If I were a boy, I wonder whether my dad would drink with me. I wonder whether he’d sit me down, and offer me a crystal glass with a bit of golden whiskey and jumping soda. When I grimace at its bitter taste, he’d tell me, “son, this is good for the heart. It’ll make you a stronger man.” And I’d stay with him on weekend summer nights with my feet on the kitchen counter, watching the blurry pirated Malayalam movie playing on a flat-screened TV, sipping and savoring the spicy chasers with circular onions on the side. When I drive with him sitting next to me, the smiling photo on my permit would wink. His heart beats would be a little slower and his fist, a bit looser. “Turn left here,” he’d sometimes say but that would be all. And on those days that I feel that teenage suffocation, I’d climb out my window, like in those suburban movies with shitty dialogues, and jump onto my suburban lawn and meet up with my friends who waited with a car at my mailbox. We’d drive around our suburban neighborhood, emptying green-glass bottles into our throats and making red stop signs kiss the floor. On Halloween night, we’d bring rolls and rolls of toilet paper, and wrap up those weird houses with weird people, and leave gross messes on their weird lawns. On summer nights like today, I’d climb out my window and lie on the slanted roof with the raised shingles making their mark on my shirtless body, thinking about those high school nights of teenage rebellion with high school friends who once idolized the college boys. I’d think about that high school girl, whom I’d almost forgotten in my first year of “true love”, and somewhere inside my manly heart, a spirit would turn in its sleep and pry out a single tear from an unsuspecting gland. What would have been.
If I were a boy, I wonder whether my mom would think I look good with short hair. I wouldn’t be yelled at when I don’t wear shiny gold necklaces, so that the other Indian aunty doesn’t confuse me for a Pentecostal kid. On hot days, I can walk around the house in basketball shorts and go biking with the boys next door. When I spend a few weeks in India by myself, my grandparents wouldn’t think twice about letting me go for walks alone. I’d take auto-rickshaws by myself and start conversations with the friendly drivers whose eyes in the mirror almost always hold smiles for me. I’d take public transportation to travel to those far places listed in tourism brochures. When my grandmother needs something and the driver is ill, I’d go by myself to the nearby town and thereby save the day. When uncles and aunties come to visit after my sibling’s wedding, they wouldn’t hold my hand and ask me when my turn is but rather, they’d ask me when I am getting my job. And hours after they leave, I’d lay on the terrace with my hand under my head thinking of an apt reply to a question asked much much earlier. What will be.
If I were a boy, I wonder whether my brother would take me along with him on his own deviant adventures. On weekends, he’d pick me up from campus and take me on rides through the city. At night, I’d join an array of his friends with my own and join in drunken laughter. Each Thursday, my phone would overflow with friends asking me about the night’s plans and each Thursday, something always happened. And sitting there on my brother’s carpeted floor, with a drink in my hand, belligerent friends with their silliness to show and music to wake up the devil, I would quietly turn off my deceitful phone at the sound of my girlfriend’s call. On long breaks, I’d take her home and introduce her to my family. My dad’s face would turn in anger and my mom would have tears in her eyes. For a week, they wouldn’t speak to me. But then, for some reason, they’d understand. At my graduation party, she’d sit at my side and I’d introduce her to every uncle and aunty who come by my table to congratulate me. Later, as the hall is cleaned up, the tables cleared and the decorations thrown out, I’d quietly press my hand into hers and whisper, “We should move on with our lives.” And as she storms out, appalled at an ending everyone foresaw, the monster in my heart would scream. Late at night that day, with a pillow that feels like an old brick wall, it would lash out the tears that never were as I think about her and the rest of my life. What is.
If I were a boy, I wonder whether my parents would let me take a year off since my age wouldn’t matter too much for those marriage proposals that would pile on after medical school. I’d live in New York City in a shady apartment in a shady neighborhood with a shady lock that barely matched my key. I’d take walks around Manhattan and laugh at middle-aged tourists with no sense of direction and little boys who confused them on purpose. I’d walk into random coffee shops and live on Chinese take-out and cheap Afghan food carts. At nights, I’d patrol the subway stations and observe those worn-out faces with tired eyes and feet that barely stopped. I’d sit next to a homeless man and hear the stories that made him smile with three missing teeth. On weekends, I’d join my newly-employed college friends who were smart enough to study something that employed them decently after one degree. We’d visit bars and clubs, and become friends with bartenders who’d save us free drinks. When the taste of alcohol starts to be repulsive, I’d concentrate on observing my friends and how much they’ve changed or sometimes, how little they had. We’d rate the girls who walked in the doors to a world of dimmed lights with sparkling shoes that made them tall and bright lipstick that swelled their lips. We’d buy them drinks and compliment their greasy hair or dresses with purposeful holes. I’d take each of my friends home, tolerating their kicks and screams, yelling that they’re just fine and don’t need help. And after each one stumbles into their respective beds, I’d return to my empty room and remind myself for the thousandth time to buy some real furniture. I’d fall asleep on my dirty laundry and wake up to the smell of urine and remind myself again that my year is almost over. What has been.
If I were a boy, I wonder whether I’d be able to play the hand I was dealt. What would be.