For A. Kashmiry
You’re floating in the room. You remember with bitterness that you were born a girl in a distant land where you weren’t allowed to be a boy. You fought to be yourself, but in the end, it left a bad taste in your mouth, hatred and rejection from family and friends. The fight seemed useless; the only thing it achieved was your father opening your back with a whip.
Alexandria is still a metropolis from the past that won’t let go of you, won’t allow you to take flight. You open your eyes in your city and the sun burns your skin like incandescent coals. You wake up a man, but your hair is long and black, your breasts pointed, your eyelashes like faint butterflies, your face beardless. The morning begins, like every other day, without you, without your essence. Flies travel slowly, as if their backs were to the city. You know that after they threw you out, escape and travel are the only alternatives that remain. You wish you could be, with all the strength of your soul, that winged insect.
Then you forget to live. You pour yourself into work, hoping to reach a point, a space where people understand you, where they’ll allow you to be who you really are. You’re tired of denying your gender, of living inside an endless nightmare. You desperately need a city where you’ll have a million ways to exist or you’ll come to a bad end.
In the morning, you scrub slippery cement floors in offices, with sponges, cheap detergents, rubber gloves. You begin by sweeping the floor, which eliminates the need to pick up the dirt with the wet rag. Then you take a bucket full of warm water and dissolve the fluorescent chemical—the only thing that shines in your world; everything else is dull and gloomy. In the afternoon, you rush to wait tables in a downtown cafe. The pay is lousy, the tips too.
You’re preoccupied by a deformed desire: you’ve found a clandestine contact. Another man who inhabits a female body; but you’re afraid to go see him. You know that many transmen end up in jail, suffer harassment, torture and abuse in your country, because of their gender identity. Even for the simple act of riding a bicycle or not wearing a hijab. You think it’s the planet’s gravity that seems to drag you to the center of the abyss. You don’t know why but you end up making the appointment with Anat.
You walk through the narrow cobblestone streets. You’re afraid, you take a risk, you’ve gone out into the light, abandoning your shell. You locate the meeting point, an empty backstreet, the yellowish façade of the house. The sun is falling behind your head, the city seems to be made of sand particles; it’s a dry, deserted sea. You spot Anat: they don’t have a cheerful face, they must be your age, eighteen. You see them tense, worried. They raise their hand to you and finally smile.
There you are, facing each other. They take two cans of Coke out of their cloth bag and you drink them outside the abandoned house. You’re two ghosts in the city. A thread of dying light filters in from a skylight; you’ve been talking for twenty minutes, you’re agitated, your breath falters. It comforts you to know that there’s someone else who feels exactly the same as you. You look at a point in space and feel something strange, a dark premonition, but you continue talking. Suddenly you feel a thud in your stomach. “It’s her,” Anat accuses you with her finger. There are several cops. You stand up, stiff like a ruler. One of them turns you around and you collapse, falling face down into the void like the ethereal statue of an angel. They rip your clothes; they have you pinned down. A fat cop steps on your head, your seaweed-colored hair swirling. You’re sweet like a frightened animal, it excites them more, they become more violent.
You feel warm flesh entering your body, you think they’re banging your matter and not your soul; you want to stay strong but your tears have begun to dance about your cheeks. They fill you with their semen; the gritty remains stick to your skin. A fire burns in your chest, in your entrails. They spit on you, kick you, rain curses and insults on you; your belly swells, tightens. You endure.
You’ve arrived in London in search of a new opportunity. You live on very little money provided by the state, you’ve become the shadow of your body, you’re on the verge of anorexia, skin and bones. You miss the buzzing of the insects in your city, the way they fly, dissolve, draw short outlines on the windows and the wind. It’s winter now and it’s cold, your bones ache. According to Health Service regulations, you can’t receive the hormones necessary to take the final step, to become what you have always been: a man.
The Home Office doesn’t believe you, rejects your refugee application, suspects you’re an economic migrant. “Is there anyone who knew your transgender status in Alexandria?” “Did you ever dress as a man in Egypt?” asks officer Roger Stone, drumming the pen on his desk. “Did you report the rape?” the interrogation continues. Suddenly, an oppressive smell slowly penetrates the office, you feel yourself suffocating, the heat crawls through your throat to your cheeks, crashes into your brain. You tremble, you’re about to explode, you dig your nails into your left thigh. There are no photos, no complaints, no statements, no witnesses, no proof; only the truth of your words.
You return to your tiny apartment, to the flaking paint on its walls, a stifling anteroom for the dying. There are some instant noodles, but you don’t have the strength to boil the water to make them. The night sinks into your face, you don’t know how to prove the purity of your confession. Your mind wanders, your heart throbs. You walk to the kitchen, take off your sky-blue t-shirt. The knife is shining, you pick it up and bring it closer to your right breast, you apply force, the skin relents. You fall to your knees. Your body is floating, disentangling into different forms, until it becomes a dense white blaze that illuminates you.
Translated by George Henson
Inspired by the documentary Adam
George Henson is the translator of many of Latin America’s most important writers, including Cervantes laureates Sergio Pitol (The Art of Flight, The Journey, The Magician of Vienna, and Mephisto’s Waltz: Selected Short Stories) and Elena Poniatowska (The Heart of the Artichoke). His translation of Pitol’s novel The Love Parade will be published in 2021 by Deep Vellum Publishing. His translation of John Better’s story “The Brevity of Cigarettes” can be read here. In addition to serving as a translation editor-at-large for Latin American Literature Today, he is an assistant professor of Spanish Translation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey. He is a 2021-2023 Tulsa Artist Fellow.