone. He would ceremoniously wrap the delicious Banarasi silk around his slight frame, pleating the material again and again before neatly tucking it into the gentle petticoat. He often lost track of time, lost in a world of perfect make believe where he was Anuja, not Anuj.
In those few precious moments, he had been free. He could fly, soaring high in the sky like a majestic Kite, drunk on fantasy. He had been in control, the hunter instead of the hunted. His pursuit a feeling of belonging rather than a beast, his kill the victory over self-loathing and fear. Out there he could be true, out there he could throw off the shackles. There was no ostentatious parade, no catwalk through the long grass, just the quiet thrill of being righted.
He looked up at the blue sky, the ever punishing sun beating down on his battered body. The leaves of the tree glared down at him accusingly and the never-ending roots reached for him, almost teasing him in his desire to be re-born. Salty beads of sweat dripped into his eyes and he wiped them with the back of his filthy hand. The rusty taste of blood was all-consuming and his fingers slowly traced over his ribs. He winced at the pain and then looked down at his hand, now covered in the rich, sticky blood that was making its way out of the deep wound in his side.
Even if his chasers didn’t find him, he knew he didn’t have long left. He was too far from the village to seek help and it would be nightfall soon. Leopards had been spotted in these parts and they would soon be on the hunt for nourishment. Anuj closed his eyes, almost willing death on. He wondered now if he had chosen to be caught out, the thought of his impending wedding too much to bear.
Suddenly his eyes flew open at the sound of shouts and laughter. He listened as they got closer, his tormentors calling for him. Closer now, he heard one smacking his lips together and calling out ‘Hijra’. He had never sold his body for sex and never would but he knew they didn’t care. All they saw was a freak, a deviant who deserved to be chastised. After the initial beating in front of many of the villagers, he had been chased out into the wild. The game was on.
As his persecutors rounded the imposing tree, the noise swelled until it reached into his very soul. His now weary eyes rested on his older brother, his face full of disgust and shame. His strong hand firmly gripped the machete which Anuj had feared for so long. The sound of chanting and hissing filled his ears but his mind fell silent. A calm washed over him as he accepted his fate, for surely no pain could be as bad as the pain he had endured all his life.
He had been born in the wrong place, at the wrong time and in the wrong body. A woman trapped within the prison of bones and flesh, with no way out.