Every morning, I wake up to see the Yellow Bells in full bloom, fluttering and kissing the window pane of my bedroom. I hate the plant and its flowers. I don’t know why it was even planted in the first place. My bedroom window overlooks the small garden that is well-kept and maintained by my grandfather – there are beautiful Hibiscus, Jasmines, Marigolds, and Roses of different varieties and colors. My grandfather boasts and goes on and on about the roses and how he reared them to perfection.
The Yellow Bells do not stand a chance at all against these popular flowers. They have no fragrance, they are not used in bouquets and not even in the Poojas for decorating the deities. They just drop (no one plucks them) and during summer, when my window is open to let a whiff of breeze at night, they fall in my room. In the morning, I pick them up and throw in the dustbin.
Sometimes, I talk to these flowers, asking them questions and then in a violent rage I crumple them and tear them into pieces. It is not that I do not question people, but no answers are given. I asked my mother once whether she used Whisper or Stayfree. In return, I got a nice scolding. I tried to discuss male anatomy with my father, and he said to refer my science textbooks. I told my grandfather that I was confused, and he gave a big laugh telling me that I have to grow up.
But I am confused. What am I? Do I feel the same way my father and grandfather felt when they were fourteen? How am I supposed to feel about things inside me - my body and my mind? And how do I know how a fourteen-year-old boy is even supposed to react to all the changes that are happening – internal and external?
My friends don’t feel the way I do. Are they all different or am I the one who is different - a weed like the Yellow Bells, that do not belong to the popular category of flowers, but struggling to fit in and struggling daily to figure out to which category I belong.
Matters get worse when I am caught stealing a bright red lipstick from my mother’s drawer (she does not know yet that I stole a brown lipstick, a green nail polish, and a Kajal pencil a few days ago). I am terrified and do not know what to say. So, I blabber: I just wanted to try on myself and see how my lips look.
The next day I end up sitting in front of a counselor who asks me a series of embarrassing questions. After a long session, I am pronounced normal. And my parents breathe a sigh of relief. But then what is normal? Is it normal for a boy to apply lipstick and apply nail polish? And then I pick more things from my mother’s wardrobe, this time a pink lipstick and an eyebrow pencil. But my mother finds about it eventually. Apparently, she kept an inventory of her makeup accessories which I was not aware of.
There is a gloom all over the house. My father tries to strike a conversation, but I keep looking at the Yellow Bells swaying in the wind. It will rain soon; I guess looking outside the window. And on the day of the first shower of the season, my cousin, an engineering student, pays us a visit. I call him Bro, and he calls me Pro. I never quite understand why he calls me that way because I take my own sweet time to decipher things. I am a slow learner and a lazy bum. Maybe it is his way of making fun of me or just a trick to motivate me. Whatever he calls me, I like him a lot. I consider him my big brother.
And finally, when I am alone with him, I do not know where to begin and how to begin. So, I keep fidgeting while he licks his ice-cream in a nonchalant manner. And while I am trying to figure out, he smiles at someone, and I turn to look who it is, and instantly my face fell. A GIRL? He winks at me, ‘Isn’t she pretty?’
‘Do you know her?’ I ask casually.
‘No. I was just trying to make a connection.’ He smiles and winks again.
This was a good opportunity, and I instantly grab it. ‘My friends keep on telling the same, but I do not feel, you know’ hesitating a little, ‘how to put this? I don’t feel like that?’
‘You don’t feel attracted to girls? You are gay?’ He snorts.
‘I don’t know yet.’
He is still lost in thought as if the disease of figuring out has been transferred to him by me, ‘You feel attracted to boys?’
‘No.’ I said sharply.
‘That’s what. I don’t know what I am?’
I give out a deep breath feeling relieved finally speaking out the words.
My perplexed bro now is lost in thought. His ice-cream melts and oozes out of the cone and wets his fingers. But he is too much lost in thought that he does not bother to lick it. Instead, he wipes his fingers and places the cone on the empty plate.
He speaks after giving it a serious thought, ‘I think, it is too early to discuss. You need to grow a bit.’
‘But my friends have started to feel and experience things, that I am not able to. One of my friends has a girlfriend. She is from the same class and much sought after by the boys. But I don’t feel anything when I look at her. Just a classmate. Is it wrong? Do you think this will go away with time and will I feel like the other boys do?’
‘I think so.’ He says assuring me but I am not at all convinced. Not even a bit.
‘What if I don’t feel that way ever?’
‘Then it is a problem.’ He pauses as if he is in a deep thought and then questions, ‘Is that all or there is something else too you want to tell me? You have to be honest to me pal.’
‘Well. I…I just smeared mom’s lipstick to see how it looks and also painted my nails once.’
‘And, did you like it?’
‘I can’t say I liked it. I hated the lipstick but I liked my nails painted. They looked clean.’
He is lost in thought again and then he finally says, ‘Give it time. Let’s see how it comes out. You don’t have to worry now. Grow a bit and we will see.’ That is all the assurance I got from my cousin, and not at the least, a comforting one.
So I wait to grow not thinking much about my state. But at school, whenever my friends talk about girls, about topics that I can’t even imagine to talk, I look stupid and they make fool of me. It is only Rajan with whom I can take up this matter. But then Rajan is completely different. One day he asks me; how do my eyebrows look? They look different was the only thing I mutter. I tried plucking out the extra hair watching youtube, he said. I will never do that. Rajan always intrigues me. He always wants to do girl-things. So once I tried applying the lipstick on my face, I looked like a big clown and rubbed it instantly I looked at myself in the mirror. So I am not like Rajan and I am not like other boys. So what does it make me?
And then, the next Friday we play basketball, (I am the captain) and the boys drool over and stare at the group of girls from another school who will be trained by our coach on our basketball field. Everyone is excited – a girls’ team. I am least interested, in fact not at all interested in girls.
But then I see her. I am overpowered by a stillness followed by the only thought in my mind- Yellow Bells. I almost say it aloud and my friends laugh. She is different -tall, slender, wild hair, focused eyes, and an athletic fit. She probably is of my height. And then there is this spark, the spark everyone talks about, my friends, my cousin, a spark of attraction when you see a girl. And I feel it, deep in my stomach, my heart suddenly beats fast, and there is a tickling in my tummy. I never felt like this before.
That night I call my bro and tell him all this. I dance when he says yes to all that I say. It is such a happy feeling to know that it was how he felt and it is how every boy feels. It was probably how my father felt when he saw my mother and when my grandfather saw my grandmother. I go to my father’s room in a fit of ecstasy and tell him that I am normal. He is perplexed for a moment but smiles, ‘I guess then we are sorted.’ I nod my head and before leaving the room, I confess and promise him that I will never ever steal again in my life. But before that, I had already confiscated a light orangish shade lipstick from my mother’s treasure and put it in my pocket which I plan to give to Rajan the next day – the last one for him.
Back in my room, I look at the Yellow Bells, open my window, pluck a few and lay them on my bed before I go to sleep. The Yellow Bells do not belong to the league of the so-called popular flowers but are a separate league in themselves like the girl who ignited the spark today. She belongs to the Yellow Bells creed of which I am a part too, my league. I drift to sleep with the Yellow Bells tucked in my blanket happy to know that I belong to the normal category, though, just a bit apart from the normal class, but still there.