Editor’s note: May contain sexually explicit content.
He was stark naked in the bathroom, razor in hand, and had shaving foam covering his entire torso. Blood and the white of the foam together made a royal mess. Even then, with his heart racing at the sight of blood, he could not help but think that it looked delicious in a way. Like someone had thrown red velvet cake splat on Chinna’s chest. To get some ice, he would have to go to the kitchen, but before that he would have to wipe himself clean and cover himself properly. When he poured water over himself and let it wash away all the foam, he could see his chest hair still sticking to him in patches. He had only been half way through the shaving when he cut a nipple by mistake. The bleeding refused to stop, and it stung. He held the breast firmly in his hand, and it only made him bleed more. Without a moment’s thought, he tried to do what he had always done whenever he cut his fingers while chopping vegetable, and much earlier while using shaving blades to sharpen pencils at school.
He tried to squeeze his breast up towards his lips and suck the wounded tip. He couldn’t. However much he lowered his head, pressed his chin to his chest and stuck his tongue out towards his nipple, he couldn’t make them meet. He threw his head back in frustration, flung the razor away, slid down the wall, and cried silently, mouth wide open.
Sharpening pencils was one thing. But is altogether another thing to use the blade to blunt your edges, smooth out the sharpnesses that both mark you to the world and also flip around to cut you from the inside, like a revolving double-edged dagger that, in its great speed, looks like a benign spinning ball of the self. The more you send it out into the world to let yourself be seen , the greater is the vehemence with which it comes back to shred your to smithereens.
In the spacious studio apartment, Chinna stood at the kitchen counter, with his back to Ron, heating milk for coffee. Though they have only been going out for a few weeks now, he was used to Ron’s quiet, unobtrusive presence in the house whenever he came. He usually sat down with some book while Chinna did his own work. Sometimes Ron just dozed off, lying flat on his back right there on the mattress on the floor, with the pages of some open book embracing him over his chest. Looking at him during some of those times, he has wondered if Ron managed to drop into everyone’s life so quietly, without raising a ripple.
But today was going to be a challenge, thought Chinna. It could throw even Ron out of balance. How could I have sex with him today without letting him in on how much I hate my body right now, that I would rather close my eyes and will myself to be someone else? Chinna feared one of two things could follow such a disclosure. A conversation. This perpetual celebration of talking, this belief in clearing things out by talking, as if words ever really had that kind of power – he had no energy for that, at least, at the moment. Or it could be a shrinking back and rejection that he feared. He didn’t have energy for that either.
He felt sex was not such a good idea then, but then he wouldn’t know unless he tried. Usually, he avoided sex when he felt so unsure of who he was. But it might have to be different today. As he leaned over the counter, he looked down to check for blood stain on his shirt. He had done that the entire afternoon, sitting across from Ron at the restaurant. He was afraid that there might suddenly be a splatter of blood spreading across his chest, giving him away. No blood.
“Cream and sugar?” he asked, turning around. Ron looked up from the book he had opened randomly in the middle. “Yes! Thank you!” he smiled.
Chinna wrapped a towel around his waist, threw another one over his shoulders and walked out of the bathroom. Before stepping out of the bedroom, he opened the door gently and peeped out to see if his mother, who was visiting, was in the living room, and if he would be bombarded with questions for taking ice cubes from the freezer. She didn’t seem to be around. On the way to the refrigerator, he caught through the corner of eyes his quick reflection in the full-length mirror propped against a wall in the living room. His quick, tiptoed run took him a few steps ahead, but he halted on his track and took a few quiet, slow steps back, turned his head alone to the left and stood looking at himself, in profile, in the mirror. He lifted slightly the towel that lay over his shoulders covering his nipples. When he thought he could not see clearly, he took off the towel completely, but before doing that he looked in the direction of the kitchen to make sure his mother was not around. She didn’t seem to be.
Focussing again on his sideways reflection in the mirror, he thrust his chest out a little and made his nipples look prominent and imagined that they pierced the sky in front of him, making a small tear in some invisible but persistent layer he could one day step out of. This made the arch of his back pronounced, and his butt too stretched out into a deeper curve, into a bigger bubble. Lifting both his hands simultaneously, he touched himself on both his nipples, felt the alert areola reacting to the recent touch of the blade, he held the curve of his breasts on his palms for a second, and brought his hands down to his waist and took them around his ass. Then he threw the towel back around his neck and walked swiftly to the fridge.
He could find no ice cubes, but his mother’s ice pack was in the freezer. He grabbed it, rushed back to the room, latched the door on the inside, and pressed the ice pack to the nipple. It hurt like hell. He sat down on the bed and leaned back on the pillows. He removed the ice pack from this chest and took a good look at himself. The right side of his chest was shaven smooth and clean, and the nipple stood clean and poised, while the one on the blooded side stood surrounded by strands of hair. He was disgusted to see patches of hair still on his half-shaven chest. Still, he ran his fingers over this torso, wondering if he could will himself to like his body as it was. He stopped when his fingers reached the towel fold around this waist. He dreaded what was to come. He knew he would be flooded by a massive wave of disgust, but he braved it and undid the towel. Never before did he hate the irrefutable solidity of the body so much. Its stubbornness, it’s utter refusal to be anything other than what it was hurt him afresh each time. He spread his legs a little, and with vehemence pushed his penis and testicles down with his hands, closed his legs tight, and pulled out his hands slowly. It gave him some comfort not to have to feel them with his hands.
Ron was sitting on the mattress on the floor and looking at Chinna pour coffee into mugs. As Chinna walked towards Ron and gave him his coffee, Ron patted the mattress, signaling Chinna to sit next to him. They sat, their backs against the wall, and just above their heads the bottom rod of the blinds over the window beating against the wall in the wind. Ron had his feet stretched in front of him, and the light through the blinds was now casting moving shadow stripes on his feet and jeans. Chinna too felt like putting his leg out to catch the lines of light and shadow on his feet. And he did. “This would make a great photograph,” said Ron, “just our legs and these stripes of light.” Chinna turned to smile at Ron, who had a twinkle in his eyes when he said, “But this light play will look much better on bare skin. We can be zebras.” Chinna did not say anything in reply, but he turned to look at his legs and gently pulled his trousers up to reveal more of his ankle and lower leg. Ron laughed.
Chinna closed his eyes and touched the tips of his nipples gently with his fingers. As he played with them, his erection threatened to spring up from its confinement between his thighs. So Chinna stopped and waited for it to subside. Then suddenly he squeezed his breasts violently and stopped only when he felt the wetness of blood from the left nipple again on his fingers. With equal vehemence, he crossed his legs at the ankles and pressed his thighs together until everything hurt.
They now lay facing the window, with the light through the blinds casting its stripes on their faces and naked torsos. Black and light and black and light. Chinna had one leg bent and the other leg balanced over the bent knee. Like he was sitting, but had only decided to change his plane. To look skyward instead. He looked at his legs and tried to focus on a part of this light play where a strip of shadow ended and a sheath of light began. Though the plastic strips of the blinds themselves were quite solid with sharp edges, their shadows appeared to have lost their confidence. Their corners were blurred and looked even more vulnerable when they moved in the wind.
Ron turned on his side and propped his head up with a hand. “You are awfully quiet today. Even more than usual. What happened?” he said.
“Then it is something not-so-really? Tell me, tell me,” Ron teased, putting his forefinger into Chinna’s deep navel and tickling it.
With his other hand, he touched Chinna on his neck. Chinna lay, with his eyes closed, his legs crossed at the ankles and his thighs held tight against each other. As Ron’s hand glided over his neck, Chinna clutched at the carpet below with one hand and laid his other hand over Ron’s, that was playing with his navel. Ron’s hand moved down to Chinna’s chest and very quickly to his right nipple.
“Nice. Did you get it waxed?” said Ron.
“No. I shaved. Waxing hurts.”
“Hmm. But it looks like you have hurt yourself shaving too,” said Ron, and brought his head down to kiss Chinna on his left nipple. His tongue moved very gently, but Chinna could still feel the sting from the cut. He winced.
Chinna kept his eyes shut and forced himself to imagine his body otherwise. He thought it should be easy. At any given moment, Chinna could not really bring to his mind an accurate vision of himself as he was. He could never clearly remember himself. Whenever he stood in front of a mirror, there was a moment of “Ah okay,” as if he just recognized himself. So shouldn’t it be easy now, he wondered, to see myself as altogether something else? Not with these sad little hairy absences, but full, rounded breasts, with large areolas stretched out with the fullness of the milk inside. Not with what were dangling between his legs, but something else, something that draws inward. But it wasn’t easy. The body was all too real to be thus willed away.
Chinna chose not to force it, not to fight his body so much. He was holding his body so taut that every inch of him hurt. He decided to let go and relax. Just as he began to loosen his body, his eyes still closed, it happened. He got, for just an instant, that vision. He saw himself inside his eyes just exactly how he wanted himself to look; he saw his body as just exactly how he wanted to see it.
Ron’s tongue continued to play on Chinna’s left nipple while his fingers moved down to his tummy. Chinna felt seized at once by pleasure, pain and panic. As Ron’s fingers explored further down, Chinna relaxed his legs and hoped that the miracle would happen again, that he would get to see himself, at least in his imagination, at least for a split second, as he wanted to be, not as what he was. Till today, he doesn’t know what gave him the courage to trust and let go, to not be on his guard. But that’s what he did.
Until then he had held his body taut like a catapult aiming a sharp attack at god knows what. Much like a boy who has suddenly lost interest in his target and relaxed his aim and dropped down the weapon, he loosened himself. His body remembered the time when he once managed to float on the shallow waters of a sea. Seeing one of his friends just lie back and float, he asked to be held while he tried it too, though he couldn’t swim then. In the very first attempt, he had floated, with no hand supporting his back. He dropped his head back and arched his torso out towards the sky like he was asked to do, and he floated. Chinna had thought at that moment about the rules for trust for different things. When people free-fall during para-jumping, they are asked to arch their head and legs in trust and glory towards the sky, if only to give the monstrous, rushing wind the least resistance possible. On the ground, you are supposed to give yourself to whatever surface is beneath you, let your body drape on it and take whatever shape of letting go it wants. And on water, you let your head down backward, raise your bum, thrust your torso up towards the sky that is suddenly all over, more all-over than ever before.
“Just trust it and let go,” his friend had said then. And Chinna had found that an absolutely natural thing to do. For a while after that, he had consciously called on that bodily memory whenever walking on steady ground felt like a shaky proposition. He drew comfort from recollections of floating, of being held and rocked. But like most experiences, it had slowly receded in significance. Until today. He floated again, even if only for just a tiny moment.
He unclenched his abdominal muscles and released his firm hold on the world. Salt water sloshed against his ears and he could hear no more the clack of the blinds against the window or the room heater resurrecting after a brief rest. All that he could hear was the heady whispers of the sky and the water asking him to trust them. One from below and the other from over him. He was being bounced up and down, and he drank some water. It was incredibly salty and made his nostrils burn. His fingers let go of their claw-hold on the carpet next to him and let water buoy up through the gaps between them. Sensing it was not hard ground that could give away under him any minute, he gifted away his weight, opened his eyes to the bright blue sky over him and breathed out gently and for long.
Right then, Ron pressed down gently below Chinna’s navel and stopped suddenly. Chinna was very confused. He opened his eyes and saw that Ron had risen slightly, propping himself on one elbow, and was looking at where his hand was on Chinna’s body, all the while pressing it down gently at the same spot. When he saw Chinna’s perplexed look, he relaxed, but he did not remove his hand. He smiled awkwardly and said, “Sorry.”
“It’s alright. But what happened?” Chinna asked.
“Oh it is really silly,” said Ron, trying to dismiss it.
“It is okay. Do tell me.”
“No, I am sorry. It might be hurtful.” Ron was really apologetic now.
“No, I can handle it. Tell me.”
“Well,” said Ron, “I think it was a moment of hallucination, but when I pressed my hand down there, it felt suddenly like I was not touching a man’s body.”
“What do you mean?” Chinna smiled and rose slightly, propping himself up on both his elbows.
Ron felt encouraged by Chinna’s smile to go on. “I could have sworn that my hand just expected not to find a cock there. Something else. Does it make sense? I am so sorry. I am blabbering,” he said and looked away in embarrassment.
“No, no, no,” Chinna said and turned Ron’s face back towards him. “It makes sense. It so does. Thank you so much.”
“But you are crying,” Ron said in mild panic. “I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I am sure I was just imagining it. My mind playing tricks on me. Please don’t cry, Chinna.” He sat up looking very concerned and held Chinna by his shoulders as he covered his face with his hands and wept.
Ron moved closer to him and put his arms around him. He sat there holding Chinna until the weeping stopped, and after.