Hasan never gave much thought to how he looks until he came here. But here, everything has changed. Here, he knows he’s a beautiful boy. He’s constantly made aware of it. He can tell when some of the boys look at him discreetly. When they’re talking about him or just making fun of his “not so manly” posture, he knows. It doesn’t matter if he’s walking to his classroom or out of the shower, he knows he is a beautiful boy. And he wishes he weren’t.
Hasan came here a year ago. He was thirteen, in a new school, with new people, hundreds of miles away from home. A senior student named Iqbal received him from his parents. Hasan’s father took Iqbal vai’s hand in his and said, “Look after my boy. He has never spent a night alone in his life.” Iqbal bhai smiled reassuringly at his father.
That night fifteen senior boys came to see him. They asked him about his previous school and if he had a sister. They looked at him as if they had never seen a small boy before. Hasan smiled and answered all of their questions. He didn’t understand what Iqbal bhai meant when he said to his friends, “I’ve got the prettiest one, bro. How many are there in your dormitory?” A week later, everyone had heard of Hasan.
His new roommate Kabir, who had dark skin and a belly, was quite a character, “Having a black face is like having superpowers here. Yes, boys throw the N-word at me, but you chickies have it worse.”
“We what?” Hasan asked.
“Chicky. That’s what they call pretty boys like you.”
That was the first time he heard he was pretty. He was so surprised he forgot to ask why a chicky’s life had to be difficult.
A lot had happened in the first year at his new school. Two seniors had fought over who gets to talk to him on Thursday evenings. Five seniors fought over who got to keep him at their dinner table. One senior had slapped him for refusing to accept a gift. One senior called him a maagi for talking to another senior. A few of his classmates hated him for talking to seniors in general. “I bet that maagi enjoys it,” they’d said.
“Take it easy. Soon you’ll grow a mustache and they’ll stop bothering you.” Kabir said, whose face had started to show little sprinkles of beard. “Imtiaz has a tiny mustache now, so Lutfar bhai managed a long-distance girlfriend.”
“Then I can’t wait to grow a mustache,” Hasan said.
At the mosque, their religious teacher told the boys what would happen to men who liked men. Hasan closed his eyes and imagined those things happening to some of the seniors. They were crushed by stones falling from the sky, the earth shook beneath their feet.
“I don’t understand these gay people,” Kabir said on their way to the dormitory from the mosque, “How does it even work? Biologically, I mean.”
“I don’t know either.” said Hasan, trying his best not to look at Kabir.
“Don’t worry. Soon you’ll be taller than those perverts and they’ll stop bothering you.”
Hasan thought of something, but didn’t say what he wanted to say.
He came to the mosque early the next week. He prayed.
“God, I don’t know what’s happening to me. I like Kabir and I don’t know why. I don’t know how it’s possible. I’m ashamed and I’m scared. But I like Kabir and I don’t know why. I don’t want him to hate me when I grow a mustache. I don’t want to be taller than he will be. I know this is wrong. But I don’t know why.”
Most of them have moved on, but there are still a few who think he is beautiful. They talk to him like they’re friends, share secrets, offer gifts from the canteen. All of them have girlfriends in other schools, and they’ll deny everything that happens here once they step outside. If someone mentions Hasan, they’ll call him a liar. They’ll say he’s ruining the school’s reputation. Some will say they were just having fun.
One night Iqbal bhai told him to unbutton his shirt.
Hasan says no. Iqbal bhai never asks again.
Fifteen years later, Iqbal bhai, with a wife and two kids, will deny everything. When someone mentions Hasan, he’ll tell him to stop, or just, “We’ve done a lot of good for the country. Let’s talk about that.” Or, they’ll just make jokes about it on an alumni group on Facebook and move on.
Fifteen years later, Hasan is looking at a photo Kabir shared on Facebook. He looks at his beautiful friend, his dark skin, his face smiling at his little daughter. Hasan smiles, and keeps looking at the picture.
Nayeem Ehtesham loves to read and believes his degree in computer science has helped him write funny stories using his computer.