The young couple still looked devastated.
Their faces somehow managed to capture the ephemeral nature of human facial expression, and transform it into a permanent imprint, a record, if you will, of human emotions.
They existed outside the law then; they exist outside the law now.
In a strange land where the national passport allows for their existence, the law doesn’t.
So, there’s nothing to protect them from discrimination; no programmes of affirmative action to help them ascend that difficult ladder of social mobility, in a country where up to 80% of government-run educational and professional positions are reserved for the so-called socially backward.
Not even some of the most fundamental rights which are afforded the so-called average or ordinary or normal citizens – that is to say, male, or female, heterosexual, citizens – including the right to a free and healthy life, the right to education, the right to free speech, and the right to equality.
And yet, marry they did. Not because they wanted it to be legally binding (it is not); nor because it would help negotiate some form of partner benefits under circumstances adverse and worthwhile (it wouldn’t).
The ceremony, they concede, was largely ceremonial.
“We just had something to say to the society. We love each other. And that’s all that matters. And we don’t care what you think.”
It happened three years ago, their marriage. Exactly three years ago.
Being an unconventional HIV/AIDS activist, I was (and still am, in a manner of speaking) very close to this couple, both of whom underwent gender reassignment surgery a couple of months prior to their marriage.
Naturally, I was only too happy to be invited to the occasion which created a sort of party atmosphere in the local ‘drag’ community.
In a country where non-heterosexuality is punishable with life imprisonment, this was the closest to an official ceremony they were going to get in their lifetime.
As far as I’m concerned, it is by far the best marriage ceremony – of any sort – I have ever attended.
It was with great reluctance that I treaded the infamous coast to visit the couple once again.
Having now moved, if only on a temporary basis, to the UK, I felt rather guilty, and was unsure how happy the couple would be to see me.
Not because they couldn’t, even in their wildest dreams, move to a place where their diversity was embraced, rather than oppressed.
But, because seeing me could trigger memories of the past, which they still struggle to put behind them.
The telephone conversation on my arrival in this country was uncomfortably pleasant, which made me all the more nervous.
They were waiting in the outskirts of the seaside village, near the dilapidated bus stand installed for the village aeons ago.
I was surprised to find a Kafkaesque, though not grotesque, metamorphosis in both their outward appearances, due partly to their very long hair, and partly to some redistribution of their body fat.
Hearing them greet me with an unmatched enthusiasm, it seemed to me that even their voices had changed.
Walking with them along a public footpath, the trail of devastation left by the Boxing Day tsunami was still visible.
Having been involved intimately with the relief work, I knew that there was no point in asking them if the government responded to any of their needs.
They didn’t do a good job then. Would they do so now?
The village wasn’t what it used to be either. What was once a community of several dozen houses was now a patchwork of a few dozen thatched huts, primarily with female-only families and young children with tattered clothes.
Many of them, it turned out, were orphans.
L., the taller of the couple, lamented their helplessness. Her companion, M., whispered in my ear that L. still felt personally responsible.
The weather, despite the recent rains and the sea breeze, was irritatingly hot and humid.
Your columnist, despite having lived nearby for more than 20 years, found this a bit intolerable.
We went inside their newly-built thatch-roofed concrete-walled hut, and sat on the cemented floor, which was a tad cooler than the immediacy of the sultry atmosphere.
There was an uncomfortable pause, and I decided to initiate the conversation.
Before I could open my mouth though, they had a list of questions for me. The first one did take me by surprise. “You still a virgin?”
TO BE CONTINUED