Yasif Ahmad Faysal
A man was eyeing me curiously from the other side of the glass and that was making me pretty uncomfortable. He was sitting in a glassed chamber of a luxurious river cruise, reserved for the supervisor of the vessel. It was his job to make sure that no one travelled without a ticket and to prevent passengers from economy class sneaking into the business class. Since he was intently looking at me for some time, he gave me creeps, an uneasy feeling of being an economy class passenger posing as that of the business class.
In fact, I was a poseur; I found myself a comfortable chair in the business class immediately after boarding the ship and thought of staying there incognito for the rest of the journey. However, I tried to settle there with a show of such an expansive confidence that my vulnerability, I am afraid, was all too obvious for others to find out. In order to calm myself, I grabbed one of the best-selling books of Dan Brown. "All I have to do is just breathe easy and stay normal. I will reach destination in less than two hours", I said to myself.
That, needless to say, didn't work. I was trying, in vain, to read a passage from the book, when a soft voice sounded just behind me, "you have got something on your shirt." I was startled like anything. The book fell; my heart was racing as I turned to meet the man. Yes, he was the supervisor and he found me finally.
"Oh, that was some bread-crumb". I produced a blushing smile as I made a show of clearing it with my index finger. I surveyed him from the corner of my eye- he was a lean man of probably twenty five in a trendy dress. His hair was spiked with gel and it glistened in day light; a week-old stubble looked smart on his sharp double chin. Though it was not exactly cold outside, he carried a lip gel in his palm. He was not the calloused bullying type of ticket-man I had so far known. What was he then?
"There is more; you must have been a bit careless", he pointed to the stain on the knee of my pant and even attempted to brush it away on my behalf. I stood up before he could reach me. "I can do it for myself". I thanked him but not without some suspicion. My mind veered off to some funny line of thinking. "Is he then....?" I laughed as I thought of the impossibility of the proposition.
But my suspicion was redoubled! He squeezed himself into a small seat next to mine and had his face turned sideways at me; he never asked me whether I was riding the business class with a economy class ticket or not. He left his office room on board completely unattended to talk to me; tickets and other documents were flying about the room as air hissed into the speeding vessel. It seemed that he couldn't care less. "You have got a grey hair in your left sideburn", he said to me with an astonishing candor. He was holding his breath to impart a charming cadence to his voice.
"Oh I see. I have many of them", I said cautiously hoping to register any remarkable change in his expression. I thought I saw his eyes lit up with joy that I triggered with those words of mine. "Would you mind if I pick one for you; I can't tolerate men having grey hair. Trust me I have the safest fingers." Yes, I trusted him but I also trusted my gut feeling about the psycho-sexual identity of this guy.
It is still not a done thing in our culture to talk openly about the sexuality (not sex) of an individual; but if I go by the signs that were written all over the behavior of this young man, he presents a case in the continuing debate in gender and queer studies about the determination of the 'normal' in the shifting terrain of human sexuality.
Sigmund Freud, the author of The Interpretation of Dreams, tells us about the problematic relationship between a subject (individual) and the normative category of the gender in which the subject is situated. Problems arise when subject seeks in 'aberrant' ways to evade those categories and looks for the subversion of the socially established norms.
Michael Foucault, a gay himself and whose writings are considered to have underpinned the identity-politics of the LGTB community, argues that sexuality is a construct; biological identity doesn't necessarily determine the sexual behavior of an individual; the society does and does it through a nexus of knowledge and power.
From the Foucauldian perspective, sexuality is an issue of extreme political interest to a bourgeois society as ours, whose primary concern is to make cheap laborers out of the population; since productivity is the priority of such society, heterosexuality (a procreative man-woman relationship) becomes the primary sexual norm, upstaging homosexuality(same sex relationship). When this happens, the odds are that individuals of different dispositions are forced to lead a frustrated 'closet' life of extreme anonymity and secrecy.
Sitting close to that young man (I didn't know his name nor that I bothered), I felt that he was overdoing it to impress me; it was a deliberate attempt on his part and he was clearly driven to it by a desperate attempt to strike more than a casual acquaintance with me. After a while, I excused myself on the pretext of going to the lavatory and managed to withdraw myself from his company.
Our river cruise docked at the appointed port almost two hours later than the usual time; travel-weary passengers immediately started bargaining with coolies for their luggage to be carried to the ghat. Coolies usually charged fifty taka per bag.
Mine was a heavy bag but I was thinking of carrying it by myself, when I felt a tug at my shoulder- "Leave it to me; I will carry your bag". It was that young man again; I was surprised beyond measure; I was in the chaotic huddle of passengers and it was no easy job to find someone in that disorderly crowd desperate to exit the ship.
"No no please don't..." I hardly mumbled out when my luggage disappeared. As he whisked my bag away through the unimaginable press of people, I literally pushed my way just to have him in my sight; no wonder that people whom I stepped on cursed me loudly.
He stopped at the terminal gate, a few yards away from the taxi stand. By then, I was panting and sweating all over; I really felt like giving him a piece of my mind; but then, he, quite dramatically, held my arms and faced me squarely with a pair of imploring eyes.
"Please promise to have a trip with me next time and call me when you can", he said.
"Oh, thanks for the offer; but I am not sure of the trip". A taxi cab came to my rescue; I jumped headfirst into it without bothering to fix the fare with the driver.
"Where to Sir", the driver said. "Anywhere."
As the engine started, I, now relieved, stuck my hand out to bid farewell; after all, he received no fees for his 'coolie' service. With hands hopelessly dangling at his side and head drooping, he seemed to be the loneliest man in the town. All I remember of him now is his sad face as he, rooted to the ground, watched me disappear out of his sight.
Yasif Ahmad Faysal teaches English at the Barishal University
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