Akash stared at the phone in his hands, an odd feeling bubbling inside his chest, as he watched the live news showing a crowd surging through the streets, chanting words he couldn’t decipher. It didn’t matter. The ecstasy was evident in their faces and movements, as the young and old united in their joy at having won the fight at last.
It was the year 2120, and gay marriage was finally legal in Bangladesh.
Akash set his phone aside and stood, his arthritis ridden knees protesting only mildly. Shouldn’t he be happy? “I should be,” he told himself. But his heart seemed to disagree with his brain. With an emotion he could not quite comprehend, he walked out of the room.
The dining table was alight with conversation as he joined his family for breakfast. His son beamed at him. “Did you see the news, Baba?” Before Akash could open his mouth to respond, his attention was turned away to his own son and daughter who, Akash realised, were discussing plans to join the Pride Parade next month.
Akash returned to his breakfast, his head low.
The sound of laughter caused him to look up again. His eyebrows weaved into a frown; he had lost the trail of the conversation around him and he longed to laugh with them — with his family. He watched his wife, Tania, listening intently as their grandson explained to her that one did not need to be part of the LGBTQ+ community to join the Parade.
“You can go as an ally,” he said, and Tania nodded in understanding.
The strange feeling in his chest amplified. Akash gulped down the rest of his breakfast and excused himself before hurrying back to his room. He flopped down on his bed and covered his face with his hands. An inexplicable feeling of resentment grew in him, and he was gripped with the sudden urge to hurl something — maybe his phone — out of the window.
A whirl of memories attacked him all of a sudden, flashing before his eyes in intervals. He saw himself, at the age of seven, with all the innocence of the world, agreeing with his sister as she gushed over an actor she found attractive, and his sister turning to him with a mocking look on her face and asking, Are you a girl? like it was an insult.
He remembered, at thirteen, stepping away from his friends while they talked about the girls in their class, feeling left out, wondering how they noticed so much; he had hardly ever looked at any girl.
He remembered, at fifteen, the people he thought were his friends turning to him with cruel laughter after he expressed a harmless opinion to a classmate and told him that he thought he was pretty. He remembered feeling confused and alone. The girls always complimented each other, he remembered thinking, so why couldn’t he compliment his friend?
Akash remembered learning that he was different from the others. He remembered shutting himself up, and when he joined university, pretending to be interested in girls when his friends talked about them. He remembered thinking that if he pretended hard enough, maybe the queer feelings in his heart would be forgotten. And he would be normal.
He remembered agreeing to marry Tania and ignoring the cacophonous protests of his heart.
Akash lifted his face from his hands, blinking hard to stop the memories from flashing before his eyes. The strange ache inside his chest ebbed slowly, as if reluctant to go away. He should be happy. His son has lived a life of harmony and acceptance; Akash had made sure of that. His grandchildren wouldn’t have to face the misery of utter loneliness he had felt often as a child. They would be accepted in the new world, no matter who they were or whom they chose to love. It should make him happy.
Nevertheless, the resentment and anger didn’t go away. Why did he not have parents who would have accepted him like he accepted his son and grandchildren with unconditional love and affection? Why did he have to live a life of hiding, pretending to be committed to a marriage he wasn’t emotionally invested in?
The door to his room cracked open and his grandson peeked in. “Dadu, will you take us to the Parade next month? Papa says we are not old enough to go alone yet.”
Akash looked at him, and the smile on his grandson’s face instantly erased all his negative thoughts. These people had fought, and now they were reaping their rewards. It wasn’t their fault that Akash had led a less than happy life. They deserved to celebrate, and Akash wasn’t going to put a damper on their happiness for something they had no control over.
“Of course I will,” he assured him.
When his grandson left, Akash pulled open the drawer of his wardrobe and extracted a small wooden box. He had bought it from a store when he was in Canada fifty years ago. Brushing his fingers lovingly over the patterns carved on the box, Akash smiled. No one but him knew of the contents of this box, not even Tania, for he had kept its password a secret for the last fifty years. In fact, the only time he had opened the box was the day he had purchased it. Maybe keeping it closed was his way of keeping a part of himself locked away from everyone else.
The password was still fresh in his mind. The rainbow coloured fabric slid over his hands as the box opened with a click. He laid the Pride flag on his bed, smiling nostalgically.
He was sure his grandchildren would appreciate this simple token from their grandpa.
Nadira Tasnim is a Harry Potter obsessed math-nerd who loves watching psychology videos in her free time.