Store Full of Stories: Heena — The Third Hue has been edited by Aashna Kanuga.
Heena marched through the school corridors towards her class. Her brisk walk, however, barely rustled her stiff cotton saree. As she got closer to the class, she heard the students whispering. This was baffling because they were never this silent. As soon as she entered, her students erupted into a chorus of “Happy Birthday”. The children were clapping and climbing on the benches in celebration. She saw Nidhi, the class monitor standing near her desk with a purple Archies card. There were wishes and drawings scribbled all over it. Heena could see excitement and joy on those little faces. She had been teaching them for almost a year now, and they were very close to her heart. She beamed as the children continued to sing.
As they finished the song, she asked them to settle down. “Thank you so much, children! This was such a wonderful surprise. I loved it!”, she said, her eyes tearing up. Nidhi handed her the card with a huge smile and touched her feet. Placing her palm on Nidhi’s head, Heena blessed her and then asked her to return to her seat.
She looked at the card. The front of the card read “Happy birthday Heena ma’am” in huge red wobbly letters and surrounded with glitter on the sides. She opened the card. To the left, they had glued a photo of their picnic together in the centre of the page. The tiny hands had drawn smiles, hearts, balloons, cakes and confetti all around it. The right page was full of short messages. It was as if they had poured all their love for her in the card. She could have never asked for anything more.
“Today we will let the studies rest”, she said. None of her students seemed to be in the mood. And moreover, if she was being honest, neither was she. They played a lot of games. The students were in high spirits. In what felt like no time at all, the bell rang and the class was over. The students let out a collective sigh of disappointment. Promising the children a session of games again some other time, she went to the staff room, because it was it was a free period.
She was not fond of going to the staff room. She would much rather be in class, teaching children. Her strong jaw, broad body structure, brown complexion, heavy and raucous voice intimidated some of the other teachers. They could not accept the fact that they had a transgender among them. Till date, some still acted confused on whether to call her madam or sir. This bugged her a lot. But it was only a minor issue compared to the social stigmas she had faced all her life.
“Heena, come here”, she heard one of her fellow teachers, and a close friend, calling her. “Nitin sir, look what the children gave me”, she showed him, pulling out the card from her purse.
“Oh! That is wonderful. Wait. I got you something as well.” He pushed an oval lunch box towards her. “My wife baked it for you because she knows how much you love it”. Pulling the lid off, she saw a chocolate cake.
Her eyes gleamed like a child. She immediately dug into it. “Mmmm, tell her it is tasty”.
“I will. Also, my wife has asked if you could join us for dinner tonight.”
“I am not sure.”
“I will not accept any excuses this time Heena!”
Suddenly, he was interrupted. “Sir, you have got a proxy in 9th standard.”
“Alright, I am coming. I expect to see you at 8 Heena.” Before she could protest, he left.
The kindness overwhelmed Heena. She sat there and ate some more cake, remembering her childhood days. Her childhood was not a pleasant one. Born as a boy, she was named Amit. It was when she was 8 that she realised that she was born in a body she did not belong in. It was agonising for her. She wanted to wear dresses, apply bindi on her forehead. Her parents constantly kept telling her to act like a boy and thus she always hid her feelings.
She was bullied and teased for her feminine ways in school. Soon she was no longer able to pretend. She could not be something she was not anymore. She confessed to her parents and their reaction was everything she expected. They were aghast. But they tried to reason with her. However, when all else failed, they rejected her. Soon after, she ran away from home. It was daunting and terrifying, but she knew it was the only way she could truly be who she was.
With no money in a foreign land, she worked at a tea stall and slept on the streets to make ends meet. Soon, matters became worse. She was taken away by a sex worker who had his eyes on her for a long time. Hence, for a year, Heena was forced to sell her body for money. However, she escaped somehow and enrolled herself into a school, where she passed her secondary and higher secondary examinations. Soon, she graduated from college with a degree in arts.
Still a long way to go. Finding a job was another task in itself. But soon she came to know about an NGO who aided transgenders. They were the ones who helped her and supported her in finally starting a new phase of life.
The bell rang again. Heena jumped, coming out of her reverie. Collecting her belongings, she went to her next class.
“Good afternoon teacher”, the children wished her lazily.
As the students took their books out, she smiled, and wished, “Someday, I hope the world will look at me the way my children do.”
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