The first thought that entered Kiran’s mind when she opened her newly-purchased vanity case was, “Oh, I’m not good at this!” The various hues of red nail paints and lipsticks intimidated her. The mascara was an object of horror.
Not that she hadn’t decked herself before. But those few times when she had adorned her lips had been only for herself. For some reason, she had always felt embarrassed to show anyone her cosmetically-enhanced form. Once, when there was no one at home, she had even gone as far as rouge and eyeliner, and then she had washed it off her face almost immediately.
But today she didn’t want to hold herself back. It was a momentous occasion after all. The job was good. It would be her first ever interview, and she expected all the other girls to come in their finest. There was no place for a shy, reserved girl in the hospitality business anyway.
So she started a video on YouTube on how to apply makeup. She made sure to choose the one with the best reviews. She wanted a professional touch, no less, and the salons were uber-expensive for a girl who was just starting out with a job.
A few seconds into the video, she brought out the foundation cream and applied it on her cheeks, which felt rough to her self-prejudiced mind. But she went on. Not quite satisfied with her work at the basics, she took the color brush and applied it on her upper cheeks in deft straight strokes. She smoothed it out and blended it with the rest of the background just like the woman in the video did. And then she went on with the lipstick, and even outlined it with a lipliner. The eye shadows came next.
She didn’t look all that bad now. It turned out much better than those days in her early youth when she used to clandestinely practice the cosmetic art on her with her mother’s things. Yes, she could go out with this look!
Half an hour later, she came out of her room. Brijnath Jaiswal saw her in the tiny red dress that stopped woefully above her knees and her heavily embellished face and let out a hollow cough.
“Are you all set, beta?” he asked.
Kiran wanted to answer that question because it was asked with the right concern, but the last word riled her.
“Why do you keep calling me beta?” she asked. “When will you realize that I am not your son but your daughter?”
Brijnath realized his goof. He didn’t want to anger his daughter on this all-important day. “Sorry,” he said. “Old Indian habits die hard.”
“Change them,” said Kiran. “Times have changed.”
“Well, it’s not enough. If you really put your mind to it, anything can change. Anything.”
Brijnath stood up and came to her. He was a short man, or perhaps his daughter was taller than him. He looked funny when he put a hand on her shoulder.
“I know that more than anyone else, Kiran,” he said. “Anyway, go forth and conquer. Make today your day.”
“I will,” said Kiran, and touched her father’s feet for his blessings.
Kiran stood in queue for the bus, a little away from the other ladies. They were all working women. It was evident that they worked in different places but had the same bus route. A strange thought entered her mind — if this job materialized, she would probably be sharing the bus with such ladies too. Would she become like one of them? She particularly observed one of them who seemed to complain about everything. But the more alarming thing was everyone agreed with her ideas. Kiran shrugged and looked the other way.
When she got into the bus, she tried to sit as far from the gabby women as possible. The bus moved and she bought her ticket from the conductor. A minute later, she felt the man standing next to her brushing against her. She flinched but said nothing. It could have been an accident. She stiffened and turned away.
Another minute later, the bus took a wild turn.
The man almost fell on her, making a hasty apology with his bad breath, and as he pulled back, she felt his hand brushing against her in a wrong place.
Now, clearly agitated, she turned her entire body to face the window. She looked out but her mind was conscious to every action that occurred behind her back.
And it would not stop. It was mild at first, but then it increased. She squirmed, but he only pressed further. Angry as daggers, she turned to look at him right in the eye.
There was a smirk on his face. And he winked.
That was it.
Kiran stood up at her full height, and landed a resounding slap on the man’s face. The man, surprised out of his skull, lost his balance and almost collapsed on the college students standing behind him.
“What do you think, you worm?” Kiran yelled loud enough for everyone in the bus to hear. “I’m a woman so you can do as you please?”
The chatting women stopped and looked at her with both admiration and awe.
“Take your filthy thing and go somewhere else,” she said.
This alarmed the women. The fact that there was one of them who could say ‘filthy thing’ so openly and so loudly was unheard of. Embarrassed, they tried to look anywhere else but at the raging woman.
Presently, the bus screeched to a halt.
“That’s my stop,” said Kiran. “Move aside.”
Saying that, she shoved the man aside and strode on. When she got off the bus, she heard the murmurs behind her, and maybe even a clap or two. A smile escaped her lips.
Chaos reigned in the buffet space of the Bluefinger Restaurant & Bar. The space had been converted into a waiting hall for the thirty-six ladies who had applied for the vacancy of Front Desk Supervisor. Everyone knew that the name of Bluefinger could be a worthy addition to their résumés even if it turned out to be only a brief tryst.
When the lanky woman in her short red miniskirt walked in, there was a collective snigger that rippled through the audience despite their nervousness.
But Kiran walked in confidently. She went right up to the desk where the receptionist sat, announced her name, waited for her to look it up, and then took her seat. She took a magazine and began to flip through the pages. Soon she was immersed in the perfect abs of the male models in the deodorant ads, so much so that she became completely oblivious to the muted laughter of mockery all around her.
“Er… Miss Kiran Jaiswal?” the receptionist announced.
The mention of her name made her look up.
“You may go in now,” the receptionist said.
“Oh,” Kiran said and got up, hastily straightening her dress and hair. “Thank you,” she muttered and walked in with her trademark stride.
She hadn’t expected the interviewer to be so young.
He had a French beard and spectacles, but none of them hid the handsomeness that lay beneath.
“May I come in, sir?” she asked.
The man looked up at her and was speechless for a moment. Then he said, “Oh, come in, please.”
When she had seated herself, he said, “I am Kishore Das, and you are Miss… er… Kiran Jaiswal.” He looked at her up and down as he said that.
“Yes,” she said.
“I’ll be interviewing you today,” he said. “I am an HR manager with the Bluefinger Hospitality Group.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir,” said Kiran.
“Equally charmed,” he said. “Please walk me through your résumé.”
Kiran was prepared for this part. She knew submitting the résumé was merely a formality. She knew every interviewer made their applicants speak as much as possible. It was their way of gauging how confident a person is. When she was done, Kiran was sure she had done a good job, which was mostly because the man was nodding in appreciation.
“I like that you have the confidence to speak,” he said. “And this is your first job interview?”
“Yes,” she said. She wanted to ask him how he knew.
But perhaps he heard her thoughts because he said, “I am doing this since three years now. I can spot a rookie from a mile away.”
“We usually don’t waste our candidates’ time,” said Kishore. “So we tell them what we think at the first meeting itself.”
“That’s nice,” said Kiran but the smile had vanished now.
“And, Miss Jaiswal,” he said in calculated words, “I have to regrettably tell you that you cannot get this job.”
“Oh!” said Kiran. Another question loomed on her lips, but she held it back.
“I’m sorry but this is just your first attempt. Keep trying,” he said.
Kiran knew it was over. She knew this was the cue for her to get up and leave but something held her back. Maybe it was the fact that he was still looking at her résumé with interest.
She had to ask. It was now or never. “Why can I not get the job? It is because—”
“It is because of the educational qualifications, Miss Jaiswal,” said Kishore with absolute politeness, even perhaps concern. “We are looking for a higher educated person. It was mentioned in the brief.”
“And is that the only reason?”
She got up now, feeling a little lighter. In fact, by the time she reached the door, her smile was back on her lips. She was almost outside the door, but she poked her head in and said, “Thank you!”
It was the loudest and the most heartfelt ‘Thank you!’ she had said in a while. The HR manager looked at her with puzzlement written across his bearded face.
By the time she reached her colony again, it was near eight in the evening. It was evening time and the park in the colony compound was buzzing with children playing their usual games. In one corner was a row of benches where a host of senior people sat, chatting about the most recent headlines. The watchmen sat at the gate.
As she entered, every head turned to look at her in her itty-bitty dress. Even the children stopped playing, but she walked on.
She was about to press the button for the elevator when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned and saw the face of a friend.
“Sushil,” she said.
“And how you have changed!” said Sushil.
“Don’t ask!” said Kiran.
“So, did you get the job?”
“No,” she smiled.
“You didn’t get it and still you smile? You know, you are a queer one.”
Kiran looked at him in mock anger. “I should take offense at that word, shouldn’t I?” she asked.
He ducked to protect himself from the handbag she swerved at him and said, “Sorry!”
“Okay, so how was the rest of the day?” he asked and then added, “You do look strange in all that warpaint! I only know the person behind this subterfuge.”
“Grow up, buddy,” said Kiran. “You are going to see a lot more of this face this way. Do you have a problem with that?”
“’Course not!” said Sushil. “You are my friend, come what may.”
“Glad to hear that,” she said and shook hands with him. It was a firm handshake, the kind that’s only shared between people who have faced several things together. “And the rest of the day was nice too,” she added.
“Okay, so it started with my father calling me beta, which angered me, but it’s okay. I know he will take him a while to get used to the idea that I am his daughter now.”
“And then someone actually eve-teased me!” she said. “Couldn’t have imagined that a year ago when I was Karan Jaiswal. But he did, and the poor sod got a solid thapaak on his lousy chin. Little did he know that though the body is of a woman now, the bones inside are still of a man.”
“Great! Poor chap,” said Sushil.
“And then at the interview, when I was fired, I found out that it was because my qualifications didn’t match their requirements. Can you understand what a relief that was? He saw my birth certificate, I tell you, and he knew for sure I was born a boy. But he didn’t say a thing. Not a thing.”
“So it was indeed a good day.”
“Yes. It was my true test of freedom today. For twenty-five years I was trapped in a man’s body. The reassignment surgery was just the biological transformation, but the true transformation occurred today. Yes, I was accepted. Not for what I was, but for what I am. I not only experienced the joys but also the troubles of being a woman.”
Sushil held her hand, and she tightened her hold on his.
“And then there’s you. You who have seen me in every form. And you have loved me regardless. Thank you!”
“Sure,” said Sushil. “Now run along home and free yourself of that cosmetic dust.”
As Kiran walked homewards, she knew she had won a battle. She had attained her true freedom today — her odd little jigsaw piece had found its place in the puzzle.
This story was originally published in the first issue of the emagazine UnBound. Get a free copy of the emagazine here.